Chelsea Clock Company
Antique Clocks Guy Reference Library

Chelsea "Message Center" Clock

Boston, Mass

The earliest clockmaker in Massachusetts was Simon Willard who, in 1802, invented his famous Willard Banjo Clock with which most collectors are familiar. Willard's clocks were pendulum clocks and were excellent timekeepers. He made his movements out of cast brass and the beauty of his cases was known and admired. His techniques in clock making are still used today. It still remains a mystery as to where Willard learned his unique skills.

Edward Howard was an apprentice of Aaron Willard Jr., nephew of Simon Willard. Howard started in business for himself in 1840. Ten years later he and a newly acquired partner started making watches and at that time moved to Waltham. In 1857 Edward Howard returned to Roxbury and started another factory known as the E. Howard Clock Company, which is still in operation but is not located in Waltham. One of Howard's apprentices was a Joseph Eastman. Eastman started the business that is now the Chelsea Clock Company in 1886.

During this time watchmaking advanced to its present excellence. While the watch escapement type of clock had been made in a limited way for use aboard ships, it was Eastman's idea to put the watch escapement in a high quality striking clock for home use. He argued that it could make an excellent timekeeper, that it would run in any position, and that it would not have to be set plum on the mantle as pendulum clocks did. It would be small and compact and lend itself to small cases. In 1886 Eastman built a factory on Everett Avenue in Chelsea MA, and called it the Eastman Clock Company. After experiencing operating difficulties, the name of the company became the Boston Clock Company and the business was bought by Charles H. Pearson of Brookline in 1897. At this time he changed the name yet again to the Chelsea Clock Company.

While the early days of the company were somewhat stormy, the same devotion to the idea of making the finest quality clock has always been maintained. There is not a clock company in the world whose product even approaches the quality of the clocks produced by Chelsea today.

Early developments...
One of the early developments of the Chelsea Clock Company was the the Ship's Bell clock. This particular item proved to be a very popular one, not only for use at sea, but also for home use. Chelsea's Ship's Bell clock and non-striking clocks are found in every port in the world. In addition to the use of Chelsea clocks in the home and at sea, they are used in a great variety of instruments for recording purposes. In water stage-recorders they are used in Russia, Japan, India, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and many other places. Many of these clocks are used in the measuring of water supply in the cities of New York, Chicago, Boston and a dozen other cities. Practically every hydroelectric development in the country, such as TVA, is based on information gathered by instruments over a period of ten years which are operated by Chelsea clocks. They also measure the amount of water taken out of the Great Lakes for the sewage disposal of the City of Chicago.

The uses for Chelsea recording clocks, which are generally built to customers' specifications, are quite varied and sometimes rather unique. For instance, Chelsea clocks are used in measurment of electricity generated by Niagara Falls. Being around a Chelsea clock can also be quite a shocking experience. A rather unique application of Chelsea technology was in one era the timing of electrocutions at the Atlanta Penitentiary; 10, 9, 8... zap!

The time spent in the air by the "Question Mark", the first endurance airplane, was captured by a recording barograph operated by a Chelsea movement. The standard altitude barograph used by the Army, Navy and practically all the air lines, is operated by a Chelsea movement. In this period, these movements have found their way to many airports the world over. Each one of the pilots who have attempted high- altitude records for airplane flights carried with him a sealed mechanism that automatically recorded their altitude. This mechanism was of course a Chelsea movement.

Macmillan used a number of Chelsea clocks to record the magnetism at the North Pole during his famous Arctic Expedition of 1922. Both these clock and the clocks used by Admiral Byrd for recording temperature, pressure and humidity on his South Pole expedition were specially oiled with low temperature oil before these explorers set out on their adventures.

War and Peace (or) Give us this day our daily bread...
The Clock Guy, America's Antique Brokerage, uses Chelsea clocks to earn the meager bread required to keep food on the table and shoes on the kids. Timekeeping is a reality in our family, which has a standing offer to collectors to locate Chelsea clocks for their collections, or assist in sale of Chelsea clocks they own. In addition, we can order new Chelsea clocks on behalf of our clients.

During World War I and II Chelsea furnished thousands of clocks to the armed forced for use aboard Liberty ships, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. Any number of Chelsea special movements were used in connection with fire control mechanisms on battleships and also with dead reckoning tracers. The U.S. Army still uses many Chelsea clocks in all of its fields of operation to record messages through a message center. Chelsea was called upon to develop movements that operate under water to record the depth of cable cutters, as well as movements which can be dropped from an airplane at several thousand feet and still operate after striking the water.

Today, Chelsea carries on a rather extensive program of development both in its movements, machinery and operations. Quite a few of the machines used in the Chelsea plant were developed and built right there.

More History of Timekeeping
Measurement of time has been accomplishment by various means for many centuries. The first periods of division were day and night caused by the revolutions of the earth upon its axis. The sun dial was one of the earliest type of timekeepers. It was used as early as the year 2000 B.C. and for several hundred years was the only type of timekeeper in existence. Sun dials were only practical during the hours of the day when the sun was shining. The desire to mark the hours of the night led to the adoption of the water clock which measured the time by the amount of water which passed through a small hole from one vessel to another. By keeping the water in the vessel from which the water flowed at a constant level to maintain the same pressure, a fairly accurate indication of the passing hours was given.

Sand glasses, or hour glasses as they are commonly known, were first used to measure time in the latter part of the 9th century. They were made in practically the same form as the hour glass today. These glasses were used for all sorts of purposes from speechmaking to cooking. They were also used at sea for it was important in the early days of navigation to know the speed at which a vessel was proceeding in order so its position could be calculated.

The earliest clock worthy of our modern definition was made by an English monk around the year 1335. From the 14th century on clocks were made in principle like the clocks of today but they did not have any dials or hands, but were made to strike the hours on a bell.

Early clockmakers were great artists but very poor mechanics. The timekeepers of three to four centuries ago were masterpieces of design. The makers spent years decorating their cases, but these clock were not very accurate in comparison to the standards of today. As soon as Galileo had discovered the law of the pendulum in the year 1580, he set to work on a timepiece that could make use of his discovery, however it would be almost 100 years before this principle was applied to clocks.

Clockmaking challenges...
One problem that faced the clockmakers of this era was the lengthening and shortening of the pendulum rod by the expansion caused by the heat and the contraction due to cold.

The immense importance of accurate timekeepers for ascertaining the position of a ship at sea was apparent very early. In 1598, over 100 years after the discovery of America, the king of Spain offered a reward of 100,000 crowns for the invention of such a timepiece since a pendulum was impractical at sea. It was more than 175 years later that the first chronometer was invented, and the present type of escapement used in watches and high grade clock was made.

Placing jewels in the bearing of clocks was the invention of the Swiss in 1700, and today the Swiss still furnish most of the jewels used in watches and high-grade clocks. These jewels were mostly sapphires from India and Australia, although today they are almost entirely synthetically made.

The earliest American clockmaker was Thomas Harland, who came to this country from England on the ship that carried the tea that was thrown overboard in Boston Harbor in 1773. He settled in Norwich, CT, and had as one of his apprentices Eli Terry who was later called "the father of American clockmaking." Clocks during this period were almost entirely pendulum floor clocks, the movements were made of cast brass and cast iron. Terry made his first clock in 1792 and it is now owned by his descendants and is in good running order. Fortunately for Terry, Paul Revere had made great strides in the rolling of brass and copper sheets about this time.

Meanwhile, back in Boston...
Today, Chelsea Clock Company has passed its 100th Anniversary of fine American clockmaking. Their products are sold throughout the world in marine and nautical stores, fine jewelry stores and through promotional products distributors. The company has seen the product line expand from marine style clocks to beautiful jewelry pieces which are used more and more for corporate awards, recognition gifts and incentive items. This is the new Chelsea and as it celebrates its Centennial; a company that eagerly anticipates serving a new generation that appreciates the tradition of fine American craftsmanship.

Click To Enlarge
8.5" Diameter Ship's Bell, c.1975

Label from early Chelsea Commodore model ship's bell clock

Chelsea Clock Company Serial Numbers


Notable Chelsea Clock Owners

James Arness

Leonid Brezhnev

Bing Crosby

Thomas E. Dewey

Barry Goldwater

Louis Gossett Jr

Bob Hope

Billy Joel

Rocky Marciano

Aristotle Onassis

David Letterman

James Taylor

John Wayne

Gene Sarazen

Mrs. Arthur Fiedler

General Douglas MacArthur

Rear Admiral R.H. Hillenkoetter

Grateful Dead  (each member)

Elvis Presley (purchased 100 as Christmas presents)

Phil Rizzuto

Richard Oliver, The Clock Guy

Admiral Thomas H. Moorer,

David Taylor, President, Boston Globe

Admiral Chester R. Bender

Your name here: ______________


Chelsea Clocks in the Movies

The Hunt for Red October

Patriot Games

Clear and  Present Danger

Crimson Tide

You’ve Got Mail

For further information about the Chelsea Clock Company,
including early catalogues, visit the Chelsea Clock Museum.

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