A CLOCK FROM THE VAST GOVERNMENT "INTERNET OF CLOCKS"

A CLOCK FROM THE VAST GOVERNMENT "INTERNET OF CLOCKS"

We tend to think of technology as our own contemporary magic, but every era had their 'cutting-edge' machines and devices. See that red light in the center of this early 20th century clock? It has a story...

Before Mike meticulously updated this clock with a high-torque C-battery quartz movement to make it relevant again (painstakingly incorporating the original hands of course), all that space inside the back cavity was filled with two motors and two large dry cell batteries. One motor was for the clock, and the other received a radio signal activated by the Naval Observatory at noon each day which would sync the clock mechanically (!) to noon, and in turn light up that little red light to let everyone know this little bit of magic was happening. By the 1930s, this service cost $25 a year, and it included the maintenance and lease of the clocks themselves, which were located all across the country in Western Union offices and other prominent businesses as well. These establishments were able to give their customers a valuable commodity -- trust in the accuracy of their time -- when one couldn't just check their iphone, computer or toaster for such.

But what was it all about anyway?  

In 1845, sick of being late for wars and such, the Secretary of the Navy had a time ball installed on top of the Naval Observatory which was to be dropped every day precisely at noon. Now the residents of Washington D.C. could set their time pieces, and ships in the Potomac River could set their clocks before going to sea. Two decades later in 1865 The Observatory Time Service was initiated, which allowed a time signal to be transmitted via telegraph lines to the offices of the Navy Department. 

At 11:50am each day, Western Union suspended regular work -- then telegraph wires across the country were tuned to the government for receiving time signals. At exactly noon, The Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. sent out a synchronizing signal to all WU offices East of The Rockies allowing the manager to accurately set their 'official' clock, thus eliminating the expected and routine discrepancy inherent in mechanical clock movements.

Years later, upon the introduction of the self-winding technology, this same telegraph signal automatically set all the Western Union office clocks to noon by electronically stimulating an internal solenoid, mechanically causing the minute and second hands to point straight up. The service was extended to train stations in order to establish accurate time for railroads across the nation which previously had relied upon arcane time-keeping methods such as the sun, the church tower or the one shop clock in town. Born was the concept of a national Standard Time.

Keeping this in perspective, turning a telegraphed radio signal into a mechanical result in both big cities and also remote locations was certainly impressive and cutting-edge technology at that time -- and most certainly gave new licence to (probably already annoying) people to now complain because their train was two minutes late...

In order to honor the historical and mechanically-advanced functionality of this clock, Mike discreetly installed a separate battery pack and a momentary on/off button on the bottom of the clock which powers up the light when the button is depressed -- an homage to a noteworthy system that once unified time across a still fledgling nation.

Incidentally for our local readers, these clocks were made for Western Union by The Self-Winding Clock Company of New York, which was located at 205 Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn, now part of the Pratt campus. 

This clock is for sale.



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