Seth Thomas was born in Wolcott, Connecticut in 1785, the fifth of
seven children of Scottish immigrant, James Thomas, a cooper, and
his wife Maria Ward.
Seth had a natural ability for carpentry and he probably obtained
his knowledge and interest in mill property and manufacturing from
He had limited formal education and left school at an early age to
become an apprentice carpenter and joiner to Daniel Tuttle, of
Seth was apparently a man of few words with great energy and
perseverance in all that he did; thus, he paid strong attention to
the duties of this apprenticeship. Subsequently, he became a skilled
woodworker and built houses and barns in the nearby towns around
Farmingbury/Wolcott (incorporated 1796).
In the early 1800s, Seth attempted to set up a clock-making industry
in Wolcott. He made his first clock in his family's house. The woods
around the house were filled with mountain laurel trees; many
Wolcott men worked cutting the trees and sawing them into thin
slices, which, when seasoned, were used for the wooden wheels of the
clocks. The women of the town spun flax (cotton) into cords and
these were used to hold the clock weights. As a result, the town of
Wolcott profited to some extent from the Thomas enterprise, the
short time it was located in Wolcott.
In 1807, Seth moved to Plymouth. There he joined Eli Terry and Silas
Hoadley in a business of making clocks at a wholesale rate. Seth
mainly worked on fitting the wheels and different clock parts
together. From 1807 until 1810, they made 4000 clocks of the
"hang-up" or "wag-on-the wall" type. These clocks did not have
cases, but buyers who wanted cases for their clocks hired carpenters
to build what they called "grandfather cases" for them.
In 1810, Thomas and Hoadley bought out Terry's share of the company,
by then the most successful clockmaking firm in the country, and
worked together until 1812. At that time Seth Thomas sold out his
share of the company to Hoadley, and went into business on his own
in Plymouth Hollow.
Thomas continued Clark’s wooden movement tall clock production, and
about 1817 began making the wooden movement shelf clock. These were
cased in pillar and scroll cases until 1830, when the bronze looking
glass and other styles became popular. In 1842, brass movements were
introduced, and first cased in the popular O.G. case (which was made
until 1913). Wood movements were phased out in 1845.
The Seth Thomas Clock Company was organized as a joint stock
corporation on May 3, 1853 to succeed the earlier clockmaking
operation of the founder. Seth Thomas (1785-1859) had been
manufacturing clocks at the site since 1814.
Seth's first wife was Philinda Tuttle; they married in the early
1800s and had a daughter, Philinda. His second wife was Laura A.
Andrews. They had six children Seth, Martha, Amanda, Edward,
Elizabeth, and Aaron. Sons Seth and Aaron went into the clock
business with him and subsequently enlarged the clock factory and
developed it into a world business.
After Thomas’ death in 1859, the town of Plymouth CT was renamed
"Thomaston" in his honor. At that time, his son Aaron became
President and began to add new products to a conservative line.
About 1862, the firm purchased the patent rights of Wait T.
Huntington and Harvey Platts of Ithaca, New York and added three
models to their line that year. The earliest of the clocks indicate
only three patent dates on the dials, September 19, 1854, November
17, 1857 and January 31, 1860. The fourth and final patent of March
1, 1862 is carried on most of their calendar clocks manufactured
until 1875 or 1876. On February 15, 1876 Randall T. Andrews, Jr., a
Thomas relative and workman in the factory, received a patent on an
improved mechanism. This was put into production and utilized on all
later perpetual calendar clocks until the last model was dropped in
Regulator clocks were introduced in 1860. The patterns and machinery
for these had been purchased in 1859 from the creditors of bankrupt
clockmaker Silas B. Terry. Spring driven clocks were introduced ca.
1855–1860. Perpetual calendar clocks were made from ca. 1863–1917.
Some of the most popular later types include walnut kitchen clocks,
made from 1884–1909; marble clocks, 1887–ca. 1895; black (Adamantine
finish) wood mantel clocks, ca. 1885–1917; black enameled iron cased
clocks, 1892–ca. 1895; oak kitchen clocks, 1890–ca. 1915; tambour
clocks, introduced in 1904; chime clocks, introduced in 1909; and
electric A/C clocks, introduced in 1928.
The Seth Thomas Clock Company was very prosperous into the 20th
Century and was considered the “Tiffany’s” of Connecticut clock
manufacture, even by their competitors. Between 1865 and 1879 they
operated a subsidiary firm known as Seth Thomas' Sons & Company that
manufactured a higher-grade 15-day mantel clock movement and during
that period were major supporters of a New York sales outlet known
as the American Clock Company. They also became a major manufacturer
of tower and street clocks after 1872 and in between 1915 were
manufacturers of jeweled watches.
Many Seth Thomas clocks from 1881 to 1918 have a date code stamped
in ink on the case back or bottom. Usually, the year is done in
reverse, followed by a letter A–L representing the month. For
example, April 1897 would appear as 7981 D.
On January 1, 1931, the firm became a subsidiary of General Time
Instruments Corporation and soon passed from family control.
In 1955, a flood badly damaged the Seth Thomas factory. They phased
out movement manufacturing and began importing many movements from
Germany. Hermle, in the Black forest of Germany, has made many
movements for Seth Thomas clocks.
The firm's decline was gradual over the next 50 years and culminated
by purchase of Seth Thomas by Talley Industries in 1968 and moving
from Connecticut to Norcross, Georgia somewhere between 1975-1979.
It was reported in 1988 that the firm was all but dissolved. In
June 2001 General Time announced that it was closing its entire
operation. The Colibri Group acquired Seth Thomas. The NAWCC (the
National Association of Watch and Clock collectors) purchased from
Seth Thomas their collection of historical records, drawings,
photographs, advertisements and documents.