Vintage Alarm Clock sales on the web since 1996

 

 

Peru, Illinois

Charles Stahlberg and others from Waterbury, Connecticut originally formed as "United Clock Company" on December 5, 1885 in Peru, Illinois, intending to manufacture clocks based on a technological innovation by Stahlberg. This innovation was patented by Stahlberg on September 22, 1885 (US patent #326,602) and involved the use of molded lead alloy movement plates with inset brass bushings as well as lead alloy gear assemblies. Shortly after being granted the 1885 patent, United Clock Company went bankrupt, and there are no known surviving examples of the patented clock.

Bankruptcies, reorganizations, and mergers

In 1887, the company reorganized under the new name "Western Clock Company." The company again went bankrupt, and was reorganized by F. W. Matthiessen in 1888 as the "Western Clock Manufacturing Company." In 1908, the company was granted a patent for the "Big Ben" alarm clock movement. This movement has a "bell-back" design, which means that the bell mechanism is integral to the clock's case. The company first brought the Big Ben to market in 1909. The company's name was shortened to "Western Clock Company" in 1912. In 1910, the Big Ben became the first alarm clock advertised nationally, with ads placed in the Saturday Evening Post.

The modern trademark of the company, "Westclox," first appeared on the backs of Big Ben alarm clocks from 1910 to 1917. The name appeared on Big Ben dials as early as 1911. The trademark was officially registered by the company on January 18, 1916.

In 1919, Western Clock Co., Ltd., was incorporated. Twelve years later, in 1931, the company merged with Seth Thomas Clock Company, with both companies becoming divisions of General Time Corporation. The Westclox unit became known as "Westclox Division of General Time Corporation" in 1936.

World War II wartime efforts

In 1938, Westclox introduced their first portable travel alarm clock to the market. During World War II, Westclox and other General Time Corporation subsidiaries produced aviation instrumentation and control components, compasses for the United States Army, and clocks for the United States Navy. From 1942 to 1945, Westclox ceased all production intended for domestic civilian sale and dedicated its production resources to the war effort, becoming a major manufacturer of fuses for military ordnance.

Watches

The Westclox company was a major manufacturer of dollar watches. They started production of an inexpensive, back-winding pocket watch in 1899, which was intended to be affordable to any working person and continued producing cheap pocket watches into the 1990s.

Late 20th century developments

In 1959, Westclox introduced and patented their "drowse" alarm, which was one of the first of its kind powered by electricity, which integrated what is now more commonly known as a "snooze" function. Talley Industries acquired General Time in 1968. 1972 saw Westclox's introduction of the quartz movement. In 1988 General Time was purchased by its management from Talley Industries. Another bankruptcy shortly followed, with the "Westclox" and "Big Ben" trademarks being acquired by Salton, Inc. in 2001. In October 2007, Salton sold its entire time products business, including the Westclox and Ingraham trademarks, to NYL Holdings LLC.

 

Westclox Scotland

Westclox had originally planned to start production in Scotland in 1939 but World War II intervened and it was not until 1948 that they were able to fully commission their factory in Dumbarton.

Westclox Scotland produced its first clock on 21 September 1948; a spring wound alarm with a 4 foot dial. Their Scottish factory was a full manufacturing plant, at which all their clocks were assembled from start to finish with only the basic raw materials being brought in by outside suppliers. 95% of the staff were local people and the firm trained their employees from scratch to a high level of skill and had an annual apprenticeship for toolmakers and classes in horology.

By 1949 Westclox Scotland were making 10,000 clocks a week, and by 1950, 1,000,000 clocks had been produced since its opening. So successful was the Dumbarton factory that in the mid-1950s Westclox had to expand into adjoining buildings. The factory then added watches to their product line as well as timing devices for other sectors. By the mid-1960s, employment levels at the Scottish plant were around 1,100. Over a third of the clocks manufactured in Scotland were exported to some 110 countries across the globe.

Difficult times came in 1967/68 when 400 workers were paid off and the future of the plant was in doubt - primarily due to cheap clocks from the then iron curtain countries. However, strong petitions to the UK Government produced the passing of an anti-dumping law and production from the factory picked up.

In 1968 General Time (which owned the Westclox brand name) was bought out by Talley Industries of America. Talley Industries was (among other things) also a manufacturer of timing equipment, such as clocking-in units, automobile air bag modules and other devices. However, there was no overlap with the Dumbarton product range.

In the 1970s and early 1980s Westclox in Scotland was booming. In 1971 the factory was filmed by the BBC for the preparation of a visit by Her Majesty, The Queen, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Royal Highness, The Princess Anne. The visit made front page news in the Scottish based newspapers.

In October 1974 the factory hosted a Space Seminar for the astronaut Neil Armstrong and British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. Both visited the Scottish factory to promote the introduction of 'Quartz' time-keeping. The Westclox plant in Dumbarton became the Headquarters of General Time (International Operations) Ltd in 1976.

In 25 years Westclox in Scotland had produced over 50 million clocks, yet it was perhaps inevitable with the advent of Quartz technology, (ironically evolved largely by General Time for use in the Apollo 11 Command Module), could ultimately herald the contraction of the mechanical clock.

 

Westclox Canada

Little is known about the marketing of early Westclox products in Canada, but by 1910 Big Ben and probably other clocks were being sold there. The Oct. 8, 1910 Big Ben advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post states that Big Ben sells for $2.50 in the United States and $3.00 in Canada. It seems likely that the printing on the dials and stamping on the backs of some of the clocks sold in Canada was different from that on their U.S. market contemporaries. This is exemplified by a Big Ben dated 11-27-12 originally sold in Canada that does not have a $2.50 price seal on the back as the clocks sold in the U.S. did at that time. A Baby Ben sold in Canada, movement date 1-9-18, says "Made In U.S.A." at the bottom of the dial instead of the usual "Made by Western Clock co., LaSalle, Ill., U.S.A."

In 1912 the Western Clock Company opened a sales office in Toronto, Canada, as part of its policy to establish itself in the world's markets. The demand for Westclox products gradually grew, leading to the incorporation of the Western Clock Company, Limited in 1919. The city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada was selected and a small factory building was obtained, and in January 1920 operations were started with a force of 20 employees. At this time, parts from the LaSalle-Peru plant were shipped to Peterborough for assembly. By mid-1921 about 10,000 four-inch clocks were being assembled per month.

Production gradually increased and larger facilities became necessary. Fifteen acres of land in Peterborough were purchased and a brick and artificial stone building was constructed. The main building was four stories high and 160 feet long. It was first occupied in late December, 1922.

We have no information on which clock models were made in Canada and which parts were actually manufactured in the Peterborough plant. The earliest Canadian Big Ben we have examined has a movement date of 12-27-23 and says "Made By Western Clock Co., Limited, Peterborough, Canada" at the bottom of the dial. The back shows no patent dates.

In the early 1980's Production in Canada was stopped.

Many Canadian Westclox models correspond to the US made products. For example, many Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks have the same design. See our Bens web page for dates of the basic Big Ben and Baby Ben models. There are some Canadian Westclox models that have no US equivalent. And some are similar but with slight variations. Most of the clocks have the date of manufacture on the movement (digits for month and year, or for month, day and year).

Canadian made Seth Thomas chime clocks with the #124 movement were sold. Here is a description of one from Randy of Portland, Oregon: "My Canadian made Seth Thomas has a cabinet made by "Quality Cabinets" of Canada. So it appears the Western Clock Company was either not equipped to make wood clock cabinets or the production volume was less than demand. I will also comment that the cabinet style is unlike any other mantle clock I have seen. It is 14 inches wide, 9 inches tall, 5 1/2 inches deep and finished in oak veneer. Model name is "Sheldon". It has what I would call a distinct Dutch design. Uses the typical open center dial of post war Seth Thomas electric and spring driven clocks - and some Sessions. In that era many Sessions and Seth Thomas were identical. The ones carrying the Sessions name were totally different from the regular Sessions line of clocks."

Misc. information from Bob Moore: " I recently came across this info on a local history page. 1919 Western Clock Company moves to Peterborough, Ontario and starts production of clocks on George Street. Former US President William Howard Taft visits Peterborough. 1921 New Hunter Street bridge is completed. Known as the longest "single pour" concrete bridge in the world. 1922 Western Clock Company becomes Westclox and moves to new plant on Hunter Street in Ashburnham. Board of Trade renamed Peterborough Chamber of Commerce. Early 1980's Production in Canada is stopped."

The above history of Westclox Canada was borrowed from Bill Stoddard at ClockHistory.com