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,
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.
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
Salton, Inc. in 2001. In October 2007, Salton sold its entire
time products business, including the Westclox and Ingraham
NYL Holdings LLC.
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
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
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
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.
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.,
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