E. Howard and Company Astronomical Regulator

E. Howard and Company Astronomical Regulator

Usage conditions apply
Most nineteenth century American clocks were cheaply made for the mass market and domestic use. But a few firms made finely finished precision clocks for applications where accuracy was vital: determining the time of scientific observations, for example, or regulating other clocks and watches. One such firm was E. Howard and Company of Boston, specialists in quality clocks, watches, and scales since 1842.
Howard's 1860 catalog featured this clock. It was advertised as an "astronomical clock" available in various styles, sizes, and prices, and recommended for observatories, watchmakers' shops, and railroad depots. Such a clock is today called a regulator, a particularly accurate timepiece designed exclusively for keeping time. Nonessential complications like striking mechanisms, calendar work, and moon dials are omitted. The case is likewise unadorned. This particular clock has a sixteen-inch silvered dial that indicates hours, minutes, and seconds separately. The steel pendulum rod carries two glass jars filled with mercury. The expansion and contraction of the mercury compensates for changes in the rod's length as the room temperature rises and falls.
About 1855, E. Howard and Company sold this clock to James Allan and Company, a Charleston, South Carolina, jewelry firm whose name is engraved on the dial. The regulator stood in the same Allan family store (called Charles Kerrison Company after 1960) from 1865 until it came to the Smithsonian in 1977, except for one brief period. On August 31, 1886, the regulator fell over when an earthquake rocked Charleston, and it briefly returned to the Howard factory for repairs.
Currently not on view
Currently not on view (pendulums)
Object Name
regulator, E.Howard & Co., Boston
Date made
E. Howard & Co.
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 93 in x 22 1/4 in x 14 1/2 in; 236.22 cm x 56.515 cm x 36.83 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Elizabeth H. Allan, Richard H. Allan, Mary Stewart Allan, Eleanor A. Hanson,
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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I was told that everyday at noon, Mr. William Allan (James Allan's son) or his brother, Richard, would leave the store, James Allan & Company, to site the sun. It was important to be certain that the time shown on the clock was accurate, because all of Charleston, i.e. factories , shops, trains, trolleys depended on it.
What a beautiful piece of an example of man's ability to work with his hands. Incredible.

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