Dorrin K Mace, Horologost

Dorrin K Mace, Horologost
The Clock Man in a pensive moment

Saturday, November 12, 2011

History of the Self Winding Clock Company

The Self Winding Clock company was a  manufacturer (actually a movement retrofitting group) of clocks from 1886 until about 1970. Located at Numbers 10 & 12 Dey Street New York City, and having a branch office at 39 Madison Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
They made the four (4) 30' (9.1meter) diameter clocks faces on the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower and made products for Western Union and the London Underground.
The actual clock movements used by the Self-Winding Clock Company were made by other companies such as Howard , Seth Thomas and H.C. Thompson. They then fitted their winding devices and mounted them in cases of various designs, often made in case styles similar to those of companies like Howard and Seth Thomas.
The Self Winding Clock Company was formed in 1886 by Charles Pratt with Henry Chester Pond. The design was based on automatically winding the clock each hour with a motor powered by two 1-1/2 volt dry cells located in the case. The advantage of his high-quality, pendulum-controlled movement, combined with the constant driving force of the small, frequently wound mainspring, was that it yielded a highly accurate clock subject to minimal wear.
An optional attachment allowed the clocks to be synchronized by hourly U.S. Naval Observatory time signals sent over Western Union telegraph lines. The railroads needed to coordinate among their stations (and among each other lest two trains sharing a stretch of track shared it too closely). In 1883, the Naval Observatory agreed to telegraph standard railway time, a great boon for Western Union, which happened to own the Self-Winding Clock Company.
These clocks were common in government offices, schools, and other institutions and could be seen in all Western Union telegraph offices.
 From the late 1800's until well into the mid 1900's, self-winding clocks earned a most important role in horological history. They provided robust and reliable time synchronization across the country. They serviced railroads and other transportation industries, factories, schools, retail stores, and other businesses. Many of them were decommissioned by 1960 and are slowly finding their way into the caring hands of horological collectors.
Power for many self-winding clocks originated with Georges Leclanche's 1866 invention of the carbon-manganese-dioxide and zinc battery. They generally used a pair of these 1.5 volt cells to provide the necessary 3 volts for the clocks. By the early 1900s, a pair of 1.5 volt No. 6 Dry Cells became the premier power source for these clocks.


  1. Thanks for the history Dorrin! I have a 1946 era,desk top "Ogden" model Western Union Naval Observatory clock. The glass over the dial broke, & I'm looking for a replacement part. It was advertised as 10 1/2" high with a 5" dial although the actual housing for the glass is about 5 1/2". It appears the "Kent" desk model may have the same size glass, however it must be domed like mine had. Any ideas where I might find the glass or are you just a history buff? Thanks for your time!!!! T. Todd Tempe, Az 480-390-1500

  2. I have a self winding wall clock without any maker info on the movement or dial. The movement is marked Serial Number B12788, Patent date Nov 21, 1889 and July 31, 1900. Powered by two 1.5 volt batteries. The clock runs for about 10 minutes or until the points close. At that time, the clock should rewind, but does not and this causes the clock to stop. Any info or references would be appreciated. Thanx. Lloyd

  3. I just had mine repaired and your problem sounds similar. They rebuilt the movement and I was told the wiring had a problem.

  4. Try some good contact cleaner on a cotton swab. Do not use sand paper

  5. I have a Self Winding wall clock with a 1898 date. It was used in an old railroad station. It is running fast and I have no more adjustment to slow it down. If I adjust it anymore the weights will fall off the pendulum. Any suggestions??

  6. I just purchased a lot of clocks and a self winding one was among them. Its missing one of the coils on the movement. From your description it sounds like the option to set the clock to naval time every hour is optional. maybe that's the coil i'm missing. its the one on the side of the movement. it has the one on the bottom. any way to tell if it will work without it? or, suggestions on obtaining the part? Thanks!

  7. Hi, They are in pairs, if it is the coils that are on the side and vertical, you can still run the clock with the two under the movement.
    just attach the two leads on the side of the clock rotate the gears and see if it winds. Jerry T.


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