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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Traveling in Time

Time. We kill it, stop it, go back in it, escape it, rob it, lose it, walk through it, get robbed of it. It never seems to slow down or wait. At times, there's too much, sometimes not so much.

Perhaps, you're wondering why all this mention of time.

That's because it's time to go back in time to post about a visit to a PA museum in 2021. OK, pun time is almost never over.

For one reason of another, mostly forgetfulness, this last September road trip was  waylaid on my computer. This museum was one of the most interesting locations with lots of time (sorry) to explore. That's because on the day of our visit there were less than five others in the museum. 
The National Watch and Clock Museum (NWCM) in Columbia, PA ↑, specializes in horology, which is the study and measurement of time with devices including clocks, watches, sundials, hourglasses, timers, time recorders, marine chronometers, and atomic clocks. Those who study time are horologists. 

Described as the widest specialist horology museum in the country, the museum houses an extensive collection of historical clocks and watches from grandfather clocks to vintage clocks, mass-produced wristwatches and an atomic clock.

Founded in 1977 by the U.S. based National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC), the museum’s collection includes over 12,000 timepieces from around the world of which 3,000 are on display.
This Seth Thomas 4-dial street clock, circa 1920, (shown above) was originally erected in Greenville, SC. It was purchased by James Bell in 1967 and relocated to the Bell Photography Studio in Seneca, SC. In 1992, it was donated to the NAWCC Museum by the Bell family.

Unfortunately, the 10-minute introductory film which formerly welcomed visitors to the museum was no longer being shown as social distancing wasn't possible in the smallish room. Although our tour was self-guided, navigating through the museum was relatively easy. It's all on one floor with various rooms dedicated to specific timekeeping and timepieces. 
The lobby display featured American-made tall case clocks, also known as grandfather clocks, longcase clocks or floor clocks. These freestanding clocks are 6 to 8 feet tall with an enclosed pendulum and weights suspended by cables or chains which need occasional calibration to keep the proper time. 
One of the museum’s most popular collections is the large group of 18th and 19th century tall case clocks. Cases can feature elaborately carved ornamentation on the hood (bonnet), which surrounds and frames the clock face. Until the early 20th century, pendulum clocks provided the most accurate timekeeping. Tall case clocks were found in households and businesses. Today, they’re retained for decorative and antique value, replaced by analog and digital timekeeping.
Another large room is dedicated to the internal workings of tower clocks which centuries ago sounded bells that called people to work, prayer or for important functions. Early clocks didn't have dials, but were striking clocks located near a town center as the tallest structure so the bells could be heard over distances. Later, dials were added on the tower front to let people know the time whenever needed.
One very prominent tower clock maker was the E. Howard & Co. of Boston, MA, founded in 1857, which become a leading manufacture of weight driven clocks, including residential, commercial clocks and tower clocks. The company never made an inexpensive clock and everything made was of excellent quality. Today, Howard clocks are very collectible. The company name was used until 1861 when it became the Howard Clock & Watch Company which continued in business and produced about 854,000 watches through 1903.
Tower clock made by E. Howard & Co. is in Clocktower Place, Nashua, NH

Interior and exterior views of tower clock at Clocktower Place, Nashua, NH
We were very interested in the room of tower clock displays. Our mill residence, Clocktower Place, has a tower clock made by E. Howard & Co. Several years ago we were fortunate to see this still functioning timepiece thanks to a private tour from the residence manager.

The highlight of our visit was an introduction to the monumental clock. The term monumental clock applies to very large clocks placed on the face of a building or tower as focal points that can be seen from afar. These clocks are most often found on stadiums, waterfront properties, transit centers, and/or skyscrapers. 

That said, a monumental clock can also be an oversized freestanding, complicated, handcrafted clocks. Some two dozen of these were taken on tours around the U.S. and worldwide between 1875 and 1900. The clocks had animated panels, automated and mechanical music and often astronomical indicators. Monumental clocks of 19th-century America had classical and Christian symbolism with uniquely American characters and motifs. The clocks were popular not for time telling but entertainment. 
Engle Monumental Clock
The museum’s most impressive display is the first known American made monumental clock. Built by clock designer Stephen Decatur Engle of Hazleton, PA, the Engle Clock is monumental in size with dimensions of 11 feet high, 8 feet wide, 3 feet deep and weighing 1,049 pounds. Engle completed the clock in 1877 after 20 years of workmanship. It features time-telling, music,  and moving carved figures. But timing is everything and unfortunately this creation was finished several months too late for the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition.
The Engle clock indicates the day of the week, current month, and phase of the moon. It has three towers, two organ movements and 48 moving figures that include a unique cast of characters: Jesus Christ, the three Marys from the New Testament, the 12 apostles, Satan, Father Time, Death and a group of Continental soldiers who march past Molly Pitcher on their way to the Battle of Monmouth adds a distinctly American dimension.

This monumental clock toured the Eastern U.S. continuously for 70 years then disappeared after a 1951 showing at the Ohio State Fair. Museum members spent years searching before it was found in 1988 a barn in New York State. The clock's purchase and restoration by NAWCC members and volunteers was funded by donations from member chapters.

The museum includes demonstrations of the clock's mechanisms at two daily showings with a staff member advancing the time settings so visitors are not watching for a full hour. It's nothing short of amazing to see. To see the clock in action, you can check online as museum visitors have included videos on YouTube. The NWCM has one on Vimeo as well.

Here's a rundown of the action: On the hour, the skeletal figure of Death strikes a bone against a skull attached to the column of the clock. At 15, 30, and 45 minutes past the hour, Father Time strikes a bell with a scythe and turns his sandglass as the central figures of Youth, Middle Age, and Old Age revolve in the arch above the clock dial. At 40 minutes past the hour, a parade of Revolutionary soldiers and Molly Pitcher appear in the left tower and a barrel organ plays patriotic tunes. At 55 minutes past the hour, the three Marys come out of the center tower as a procession of apostles takes place accompanied by hymns from the barrel organ in the right tower. The soldier at the top of the central tower maintains a vigil while the clock is running.
Engle, who was more interested in invention than showmanship, turned over management of the clock to Philadelphia entrepreneur Captain Jacob Reid who promoted it as The Eighth Wonder of the World. Reid exhibited the clock throughout the Eastern U.S. charging 25 and 15 cents for adults and children.
The above image shows an advertising clock popular in the 19th century. These were made primarily of wood with spring-wound movements. Product or manufacturer information was painted directly on the dial, case or anywhere it could fit and be seen. The clocks featured three drums covered with advertisements connected to them, which would rotate every 5 minutes when the clock was running showing a total of 9 ads every 15 minutes.
Other companies advertised their products on the front of clocks.
Other museum rooms contain extensive displays of European clocks, German cuckoo clocks, vintage pocket watches and old and newer wristwatches. We looked at so many and keeping track of all afterwards is difficult. Each timepiece had some explanatory information.
Here's a couple examples of display cases with vintage pocket watches and novelty character alarm clocks. I wonder how if any child enjoyed waking up to a talking Batman or Bugs Bunny? 
There's a prominent local connection to watchmaking in this part of the state. The museum includes an extensive collection of models, drawings, and time pieces from the Hamilton Watch Company formerly based in Lancaster, PA, and now a part of Swatch.
Hamilton was established in 1892 and many of its timepieces gained fame as The Watch of Railroad Accuracy. While many industries required careful time-keeping, railroad accuracy could be a matter of life and death. In the early days of American railroads, there wasn't a common method of timing so accidents were frequent. As railroads became more popular, tracks became crowded and trains started crashing into one another. If one train was running early and another running late, they could be running on the same track at the same time in opposite directions. The precision of Hamilton pocket watches was reported to have helped this issue. Hamilton's first railroad watch was the model 940, with 21 jewels and about 200,000 were made.
In 1918, as aviation developed, Hamilton watches were used to keep the new coast to coast U.S. Airmail service on time and became synonymous with the world of aviation. In the 1930s, Hamilton was the official watch of the four major American commercial airlines.

In WWI, as an official supplier to the U.S. Armed Forces, Hamilton equipped soldiers with timepieces prompting a shift in production from pocket watches to wristwatches. In 1942, Hamilton halted consumer watch production during WWII. The company produced over a million timepieces from wristwatches to marine chronometers and earned an Army-Navy E award for excellence in manufacturing. 

In 1957, Hamilton revolutionized the watch industry with Ventura, the world's first electrical battery operated watch. In 1972, Hamilton Watch marketed the Pulsar Time Computer, marketed as the world’s first digital watch, which was marketing promo as it only told time. It produced only 400 pieces with an 18-carat gold case at a cost $2,100, more than a new Ford Pinto sold for then. 

Hamilton was known as the Movie Brand for almost 90 years. Its watches have appeared in over 500 major feature films since 1932. The Hamilton Watch Company ceased operations in 1980.

Another U.S. watch manufacturer predominantly featured in the museum is the Waltham Watch Company, which was based in Waltham, MA, and pioneered the mass production of watches with interchangeable parts. 
The company produced over 40 million watches, clocks, speedometers, compasses, time delay fuses, and other precision instruments between 1850 and 1957. Now defunct, the former factory complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

All puns aside, our visit to the National Watch & Clock Museum was definitely one of the most interesting museum visits in recent outings. We really lost track of time while inside.

We learned that there are other horology museums within road trip distances: The American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, CT, and the Willard House and Clock Museum in Grafton, MA. Unlike the PA one these are focused solely on American-made timekeepers.

And now this post is definitely almost out of time.
But it's not quite over.


Just wondering about your preference in personal timepieces if you wear a watch. We both wear Timex battery-powered analog watches. This Timex (left) is my daily wear watch. A few pluses: the dial is easily read, there's a built-in light and, after nearly two years, is still powered by the original battery with no charging needed. I was surprised to learn that its current cost is nearly double that of my original purchase price (under $30 to slightly over $50).

The 1950s tag line in Timex commercials was this: "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking" delivered by pioneering TV journalist John Cameron Swayze. The tagline has been replaced in recent years by: "Timex. Life is ticking."

28 comments:

Bijoux said...

I would have enjoyed this museum, too. I’ve always worn a watch, since 3rd grade! My favorites were the Swatch, back in the 1980’s, but I couldn’t afford the real ones, so wore knock offs. For our anniversary one year, we splurged on an antique gothic clock that sat on our mantel for years at our old house. It’s one of a kind, with a painted glass front. Thank you for this very interesting tour!

MadSnapper said...

I would love to see the continental soldiers marching on the clock. I like the building and find it fascinating on the outside. Have never heard the word horology and if I saw it without your explanation would think it mean books about horror. ha ha.. my friend Rich at the nursing home, had a really old clock like these in his room. it drove me nuts, striking 4 times an hour and on the 12 striking 12 times. Rich said he never even heard it unless i was there to complain about it.

Barbara Rogers said...

I loved this post, taking me on a tour through the museum...and great explanations about the various clocks and such. So glad you found these older photos to post on a January day!

gigi-hawaii said...

Lots of information about clocks! I can't stand noisy cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks! They drive me crazy!

Sandi said...

Time is so important to us, we came up with these elaborate machines to track it. Yet is passes whether we watch it or not.

(Sorry for the pun!)

Jeanie said...

We all have interesting relationships to time, ones that change as -- wait for it -- TIME moves on. This looks like a beautiful museum and one that is quite well done. I'm rather fond of many of those clocks!

Linda G. said...

That is a very impressive museum…full of interesting displays! At one time I thought I wanted a grandfather clock. I am glad that I didn’t invest in one, as there is no room for a grandfather clock in our house. I used to have a Black Forest (Germany) cuckoo clock but sold it (at a good price) several years ago. The watch that graces my arm is an Apple Series 7. You saw it, when we met. I had just purchased the watch then. It has grown on me. I really like it! Remember that I said I have had two other smart watches — Fitbit watches — but didn’t wear them. I wear the Apple Watch. Sometimes even forget it is on my wrist.

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

What an awesome museum. I really enjoyed the amazing clocks!

Nil @ The Little House by the Lake said...

Wow! So many clocks.

I'd love to visit that museum.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

Well, it's about TIME someone took the TIME to write about their wonderful TIME at the Watch and Clock museum. Never heard the word horology before! I am surprised by that! I do prefer an analog watch. Right now I wear an inexpensive one from Walmart. It replaced my very nice LLBean Field Watch, that had a life time warranty, and was replaced 2 times by LLBean, but then they quit manufacturing that watch and would not replace it again, so gave me the full price for it. I was surprised by that as it was not inexpensive! But I decided my $15.00 watch from Walmart is good enough and when it dies, it won't take much to replace it. I used the $$ from LLBean to buy something else from LLBean that I needed more than a watch...a nice real cotton blanket. LOL. This was fun, thank you for sharing. I love clocks. I do not like digital clocks or watches.

Bindu said...

Interesting to see the many different faces telling time!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I used to wear a watch exactly like yours, but I gave up when I realized we always had our phones with us. Bill had already stopped wearing his on the day he retired -- as a teacher, his life revolved around keeping precise time. ... I loved the clock museum tour -- your pictures are all excellent , especially am in admiration of the technical ones showing the mechanics. You are such an excellent tour guide.

Vee said...

I had a beautiful Seiko watch that I wore for years, but it has been many more years that I have not worn a watch. This museum looks interesting.

My name is Erika. said...

That's a whole lot of clocks. Did any of them chime? When I was a kid we visited Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA a few times, and we loved to be in the clock building at noon when many of the clocks would all chime. It actually looks like a very interesting museum, and I'm glad you found the photos to share with us. It's going to get cold, so stay warm. hugs-Erika

Rita said...

I think clocks are fascinating and love grandfather clocks. Cool post! :)

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

My father would have loved that museum as he used to repair clocks and watches as a hobby. This was remarkable as he was a farmer and had huge workman's hands.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I know a fellow who has a grandfather clock that has been in his family for a very long time, and has been passed on from generation to generation via the oldest son. Now they have a dilemma. The current oldest son lives very far away, the cost to pack the clock adequately and ship it across the continent is prohibitive, and the son doesn't really want it anyway since he lives in a modest condominium. As far as I know, the second son has agreed to provide a home for it, but his wife thinks it quite horrid. All this over a clock!

Bill said...

I love clocks and watches so I know I would love spending time in this museum. Beautiful Seth Thomas street clock outside the museum.

Anvilcloud said...

Too long for me this morning. I don’t have enough time. 😎

Eggs In My Pocket said...

Such a wonderful place to visit! Love your post! Stay warm these very cold days!

David said...

Beatrice, Very interesting post! When we lived in Chicago there was a small but nifty clock museum in Rockford IL and we found it fascinating. It was all clocks but some of them were very, very old. That Engle monumental clock is amazing. FYI, 3 or 4 years ago we did visit the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts. Hope to see you both in February... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Edna B said...

That Engle clock is amazing. I agree with you about the Timex commercial. It does not appeal to me either. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

nick said...

Some very interesting clocks and watches there. There's a wonderful animated clock in Belfast city centre, the Alice Clock. Here's the description: The Alice Clock is the only automaton clock in Ireland. It was created to celebrate the Millennium 2000. 24 bells play on the hour, from 9.00am to 6.00pm. Every three hours, hand crafted religious figures emerge. King David is followed by John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary, holding the infant Jesus. Every other hour characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland rotate around the three mosaic panels. They depict the progress of the day - morning, noon and night.

There are several other clocks on Belfast buildings, but only one is maintained regularly and actually tells the time. The others have all stopped.

As for watches, I've had a Seiko watch since the 1990s and like yours it only needs a new battery every two years or so. It cost around £70, which today would be £116 ($158).

Jon said...

The National Watch and Clock Museum is definitely a place I'd like to visit. I've always been fascinated by old clocks. It's amazing that many of these ancient time pieces are still working. The Engle Clock is absolutely fantastic - I love it!

Unfortunately, I no longer wear a wristwatch - solely because I hate having to constantly change the battery. I really miss the old windup wristwatches that seemingly lasted forever.

Polly said...

A great post Beatrice, and an amazing collection of clocks. I would enjoy visiting the museum. I used to wear a watch but my everyday one has a dodgy clasp so I rely on my phone now!

DeniseinVA said...

Oh my goodness, what a great post! I absolutely love clocks of any kind. This museum is now on our bucket list for when we start traveling again :)

Jenny Woolf said...

I don't think I've ever seen a timepiece museum and certainly nothing as comprehensive as this. I am a big fan of the tall grandfather clocks. I really like to hear their slow ticking - such a reassuring sound, somehow.

Rob K said...


What a fabulous post! Those old clocks are works of art.

You've given me yet another place for me to visit!