At the beginning of this book I have
said that I would give to the public a history of
the American clock business. I
am now the oldest man living that has had much to
do with the manufacturing of clocks, and can, I believe,
give a more correct account than any other person.
This great business has grown almost from nothing
during my remembrance. Nearly all of the clocks
used in this country are made or have been made in
the small State of Connecticut, and a heavy trade in
them is carried on in foreign countries. The
business or manufacture of them has become so systematized
of late that it has brought the prices exceedingly
low, and it has long been the astonishment of the
whole world how they could be made so cheap and yet
be good. A gentleman called at my factory a few
years ago, when I was carrying on the business, who
said he lived in London, and had seen my clocks in
that city, and declared that he was perfectly astonished
at the price of them, and had often remarked that
if he ever came to this country he would visit the
factory and see for himself. After I had showed
him all the different processes it required to complete
a clock, he expressed himself in the strongest terms he
told me he had traveled a great deal in Europe, and
had taken a great interest in all kinds of manufactures,
but had never seen anything equal to this, and did
not believe that there was anything made in the known
world that made as much show, and at the same time
was as cheap and useful as the brass clock which I
was then manufacturing.
The man above all others in his day
for the wood clock was Eli Terry. He was born
in East Windsor, Conn., in April, 1772, and made a
few old fashioned hang-up clocks in his native place
before he was twenty-one years of age. He was
a young man of great ingenuity and good native talent.
He moved to the town of Plymouth, Litchfield county,
in 1793, and commenced making a few of the same kind,
working alone for several years. About the year
1800, he might have had a boy or one or two young
men to help him. They would begin one or two dozen
at a time, using no machinery, but cutting the wheels
and teeth with a saw and jack-knife. Mr. Terry
would make two or three trips a year to the New Country,
as it was then called, just across the North River,
taking with him three or four clocks, which he would
sell for about twenty-five dollars apiece. This
was for the movement only. In 1807 he bought an
old mill in the southern part of the town, and fitted
it up to make his clocks by machinery. About
this time a number of men in Waterbury associated
themselves together, and made a large contract with
him, they furnishing the stock, and he making the
movements. With this contract and what he made
and sold to other parties, he accumulated quite a little
fortune for those times. The first five hundred
clocks ever made by machinery in the country were
started at one time by Mr. Terry at this old mill in
1808, a larger number than had ever been begun at one
time in the world. Previous to this time the
wheels and teeth had been cut out by hand; first marked
out with square and compasses, and then sawed with
a fine saw, a very slow and tedious process.
Capt. Riley Blakeslee, of this city, lived with
Mr. Terry at that time, and worked on this lot of
clocks, cutting the teeth. Talking with Capt.
Blakeslee a few days since, he related an incident
which happened when he was a boy, sixty years ago,
and lived on a farm in Litchfield. One day Mr.
Terry came to the house where he lived to sell a clock.
The man with whom young Blakeslee lived, left him
to plow in the field and went to the house to make
a bargain for it, which he did, paying Mr. Terry in
salt pork, a part of which he carried home in his
saddle-bags where he had carried the clock. He
was at that time very poor, but twenty-five years after
was worth $200,000, all of which he made in the clock
Mr. Terry sold out his business to
Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley, two of his leading
workmen, in 1810. This establishment was the leading
one for several years, but other ones springing up
in the vicinity, the competition became so great that
the prices were reduced from ten to five dollars apiece
for the bare movement. Daniel Clark, Zenas Cook
and Wm. Porter, started clock-making at Waterbury,
and carried it on largely for several years, but finally
failed and went out of the business.
Col. Wm. Leavenworth, of the
same place, was in the business in 1810, but failed,
and moved to Albany, N.Y. A man by the name of
Mark Leavenworth made clocks for a long time, and
in the latter part of his life manufactured the Patent
Two brothers, James and Lemuel Harrison,
made a few before the year 1800, using no machinery,
making their wheels with a saw and knife. Sixty
years ago, a man by the name of Gideon Roberts got
up a few in the old way: he was an excellent
mechanic and made a good article. He would finish
three or four at a time and take them to New York State
to sell. I have seen him many times, when I was
a small boy, pass my father’s house on horseback
with a clock in each side of his saddle-bags, and a
third lashed on behind the saddle with the dials in
plain sight. They were then a great curiosity
to me. Mr. Roberts had to give up this kind of
business; he could not compete with machinery.
John Rich of Bristol was in the business; also Levi
Lewis, but gave it up in a few years. An Ives
family in Bristol were quite conspicuous as clock-makers.
They were good mechanics. One of them, Joseph
Ives, has done a great deal towards improving the
eight day brass clock, which I shall speak about hereafter.
Chauncey Boardman, of Bristol, Riley
Whiting, of Winsted, and Asa Hopkins, of Northfield,
were all engaged in the manufacture of the old fashioned
hang-up clock. Butler Dunbar, an old schoolmate
of mine, and father of Col. Edward Dunbar, of
Bristol, was engaged with Dr. Titus Merriman in the
same business. They all gave up the business after
a few years.
Mr. Eli Terry (in the year 1814,)
invented a beautiful shelf clock made of wood, which
completely revolutionized the whole business.
The making of the old fashioned hang-up wood clock,
about which I have been speaking, passed out of existence.
This patent article Mr. Terry introduced, was called
the Pillar Scroll Top Case. The pillars were
about twenty-one inches long, three-quarters of an
inch at the base, and three-eights at the top resting
on a square base, and the top finished by a handsome
cap. It had a large dial eleven inches square,
and tablet below the dial seven by eleven inches.
This style of clock was liked very much and was made
in large quantities, and for several years. Mr.
Terry sold a right to manufacture them to Seth Thomas,
for one thousand dollars, which was thought to be
a great sum. At first, Terry and Thomas made
each about six thousand clocks per year, but afterwards
increased to ten or twelve thousand. They were
sold for fifteen dollars apiece when first manufactured.
I think that these two men cleared about one hundred
thousand dollars apiece, up to the year 1825.
Mr. Thomas had made a good deal of money on the old
fashioned style, for he made a good article, and had
but little competition, and controlled most of the
In 1818, Joseph Ives invented a metal
clock, making the plates of iron and the wheels of
brass. The movement was very large, and required
a case about five feet long. This style was made
for two or three years, but not in large quantities.
In the year 1825, the writer invented
a new case, somewhat larger than the Scroll Top, which
was called the Bronze Looking-Glass Clock. This
was the richest looking and best clock that had ever
been made, for the price. They could be got up
for one dollar less than the Scroll Top, yet sold
for two dollars more.