Simon Willard clocks were produced in Massachusetts in the Grafton and Roxbury, very close to downtown Boston, by Simon Willard (April 3, 1753 – August 30, 1848), a celebrated U.S. clockmaker. Among his many innovations and timekeeping improvements, Simon Willard is best known for inventing the eight-day patent timepiece that came to be known as the gallery or banjo clock.
Simon Willard was of the fifth Willard generation in America. The original Willard family had arrived in 1634 from Kent (England), and they were among the founders of Concord, Massachusetts. Simon Willard's parents were Benjamin Willard and Sarah Brooks, who were Grafton natives. Like all Willard brothers, Simon was born on the family farm, in Grafton, on April 3, 1753. He was the second son; his brothers were Benjamin, Aaron, and Ephraim. The farm, now operated as the Willard House and Clock Museum, had been built in 1718, by the Willards' third American generation. When Simon Willard was born, the house had just one room. The elder brother Benjamin, who was 10 years older than Simon, learned horology and opened a workshop adjacent to the house in 1766. It is presumed that the other Willard brothers were taught horology by Benjamin. At age 11 Simon began to study horology, showing some inherent ability for it. A year later, senior Benjamin hired the Englishman Mr. Morris, who would teach horology particularly to Simon. Years afterward, Simon revealed that Morris didn't know much on the matter and his brother Benjamin had been his actual mentor. Just after another year, Simon built his first tall clock. Like some other contemporary horologists, the Willard boys divided their lives between farm chores and the clock business. The horology aspect of their lives became profitable, and Benjamin got a workshop at Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1767. Simon Willard managed his own business in Grafton; a few some clocks survive, reading "Simon Willard, Grafton." At his workshop in Grafton, Willard studied the clocks which were repaired by him. He experimented intensively, to reduce those timepieces' parts which did the driving and the regulation. The smallest clock was the bracket clock, and Simon invented his gallery clock (which was patented later in 1802) copying this design. The next creation of Simon was the shelf clock, which was based on the gallery clock model. About 1780, Simon Willard moved alone to Boston's 2196 Roxbury Street (Washington Street, nowadays), into a four-room workshop. Soon after, Aaron settled in the same neighborhood, a quarter mile away. In 1784, Willard's workshop advertised: "Simon Willard opened a shop in Roxbury Street, nearly facing the road which turns off to Plymouth. There, Simon Willard carries on the clockmaking business, in all its branches." Like Aaron, Simon was still interested in perfecting the mechanism of the compact clocks. Nonetheless, since the 1790s, Willard's workshop built tall clocks in great proportion while performing general clock repair. Both Simon and Aaron Willard combined 18th century knowledge of horology with then-contemporary industrial methods (pre-cast parts, template usage, labor division, standardized production, efficient management). Simon and Aaron Willard each developed an industrial zone, throughout a quarter-mile radius around their shops. By 1807, 20 factories in Boston were sub-contracted to supply parts or materials to the Willard brothers' businesses. This included mahogany (by some nearby mills), clock parts (amongst which 20 cabinetmakers were), gilder works, and other important artistic resources. Both Willards boys resorted to the same suppliers and even to the same workers. English suppliers were also used, as the early United States lacked vital raw materials, most particularly brass. Entire English clock mechanisms, whose performance was much longer with respect to the wooden ones of America, were assembled into the mahogany clock cases of Boston. By their quality, the clocks of Boston became a sign of status. Americans were eager to buy clocks for parlors, offices, churches, or other public spaces. Simon Willard's clocks were the most famous in America. However, they were still expensive for the common people. Indeed, Simon Willard preferred to build sumptuous models which were full of artistic details (brass touches, mainly). In his belief, the clocks had to be just so expensive that, after acquiring one, the people may be still able to furnish their fine homes. Simon Willard built most clocks through labored handicraft, and these devices were outstandingly precise. Particularly, Simon had highly trained hands and a great eye, filing cogwheels without using marks, whereas such mechanisms worked finely, with a month accuracy of 30 seconds. Although Simon's workshop produced fewer clocks with respect to Aaron's, nowadays Simon's clocks are sold by the highest bids in auctions, by their superior refinement. About 1810, both Simon and Aaron were producing clocks which belonged alongside the European clock mainstream in terms of quality and artistic presence. Simon Willard interviewed his clients personally, evaluating each detail, and he ordered his technicians to check each device extensively, in the customer's own home. Into each clock, Simon included brochures, with instructions, a written guarantee, and the assertion of ownership. Further technician service was provided, as well. Although Simon knew little about advertising, he promoted his workshop through papers which were affixed inside the devices. He touted: "These clocks are made in the best manner. They run for a year and they don't wind up. We will give evidence that it is much cheaper to buy new clocks than to buy old or second hand clocks. Simon Willard warrants all his clocks." Nonetheless, on some occasions, the signature of Simon Willard was removed from his clocks.