Eli Terry Mass-Produced Box Clock


In the opening years of the 19th century, a handful of Connecticut inventors and entrepreneurs transformed the way clocks were made in the United States. Recognizing a vast potential market for low-cost domestic clocks, Eli Terry and his associates Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley applied water-powered machinery to clockmaking. One of the proving grounds of the American Industrial Revolution, clockmaking changed from a craft to a factory process in which machines mass-produced uniform, interchangeable clock parts. This manufacturing technique appeared in other industries about this time and became known as "the American system" of manufacturing.

The process called for a whole new kind of clock. The first mass-produced clocks had movements of wood, instead of scarce and expensive brass. Although the earliest of these wooden clocks had long pendulums and fitted into traditional tall cases, about 1816 Eli Terry designed a distinctly American clock small enough to set on a mantel or shelf. Sold largely to rural buyers by itinerant merchants, these clocks played an early and significant role in transforming the rural North from overwhelmingly agricultural to a modern market society.

This clock demonstrates Terry's determination to make his clocks as economical as possible. The case is a simple wooden box and the glass door bears reverse-painted numbers that served as a dial. Terry's success spawned imitators eager to capture part of the market for machine-made clocks. By 1830, western Connecticut was home to over a hundred firms, large and small, making clocks with wooden movements.

Date Made: ca 1816

Maker: Terry, Eli

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanisms, Industry & Manufacturing


Exhibition Location:

Related Publication: Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: ME.317044Catalog Number: 317044Accession Number: 233061

Object Name: clock, boxOther Terms: Clock; Eli Terry mass-produced box clock; clock, box; Mechanical, Weight-Driven; Shelf Clock

Physical Description: glass (case material)glass (dial material)wood (case material)wood (dial material)wood (movement material)lead (weights material)paper (label material)Measurements: overall: 21 in x 14 in x 3 1/2 in; 53.34 cm x 35.56 cm x 8.89 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a6-adb0-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_852076

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