Waterbury Antique Clocks
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The Waterbury Clock Company was incorporated in the city of Waterbury, Connecticut, on March 5, 1857. The roots of the company, however, reach back to January 14, 1843, when its parent company, the Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Company, was formed.
Benedict & Burnham were manufacturers of brass sheeting, brass buttons and other brass products. By the 1840's, brass clock movements were being used in millions of clocks manufactured by such companies as Seth Thomas,., Wm. L. Gilbert Clock Co., Ansonia Clock Company and other 19th century clock manufacturers.
With brass being in such demand it was a natural extension for a brass manufacturer like Benedict & Burnham to extend its business by manufacturing clock movements as well. In this way they controlled the whole supply chain from raw material to finished product. Their first foray into the clock business was as a joint venture between clockmaker Chauncey Jerome (1793-1868) and his son, Samuel, and the directors of Benedict & Burnham (including Aaron Benedict, Gordon W. Burnham, John C. booth, Henry Bronson and Arad W. Welton,) Benedict & Burnham purchased half of the 3,200 shares, and the Jeromes the other half. The business was named Jerome Manufacturing Company and was incorporated on February 14, 1850, in New Haven, Connecticut, where the Jeromes were already manufacturing clocks.
The Jeromes bought out the Benedict & Burnham investors in 1853. Benedict & Burnham is reported to have made a profit of 21% over their initial investment.
Benedict & Burnham decided to start their own clock making company in their hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. In the summer of 1855 they hired Chauncy Jerome's younger son, Noble Jerome, to set up a plant to make brass movements in a small building right next to their main brass manufacturing plant.
In 1856 the Jerome Manufacturing Company went bankrupt, and Benedict & Burnham offered Chauncey Jerome a lease on some buildings near their Waterbury factory where he could make cases to house the movements produced by benedict & Burnham. Jerome left after only 8 months and the case making operation was taken over by his foreman, Edward Church.
On March 5, 1857, the Waterbury Clock Company was formally incorporated. Aaron Benedict and G. W. Burnham were the two largest shareholders of the original 18, owning more than one third of the 2,400 shares between them. Most of the other shareholders were also active as shareholders of the Benedict & Burnham Company.
They hired Chauncey Jerome's brother, Noble Jerome, as their chief foreman of movement production. Tragedy struck in 1861 when Noble Jerome was killed when a balustrade fell from a building just as he was passing by. He was replaced by Silus B. Terry, son of the famous clockmaker Eli Terry.
Soon after the American Civil War ended the Waterbury Clock Company built two large factories for building clock cases. Misfortune struck once again when they both were destroyed by fire (which seemed to happen quite often with factories of that era!) The factories were rebuilt and from that point their clock business really took off.
The first listing of Waterbury Clock Company clocks was published in 1867 in a catalog distributed by The American Clock Company, New York sales agency, who represented many other clock manufacturers as well.
Business was booming. From June 1869 through June 1870 they had manufactured 96,000 movements, 85,300 cases, and 82,000 completed clocks. By 1875, Waterbury Clocks were distributed through sales offices in Chicago and San Francisco, as well.
In 1881 the Waterbury Clock Company published their own catalog which listed their clocks exclusively, offering 94 different model variations. By 1891 their catalog had expanded to list 304 models and 175 pages.
1892 was a watershed year for Waterbury when the clock company formed a subsidiary called the Waterbury Watch Company. This new division began producing inexpensive low-end pocket watches for the Ingersoll Company, who sold them for dollar each. They were branded with the Ingersoll name and were highly profitable for both companies. Between 1896 to 1916 they sold more than 40,000,000 of these $1.00 watches.
By the turn of the century Waterbury was turning out an amazing 600,000 clocks and watches each month with a workforce of 3,000.
When America entered World War I in 1917, the U.S. Army contracted with the Waterbury Watch Company to produce inexpensive wristwatches for American soldiers. After the Great War ended in 1918, the American public began to buy the watches.
Unfortunately, the Waterbury Watch Company lost its best customer when The Ingersoll Company went bankrupt in 1922 due to poor business decisions, mainly overexpansion through the purchase of other bankrupt watch companies.
In 1922 the Waterbury Clock Company acquired the Ingersoll company assets and continued producing watches bearing the Ingersoll-Waterbury trademark.
Up until the Great Depression Waterbury had been quite prosperous. But like so many companies, most of the profits enriched the pockets of its Directors instead of being reinvested in new equipment and updated facilities.
By 1931 the Waterbury Clock Company was in rapid decline. Many of the large buildings were unused and in disrepair; they had a large inventory of unfinished goods; much of its machinery was idle or obsolete.
In August of 1932 the Waterbury Clock Co. was placed in receivership. Some of the large stockholders rescued the company with an investment of $500,000 in exchange for new shares of preferred stock. The reorganized company was named Ingersoll-Waterbury. They added a line of electric clocks as well as its popular line of Disney inspired character clocks and watches. Its "Mickey Mouse" watch was hugely popular but it had a very low profit margin and was therefor unable to contribute much to the company's profitability.
World War II disrupted Waterbury's normal production as they, like so many other manufacturers, supported the war effort by manufacturing military items. Torpedo gyroscopes, oil pressure gauges, timing fuses, and gyroscopes for anti-aircraft units were among the items they produced.
By a strange turn of events, a Norwegian company ended up buying the Ingersoll-Waterbury Company in 1942. The Germans had sunk most of the Norwegian company's steamship line but they retained a lot of capital that they wanted to invest to help the war effort. They chose the Ingersoll-Waterbury Company and built a brand new factory in the nearby town of Middlebury, CT.
In 1944 the company name was changed to United States Time Corporation. They were highly profitable with their military related products. It was during this period that they researched and developed what would become the hugely successful Timex brand watch.
Additional plants were built after the war, with locations in Little Rock, Arkansas, Abilene, Texas and even one in Aberdeen, Scotland.
They discontinued production of mechanical clocks in 1949 and concentrated mainly on Timex production, employed more than 6,500 workers and was said to be the world's biggest watch manufacturer.
In 1969 the company went through another transformation. It was renamed the Timex Corporation and was managed by one of the founding Norwegian partners.
The 1970s saw the first surge of competition from electronic and quartz movements. Times resisted these new movements, sticking with their mechanical watches, and this caused a sharp drop off in profitability and its worldwide dominance of the watch trade.
Today, Timex is a private corporation owned by Norwegian businessmen. It still produces watches under the Timex brand, most manufactured overseas.
The great Waterbury Clock Company, like so many hugely successful 19th century clockmakers, is no more. But due to its vast manufacturing output a huge number of Waterbury clocks can be readily found in antique stores, flea markets and homes whose families have passed on their Waterbury clocks through succeeding generations.