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Clock Times, Issue #001 -- Seth Thomas
September 01, 2007
Welcome to Clock Times. We've all heard about the Seth Thomas Clock Company many times - since they are one of the most successful American clock companies ever. But I thought you might be interested in a little information about Seth Thomas, the man.
Seth Thomas and His LegacyThe Seth Thomas Clock Company, founded in 1813, is not only one of America’s original clock companies but also one of the most prolific in production, as Seth Thomas clocks are still made today. While the Seth Thomas Clock Company was incorporated in 1853, the earliest Seth Thomas clocks were made by Thomas himself under his own name beginning in 1813. Seth Thomas, the son of Scottish immigrants, was born in Wolcott, Connecticut in 1785 in an area of the fledgling United States soon destined to become a major supplier of clocks to the United States and the world. Seth Thomas was trained as cabinetmaker and carpenter.
During the same time period Eli Terry was gaining notice as a clockmaker and needed help to fulfill a contract for the manufacture of 4,000 wooden tallcase clocks, called grandfather clocks today, within four years. Around 1807 Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley joined Eli Terry and built all the clocks in just three years. At the completion of the contract in 1810, Eli Terry sold the business to Thomas and Hoadley. In 1813 Thomas sold his share to Hoadley and in December 1813 bought Heman (that’s right Heman, not Herman) Clark’s clockmaking business in Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut.
Seth Thomas and about 20 employees continued Clark’s business of manufacturing tallcase clocks. The following year the company began making shelf clocks in the popular pillar and scroll style with wooden movements. Many fine examples of Seth Thomas pillar and scroll clocks survive and are prized collector’s pieces. However, in 1816 Eli Terry was awarded a patent for the wooden clock works used in pillar and scroll clocks. Terry and Thomas continued to have royalty disputes over the patent from 1818 until 1829.
Of course, wooden works were eventually replaced by brass clockworks but Seth Thomas was a conservative businessman and continued to manufacture pillar and scroll clocks with wooden movements after other clock companies moved forward with the advancing technology. However, with a reputation for quality, Seth Thomas clocks remained popular.
Meanwhile, like other clock manufacturers, Seth Thomas established a brass rolling mill which was incorporated as the Thomas Manufacturing Company in 1853. The Seth Thomas Clock Company was also incorporated in 1853. Seth Thomas died in 1859 at the age of 74 and his clock company passed to his three of his six children, sons Seth Jr., Edward and Aaron. The Seth Thomas Clock Company remained a successful and independent company until the Great Depression. In 1931 The Western Clock Company and The Seth Thomas Clock Company merged to become divisions of General Time Corporation. Seth E. Thomas, great-grandson of Seth Thomas, was the first Chairman of the Board of General Time Corporation. In 1875 Plymouth Hollow was named Thomaston in honor of Seth Thomas.
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