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HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN CLOCK BUSINESS FOR THE PAST SIXTY YEARS,
LIFE OF CHAUNCEY JEROME
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.
Barnum's Connection with the Yankee Clock Business
[Illustration: Litho of E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, Hartford, Conn.
Signature of Chauncey Jerome]
The manufacture of Clocks has become one of the most important branches
of American industry. Its productions are of immense value and form an
important article of export to foreign countries. It has grown from
almost nothing to its present dimensions within the last thirty years,
and is confined to one of the smallest States in the Union. Sixty years
ago, a few men with clumsy tools supplied the demand; at the present
time, with systematized labor and complicated machinery, it gives
employment to thousands of men, occupying some of the largest factories
of New England. Previous to the year 1838, most clock movements were
made of wood; since that time they have been constructed of metal, which
is not only better and more durable but even cheaper to manufacture.
Many years of my own life have been inseparably connected with and
devoted to the American clock business, and the most important changes
in it have taken place within my remembrance and actual experience. Its
whole history is familiar to me, and I cannot write my life without
having much to say about "Yankee clocks." Neither can there be a history
of that business written without alluding to myself. A few weeks since
I entered my sixty-seventh year, and reviewing the past, many trying
experiences are brought fresh into my mind. For more than forty-five
years I have been actively engaged in the manufacture of clocks, and
constantly studying and contriving new methods of manufacturing for the
benefit of myself and fellow-men, and although through the
instrumentality of others, I have been unfortunate in the loss of my
good name and an independent competency, which I had honorably and
honestly acquired by these long years of patient toil and industry, it
is a satisfaction to me now to know that I have been the means of doing
some good in the world.
On the following pages in my simple language, and in a bungling manner,
I have told the story of my life. I am no author, but claim a title
which I consider nobler, that of a "Mechanic." Being possessed of a
remarkable memory, I am able to give a minute account and even the date
of every important transaction of my whole life, and distinctly remember
events which took place when I was but a child, three and a half years
old, and how I celebrated my fourth birthday. I could relate many
instances of my boyhood and later day experiences if my health, and
strength would permit. It has been no part of my plan to boast,
exaggerate, or misrepresent anything, but to give "plain facts."
A history of the great business of Clock making has never been written.
I am the oldest man living who has had much to do with it, and am best
able to give its history. To-day my name is seen on millions of these
useful articles in every part of the civilized globe, the result of
early ambition and untiring perseverance. It was in fact the "pride of
my life." Time-keepers have been known for centuries in the old world;
but I will not dwell on that. It is enough for the American people to
know that their country supplies the whole world with its most useful
time-keepers, (as well as many other productions,) and that no other
country can compete with ours in their manufacture.
It has been a long and laborious undertaking for me in my old age to
write such a work as this; but the hope that it might be useful and
instructive to many of my young friends has animated me to go on; and in
presenting it to the public it is with the hope that it will meet with
some favor, and that I shall derive some pecuniary benefit therefrom.
NEW HAVEN, August 15th, 1860.
CHAPTER I. - MY EARLY HISTORY. - Birthplace; nail making; death of my
Father; leaving home; work on a farm; hard times; the great eclipse;
bound out as a carpenter; carry tools thirty miles; work on clock dials;
what I heard at a training; trip to New Jersey in 1812; first visit to
New York; what I saw there; cross the North River in a scow; case making
in New Jersey; hard fare; return home; first appearance in New Haven; at
home again; a great traveller; experiences in the last war; go to New
London to fight the British in 1813; incidents; soldiering at New Haven
in 1814; married; hard times again; cottton [sic] cloth $1 per yard; the
cold summer of 1816; a hard job; work at clocks.
CHAPTER II. - EARLY HISTORY OF YANKEE CLOCK MAKING. - Mr. Eli Terry the
father of wood clocks in Connecticut; clocks in 1800; wheels made with
saw and jack-knife; first clocks by machinery; clocks for pork; men in
the business previous to 1810; [ ] a new invention; the Pillar
Scroll Top Case; peddling clocks on horseback; the Bronze Looking Glass
CHAPTER III. - PERSONAL HISTORY CONTINUED. - 1816 to 1825; work with Mr.
Terry; commence business; work alone; large sale to a Southerner; a heap
of money; peddle clocks in Wethersfield; walk twenty-five miles in the
snow; increase business; buy mahogany in the plank; saw veneers with a
hand saw; trade cases for movements; move to Bristol; bad luck; lose
large sum of money; first cases by machinery in Bristol; make clocks in
Mass.; good luck; death of my little daughter; form a company; invent
Bronze Looking Glass Clock.
CHAPTER IV. - PROGRESS OF CLOCK MAKING. - Revival of business; Bronze
Looking Glass Clock favorite; clocks at the South; $115 for a clock;
rapid increase of the business; new church at Bristol - Rev. David L.
Parmelee; hard times of 1837; panic in business; no more clocks will be
made; wooden clocks and wooden nutmegs; opposition to Yankee pedlars in
the South; make clocks in Virginia and South Carolina; my trip to the
South; discouragements; "I won't give up;" invent one day Brass clock;
better times ahead; go further South; return home; produce the new
clock; its success.
CHAPTER V. - BRASS CLOCKS - CLOCKS IN ENGLAND. - The new clock a favorite;
I carry on the business alone; good times; profits in 1841; wood clock
makers half crazy; competition; prices reduced; can Yankee clocks be
introduced into England; I send out a cargo; ridiculed by other clock
makers; prejudice of English people against American manufacturers; how
they were introduced; seized by custom house officers; a good joke;
incidents; the Terry family.
CHAPTER VI. - THE CAREER OF A FAST YOUNG MAN. - Incidents; Frank Merrills;
a smart young man; I sell him clocks; his bogus operations; a sad
history; great losses; human nature; my experience; incident of my
boyhood; Samuel J. Mills, the Missionary; anecdotes.
CHAPTER VII. - REMOVAL TO NEW HAVEN - FIRE - TROUBLE. - Make cages at New
Haven; factories at Bristol destroyed by fire; great loss; sickness;
heavy trouble; human nature; move whole business to New Haven; John
Woodruff; great competition; clocks in New York; swindlers; law-suit;
ill-feeling of other clock makers.
CHAPTER VIII. - THE METHOD OF MANUFACTURING - THE JEROME MANUFACTURING
COMPANY. - Benefit of manufacturing by system; a clock case for eight
cents; a clock for seventy-five cents; thirty years ago and to-day; more
human nature; how the Brass clock is made; cost of a clock; the
facilities of the Jerome Manufacturing Company; a joint stock company;
how it was managed; interesting statements; its failure.
CHAPTER IX. - MEN NOW IN THE BUSINESS. - The New Haven Clock Co.: Hon.
Jas. E. English, H.M. Welch, John Woodruff, Hiram Camp, Philip Pond,
Charles L. Griswold, L.F. Root. Benedict & Burnham Company of Waterbury:
Arad W. Welton. Seth Thomas & Co. Wm. L. Gilbert. E.N. Welch. Beach &
Hubbell. Ireneus Atkins.
CHAPTER X. - BARNUM'S CONNECTION IN THE CLOCK BUSINESS. - Barnum and the
Jerome Manufacturing Co.; Terry & Barnum; interesting statements; causes
of the failure; the results.
CHAPTER XI. - EFFECTS OF THE FAILURE ON MYSELF. - My prospects; leave New
Haven; move to Waterbury; a frightful accident; a practical story.
CHAPTER XII. - ANOTHER UNFORTUNATE PARTNERSHIP. - More misplaced
confidence; a dishonest man threatening to imprison me for fraud; every
dollar gone; kindness of John Woodruff, etc.
CHAPTER XIII. - THE WOOSTER PLACE CHURCH. - Reasons for building it, and
how it was built; growth of different denominations, etc.
CHAPTER XIV. - NEW HAVEN AS A BUSINESS PLACE. - growth, extensive
manufactories, facilities for manufacturing, population, wealth, etc.
APPENDIX. - General directions for keeping clocks in order, etc.
EARLY DAYS. - LEAVING HOME. - BOUND OUT. - FARMING. - CARPENTER. - SOLDIER. -
I was born in the town of Canaan, Litchfield County, in the State of
Connecticut, on the 10th day of June, 1793. My parents were poor but
respectable and industrious. My father was a blacksmith and wrought-nail
maker by trade, and the father of six children - four sons and two
daughters. I was the fourth child.
In January, 1797, he moved from Canaan to the town of Plymouth, in the
same County, and in the following spring built a blacksmith shop, which
was large enough for three or four men to work at the nail making
business, besides carrying on the blacksmithing. At that time all the
nails used in the country were hammered by hand out of iron rods, which
practice has almost entirely been done away by the introduction of cut
My advantages for education were very poor. When large enough to handle
a hoe, or a bundle of rye, I was kept at work on the farm. The only
opportunity I had for attending school was in the winter season, and
then only about three months in the year, and at a very poor school.
When I was nine years old, my father took me into the shop to work,
where I soon learned to make nails, and worked with him in this way
until his death, which occurred on the fifth of October, 1804. For two
or three days before he died, he suffered the most excruciating pains
from the disease known as the black colic. The day of his death was a
sad one to me, for I knew that I should lose my happy home, and be
obliged to leave it to seek work for my support. There being no
manufacturing of any account in the country, the poor boys were obliged
to let themselves to the farmers, and it was extremely difficult to find
a place to live where they would treat a poor boy like a human being.
Never shall I forget the Monday morning that I took my little bundle of
clothes, and with a bursting heart bid my poor mother good bye.
I knew that the rest of the family had got to leave soon, and I perhaps
never to see any of them again. Being but a boy and naturally very
sympathizing, it really seemed as if my heart would break to think of
leaving my dear old home for good, but stern necessity compelled me, and
I was forced to obey.
The first year after leaving home I was at work on a farm, and almost
every day when alone in the fields would burst into tears - not because I
had to work, but because my father was dead whom I loved, and our happy
family separated and broken up never to live together again. In my new
place I was kept at work very hard, and at the age of fourteen did
almost the work of a man. It was a very lonely place where we lived, and
nothing to interest a child of my age. The people I lived with seemed to
me as very old, though they were probably not more than thirty-six years
of age, and felt no particular interest in me, more than to keep me
constantly at work, early and late, in all kinds of weather, of which I
never complained. I have many times worked all day in the woods,
chopping down trees, with my shoes filled with snow; never had a pair of
boots till I was more than twenty years old. Once in two weeks I was
allowed to go to church, which opportunity I always improved.
I liked to attend church, for I could see so many folks, and the habit
which I then acquired has never to this day left me, and my love for it
dates back to this time in my youth, though the attractions now are
I shall never forget how frightened I was at the great eclipse which
took place on the 16th of June, 1806, and which so terrified the good
people in every part of the land. They were more ignorant about such
operations of the sun fifty-four years ago than at the present time. I
had heard something about eclipses but had not the faintest idea what it
could be. I was hoeing corn that day in a by-place three miles from
town, and thought it certainly was the day of judgment. I watched the
sun steadily disappearing with a trembling heart, and not till it again
appeared bright and shining as before, did I regain my breath and
courage sufficient to whistle.
The winter before I was fifteen years old, I went to live with a house
carpenter to learn the trade, and was bound to him by my guardian till I
was twenty-one years old, and was to have my board and clothes for my
services. I learned the business very readily, and during the last three
years of my apprenticeship could do the work of a man.
It was a very pleasant family that I lived with while learning my trade.
In the year 1809 my "boss" took a job in Torringford, and I went with
him. After being absent several months from home, I felt very anxious to
see my poor mother who lived about two miles from Plymouth. She lived
alone - with the exception of my youngest brother about nine years old. I
made up my mind that I would go down and see her one night. In this way
I could satisfy my boss by not losing any time. It was about twenty
miles, and I only sixteen years old. I was really sorry after I had
started, but was not the boy to back out. It took me till nearly morning
to get there, tramping through the woods half of the way; every noise I
heard I thought was a bear or something that would kill me, and the
frightful notes of the whippoorwill made my hair stand on end. The dogs
were after me at every house I passed. I have never forgotten that
night. The boys of to-day do not see such times as I did.
The next year, 1810, my boss took a job in Ellsworth Society, Litchfield
County. I footed it to and from that place several times in the course
of the year, with a load of joiners' tools on my back. What would a boy
17 years old now think to travel thirty miles in a hot summer's day,
with a heavy load of joiners' tools on his back? But that was about the
only way that we could get around in those days. At that time there were
not half a dozen one-horse wagons in the whole town. At that place I
attended the church of Rev. Daniel Parker, father of Hon. Amasa J.
Parker, of Albany, who was then a little boy four or five years old. I
often saw him at meeting with his mother. He is a first cousin of F.S. &
J. Parker of this city, two highly respectable men engaged in the paper
In the fall of 1811, I made a bargain with the man that I was bound to,
that if he would give me four months in the winter of each year when the
business was dull, I would clothe myself. I therefore went to Waterbury,
and hired myself to Lewis Stebbins, (a singing master of that place,) to
work at making the dials for the old fashioned long clock. This kind of
business gave me great satisfaction, for I always had a desire to work
at clocks. In 1807, when I was fourteen years old, I proposed to my
guardian to get me a place with Mr. Eli Terry, of Plymouth, to work at
them. Mr. Terry was at that time making more clocks than any other man
in the country, about two hundred in a year, which was thought to be a
My guardian, a good old man, told me that there was so many clocks then
making, that the country would soon be filled with them, and the
business would be good for nothing in two or three years. This opinion
of that wise man made me feel very sad. I well remember, when I was
about twelve years old, what I heard some old gentleman say, at a
training, (all of the good folks in those days were as sure to go to
training as to attend church,) they were talking about Mr. Terry; the
foolish man they said, had begun to make two hundred clocks; one said,
he never would live long enough to finish them; another remarked, that
if he did he never would, nor could possibly sell so many, and ridiculed
the very idea.
I was a little fellow, but heard and swallowed every word those wise men
said, but I did not relish it at all, for I meant some day to make
clocks myself, if I lived.
What would those good old men have thought when they were laughing at
and ridiculing Mr. Terry, if they had known that the little urchin who
was so eagerly listening to their conversation would live to make _Two
Hundred Thousand_ metal clocks in one year, and _many millions_
in his life. They have probably been dead for years, that little boy is
now an old man, and during his life has seen these great changes. The
clock business has grown to be one of the largest in the country, and
almost every kind of American manufactures have improved in much the
same ratio, and I cannot now believe that there will ever be in the same
space of future time so many improvements and inventions as those of the
past half century - one of the most important in the history of the
world. Everyday things with us now would have appeared to our
forefathers as incredible. But returning to my story - having got myself
tolerably well posted about clocks at Waterbury, I hired myself to two
men to go into the state of New Jersey, to make the old fashioned seven
foot standing clock-case. Messrs. Hotchkiss and Pierpont, of Plymouth,
had been selling that kind of a clock without the cases, in the northern
part of that State, for about twenty dollars, apiece. The purchasers,
had complained to them however, that there was no one in that region
that could make the case for them, which prevented many others from
buying. These two men whom I went with, told them that they would get
some one to go out from Connecticut, to make the case, and thought they
could be made for about eighteen or twenty dollars apiece, which would
then make the whole clock cost about forty dollars - not so very costly
after all; for a clock was then considered the most useful of anything
that could be had in a family, for what it cost. I entered into an
agreement with these men at once, and a few days after, we three started
on the 14th Dec., 1812, in an old lumber wagon, with provisions for the
journey, to the far off Jersey. This same trip can now be made in a few
hours. We were _many_ days. We passed through Watertown, and other
villages, and stopped the first night at Bethel. This is the very place
where P.T. Barnum was born, and at about this time, of whom I shall
speak more particularly hereafter. The next morning we started again on
our journey, and not many hours after, arrived in Norwalk, then quite a
small village, situated on Long Island Sound; at this place I saw the
salt water for the first time in my life, also a small row-boat, and
began to feel that I was a great traveler indeed. The following night we
stopped at Stamford, which was, as I viewed it, a great place; here I
saw a few sloops on the Sound, which I thought was the greatest sight
that I had ever seen. This was years before a steamboat had ever passed
through the Sound. The next morning we started again for New York, and
as we passed along I was more and more astonished at the wonderful
things that I saw, and began to think that the world was very extensive.
We did not arrive at the city until night, but there being a full moon
every thing appeared as pleasant, as in the day-time. We passed down
through the Bowery, which was then like a country village, then through
Chatham street to Pearl street, and stopped for the night at a house
kept by old Mr. Titus. I arose early the next morning and hurried into
the street to see how a city looked by day-light. I stood on the corner
of Chatham and Pearl for more than an hour, and I must confess that if I
was ever astonished in my life, it was at that time. I could not
understand why so many people, of every age, description and dress, were
hurrying so in every direction. I asked a man what was going on, and
what all this excitement meant, but he passed right along without
noticing me, which I thought was very uncivil, and I formed a very poor
opinion of those city folks. I ate nothing that morning, for I thought I
could be in better business for a while at least. I wandered about
gazing at the many new sights, and went out as far as the Park; at that
time the workmen were finishing the interior of the City Hall. I was
greatly puzzled to know how the winding stone stairs could be fixed
without any seeming support and yet be perfectly safe. After viewing
many sights, all of which were exceedingly interesting to me, I returned
to the house where my companions were. They told me that they had just
heard that the ship Macedonian, which was taken a few days before from
the British by one of our ships, had just been brought into the harbor
and lay off down by Burling Slip, or in that region. We went down to see
her, and went on board. I was surprised and frightened to see brains and
blood scattered about on the deck in every direction. This prize was
taken by the gallant Decatur, but a short distance from New York.
Hastening back from this sickening scene, we resumed our journey. My two
companions had been telling me that we should have to cross the North
River in a boat, and I did not understand how a boat could be made to
carry our team and be perfectly safe, but when we arrived there, I was
much surprised to see other teams that were to cross over with us, and a
number of people. At that time an old scow crossed from New York City to
the Jersey shore, once in about two hours. What a great change has taken
place in the last forty-seven years; now large steam ferry boats are
crossing and recrossing, making the trip in a few minutes. It was the
first time that I had ever crossed a stream, except on a bridge, and I
feared that we might upset and all be drowned, but no accident happened
to us; we landed in safety, and went on our way rejoicing towards
Elizabethtown. At that place I saw a regiment of soldiers from Kentucky,
who were on their way to the northern frontier to fight the British.
They were a rough set of fellows, and looked as though they could do a
great deal of fighting. It will be remembered that this was the time of
the last war with England. We passed on through Elizabethtown and
Morristown to Dutch Valley, where we stopped for the night. We remained
at this place a few days, looking about for a cabinet shop, or a
suitable place to make the clock cases. Not succeeding, we went a mile
further north, to a place called Schooler's Mountain; here we found a
building that suited us. It was then the day before Christmas. The
people of that region, we found, kept that day more strictly than the
Sabbath, and as we were not ready to go to work, we passed Christmas day
indoors feeling very lonely indeed. The next day we began operations. A
young man from the lower part of New Jersey worked with me all winter.
We boarded ourselves in the same building that we worked in, I doing all
of the house-work and cooking, none of which was very fine or fancy, our
principal food being pork, potatoes and bread, using our work-bench for
a table. Hard work gave us good appetite.
We would work on an average about fifteen hours a day, the house-work
not occupying much of our time. I was then only nineteen years old, and
it hardly seems possible that the boys of the present day could pass
through such trials and hardships, and live. We worked in this way all
winter. When the job was finished, I took my little budget of clothes
and started for home. I traveled the first day as far as Elizabethtown,
and stopped there all night, but found no conveyance from there to New
York. I was told that if I would go down to the Point, I might in the
course of the day, get a passage in a sailing vessel to the city. I went
down early in the morning and, after waiting till noon, found a chance
to go with two men in a small sail boat. I was greatly alarmed at the
strange motions of the boat which I thought would upset, and felt
greatly relieved when I was again on terra firma.
I wandered about the streets of New York all that afternoon, bought a
quantity of bread and cheese, and engaged a passage on the Packet Sloop
Eliza, for New Haven, of her Captain Zebulon Bradley. I slept on board