History of Clocks and Watches
Westclox and its predecessor companies the Western Clock Co., Western Clock Mfg. Co. and United Clock Co. of LaSalle-Peru Illinois were in business from 1885 to 2001. They made millions of clocks and watches over the years. Their most famous products were the Big Ben and Baby Ben alarm clocks. Big Ben was first made in 1908, and Baby Ben was first made in 1910. Westclox also made wrist watches and pocket watches. The Westclox trademark was sold to Salton, Inc. in 2001.
Charles Stahlberg had an idea for making a better, but less expensive alarm clock. His ideas were patented on Sept. 22, 1885 as US patent #326, 602. His patent describes the process of making gear assemblies of lead alloy with hard metal acting parts. This patent also describes the casting of the movement plates from this lead alloy, with inset brass bushings for the pivots!
By using hardened steel wire for pivots, and lead alloys for the wheel arbor bodies, small pivots could be used, giving less friction. For this reason, Westclox clocks use weaker mainsprings then other clocks, resulting in less wear.
Westclox clocks stayed at the same high quality level for many years. The Big Ben Chime Alarm movement and the Baby Ben movements were nickel plated for many years, a very nice cosmetic touch. In early 1951, the nickel plating ceased. Starting about 1956 some of the lantern pinions in the Baby Ben were made with the trundles supported only at one end. Plastic lenses were introduced on the Bens in 1956, but this was as much a matter of style as quality. In 1956 the Big Ben single key wind movement was introduced, and the Baby Ben single key wind movement was introduced in 1960. I consider these movements to be lower in quality than their two key wind predecessors, but they were still designed to be repairable.
Sometime in the 1970's, the movement plates were changed from brass to aluminum, due to quality problems with the brass. When Big Ben and Baby Ben style 9 production was started in Athens, Georgia, the movements were riveted together and not intended to be repaired. The same movement was then used in the Big Ben, Baby Ben, and other windup alarm clocks.
In late 2000, the production of windup clocks was moved to China. The clock movement appeared similar to that used in other Chinese made windup alarm clocks, having a separate key for winding the time and alarm. The style 10 Big Bens and Baby Bens were introduced at this time. The Chinese made movements seem to run well and have a reasonable life.
The style 10 Big Bens and Baby Bens are harder to wind than the older Bens. I received several complaints about this. I purchased a style 10 Baby Ben to test, and used it continuously for about 6 months. One night when winding it, my fingers slipped off the time winding key, bumped the alarm set knob, and broke off its shaft!
If someone wants to manufacture good quality new alarm clocks, the best thing they could do is to replicate the best of the old Westclox movement designs:
- Baby Ben two key wind movement,
- Big Ben Loud Alarm two key wind movement,
- Big Ben Chime Alarm two key wind movement.