A brief history of the American clock

Watchmaking in America began in Philadelphia around 1702 when a British watchmaker, Peter Stretch, emigrated to the city. Another craftsman, James Batterson, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1707, moved to Boston soon after, followed him.

A large number of German watchmakers arrived around 1750 and their influence on American clocks lasted over 100 years, especially in the small details such as the use of Lantern Pinions in their movements.

The grandfather clock was made in small numbers in the United States from 1700 and became popular after 1750. Until 1810, the movements were brass, often imported from Britain; after that date, mass-produced wood movements were used in the United States. occasional brass movement.

Another British clockmaker, Thomas Harland, worked in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1773. He had some twenty apprentices who made clock movements. One of them, Daniel Burnap, finally started by himself and then formed Eli Terry, who will later become the first person ever to use mass production for clocks. His grandfather's wooden clock movement, because of its low price, was a particular success.

Known in the United States at the time as eight-day clocks or thirty-hour clocks, New York imported a large number of complete British clocks. Other cities have imported movements and sometimes brass dials, and local American artisans have crafted the wooden crates.

The dial painted for grandfather clocks began being made in Britain from 1772 and, after the independence war, these dials were exported to America. Ten years later, American artists began producing painted dials. Two of the best, Spencer Nolan and Samuel Curtis entered into a partnership, Nolan and Curtis became the first major American producers of painted dials, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

William Jones of Philadelphia was another well-known artist. He worked from 1825 to about 1845, at the time of the collapse of the grandfather clocks market, because of the large number of much cheaper clocks manufactured and sold throughout the country. This happened in Britain too, at about the same time and for the same reason, with the importation of low-cost US and German clocks and a change in fashion.

Two major factors have influenced the production of clocks in America. In Britain, clocks of all types have happily coexisted for many years. In America, after the war of independence, the new spirit of free enterprise and the feeling of personal freedom the new type of clock to come put the old models out of use, so they were arrested very quickly, in favor of the last model.

The other important factor affecting the trade of clocks was that carbon steel was unknown in America before about 1850. So there were no clock springs and we had to use weights, which of course had a major impact on the clock design. Some manufacturers have been using brass springs for some time, and Joseph Ives has developed the "Trolley Spring" clock, using a small version of the same springs as those used on suspension trolleys and trolleys.

Brass spring clocks and trolley spring clocks are now rare and much sought after by collectors.

In 1810, Eli Terry sold his watch factory to Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley and began developing a new clock. This clock would be complete with a case, Terry realized that it could make a profit on the movement and the case, and a finished clock could be sold everywhere in America.

Purchase of land and plant in Plymouth, Connecticut. In December 1812, his new clock was in production in 1815. This clock was about the size of a grandfather's clock cap and looked a lot like a gooseneck pediment (often called a scroll-top) and three brass ferrules mounted on square blocks. Two thin columns ran vertically on both sides of the door. These features gave the clock its name, "Pillar and Scroll Clock".

Eli Terry used Chauncey Jerome in his new factory for a few years, then he left around 1816 to create a small store. Terry also had an agreement with Seth Thomas, still in the old factory purchased from Terry, to make these new clocks for a small fee. Terry later stated that he had never received payment from Thomas and that they were arguing over patent infringement.

The column and the scrolling clock were the first clock to be mass produced. Eli Terry and Seth Thomas each produced about 12,000 clocks in 1825. The clock sold well throughout the 1820s, but in 1832, production ceased with the appearance of new models of cases.

Seth Thomas, Eli Terry and Chauncey Jerome, three of the giants of American watchmaking, knew each other well, lived together and often worked together, especially when developing machinery for the mass production of clocks.

Then come a wide variety of casing styles, still within the same movement, although in 1840, the wooden movement ceased to be used for the most part.

The pendulum "half column and splash" appeared around 1831, with a robust housing that did not get damaged in transit as easily as the pillar and the scrolling clock, which quickly replaced the previous model.

There were almost as many watchmakers as there were styles of cases; naming them all is out of the scope of a short story (there were only 16 watchmaking factories in Bristol), but it is worth mentioning the seven major clock-making companies that grew up in over time. in Connecticut: –

Seth Thomas, New Haven, Ingraham, Ansonia, Waterbury, Gilbert and Welch / Sessions. The company Ansonia Clock Company alone had 45 different models and 14 different movements available in 1870 – – – –

I will finish by listing some of the available models from 1810 to 1910: –

Pillar and parchment, column and splash, banjo clock, clock shelf, hive clock, bell tower clock, bright gothic, four-column bell tower, Ogee, double candlestick, cottage clock, Venetian, bread & # 39; Spice, dial wall clock, octagonal wheel, regulator, Waterbury Augusta, and so on – – – – – –

Although mass produced, many of these clocks are beautiful works of art and that it is good to consider collecting them, their price is reasonable because of the huge quantities manufactured and sold in America and Europe.

This article, with photos, can be viewed on my website at the address below.

Andrew.