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Clocks For (Almost) Everyone
- - Eli Terry, a clockmaker from Connecticut, introduced mass production to the clockmaking industry.
- Many small firms emerged in the wake of Terry's success, copying his process and product.
- By the 1830s, the market was flooded with Connecticut-made wooden movement shelf clocks which were soldin cities and frontier towns alike.
- While competition drove down profits and quality, it also lowered prices, meaning more people could afford a clock.
- The 1837 depression crippled the American industry.
- 90 percent of the Northeast's factories closed. The clock industry was also effected, and weaker firms folded.
Chauncey Jerome (1793 - 1868) of Bristol, Connecticut
- In 1839, the industry got better when Jerome introduced a cheap brass movement shelf clock.
- His clocks sold for $6 cash, only a few dollars more than a wood-movement clock, and were rugged, cheap to make, easy to repair, and would not warp at sea.
Joseph Ives (1782 - 1862) of Bristol, Connecticut
- Ives made brass-movement shelf clocks 20 years before Jerome, but his clocks cost three to four times the price of a wood clock.
- Made expensive flat leaf spring-powered clocks as early as 1825.
- Two decades later, less expensive coiled springs were developed. This made spring-driven clocks, which were smaller, widely adopted. Between 1840 and 1850, the average clock shrunk in size by at least 30 percent.
- Since materials comprised the bulk of a clock's cost, smaller clocks meant lower prices and larger profits.
- 1850: over half a million brass shelf clocks were being manufactured by 15 clockmaking firms in Connecticut.
One in three central New England households had a clock; most of these were Connecticut made.
The Rise, the Fall, and the Legacy
At the end of the Civil War, dozens of firms collapsed or consolidated, and seven major clock manufactures emerged:
The Ansonia Clock Company (1850-1929)
The New haven Clock Company (1853-1959)
The Seth Thomas Clock Company (1853-present)
The Waterbury Clock Company (1857-1967)
The William L. Gilbert Clock Company (1866-1964)
The E.N. Welch manufacturing Company (1864-1903), which was succeeded by the Sessions Clock Company (1903-1968).
1880 - 1920 was a "Golden Age" for these seven giants. They enjoyed "good profits, good sales on domestic and foreign markets, constant improvements and refinements in manufacturing techniques, and greater volume production," writes Chris Bailey in Two Hundred Years of American Clocks and Watches.
However, the Great Depression, World War II, inflation, rising labor costs, and competition from German and Japanese manufactures would lead to their eventual demise of clockmaking in America.
American clockmakers had lived up to their country's democratic ideals: they had made timekeeping, once the province of the elite, the property of the masses.