Chauncey Jerome.

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recently removed, which will result to the advantage of persons now in
the business. The many difficulties which we had to battle and contend
with are all overcome. When I invented this one day brass clock, I for
the first time put on the zinc dial which is now universally used, and
is a great improvement on the wood dial, both in appearance and in cost.
This simple idea has been of immense value to all clock-makers.

In the year 1821, when I moved to Bristol, no one was making clocks in
that town; the business had all passed away from there and was carried
on in Plymouth. The little shop I had put up had no machinery in it at
that time. I soon began to make so many cases that I wanted some better
way to get my veneers than to saw them by hand. I found a small building
on a stream some distance from my shop which I secured, with the
privilege of putting a circular saw in the upper part, but which I could
not use till night - the power being wanted for the other machinery
during the day. I have worked there a great many nights till twelve
o'clock and even two in the morning, sawing veneers for my men to use
the next day. I sawed my hand nearly off one night when alone at this
old mill, and was so faint by the loss of blood that I could hardly
reach home. I always worked hard myself and managed in the most
economical manner possible. In 1825, we built a small factory on the
stream below the shop where I sawed my veneers two or three years
before, but there was no road to it or bridge across the stream. I had
crossed it for years on a pole, running the risk many times when the
water was high, of being drowned, but it seems I was not to die in that
way, but to live to help others and make a slave of myself for them. In
1826, we petitioned the town to lay out a road by our factory and build
a bridge, which was seriously objected to. We finally told them that if
they would lay out the road, we would build the bridge and pay for one
half of the land for the road, which, after a great deal of trouble, was
agreed to, and proved to be of great benefit to the town. Our business
was growing very rapidly and a number of houses were built up along the
new road and about our factory. I should here mention that Mr. Eli
Terry, Jr., when I had got the Bronze Looking-Glass Clock well a going,
moved from Plymouth Hollow two miles east of Plymouth Centre, (now the
village of Terryville,) where he built another factory and went into
business. His father retiring about this time, he took all of his old
customers. He was a good business man and made money very fast. He was
taken sick and died when about forty years old, leaving an estate of
about $75,000. His brother, Silas B. Terry, is now living, a Christian
gentleman, as well as a scientific clock-maker, but he has not succeeded
so well as his brother in making money. Henry Terry of Plymouth, who is
another son of Mr. Eli Terry, was engaged in the clock business thirty
years ago, but left it for the woolen business. I think that he is sorry
that he did not continue making clocks. He is a man of great
intelligence and understands the principles of a right tariff as well as
any man in Connecticut. His father was a great man, a natural
philosopher, and almost an Eli Whitney in mechanical ingenuity. If he
had turned his mind towards a military profession, he would have made
another General Scott, or towards politics, another Jefferson; or, if he
had not happened to have gone to the town of Plymouth, I do not believe
there would ever have been a clock made there. He was the great
originator of wood clock-making by machinery in Connecticut. I like to
see every man have his due. Thomas and many others who have made their
fortunes out of his ingenuity, were very willing to talk against him,
for they must, of course, act out human nature. Seth Thomas was in many
respects a first-rate man. He never made any improvements in
manufacturing; his great success was in money making. He always minded
his own business, was very industrious, persevering, honest, his word
was as good as his note, and he always determined to make a good article
and please his customers. He had several sons who are said to be smart
business men.

I knew Mrs. Thomas well when I was a boy, fourteen years old. She is one
of the best of women, and is now the widow of one of the richest men in
the state. The families of Terry and Thomas are extensively known,
throughout the United States. Mr. Thomas died two years ago at the age
of seventy-five. He was born in West Haven, about four miles from New
Haven, and learned the joiners' trade in Wolcott, and worked in that
region and in Plymouth five or six years, building houses and barns. I
waited on him when he built a barn in Plymouth, carrying boards and
shingles. He soon after went into the clock business in which he
remained during life. Mr. Terry died in 1853, at the advanced age of



In the fall, of the year 1840, a young man by the name of Franklin
Merrills was introduced to me as one the smartest and likeliest business
men in the whole country. It was said that he could trade in horses,
cattle, sheep, wool, flour, or any thing else, and make money. He
belonged to one of the first families in Litchfield county. I thought by
his appearance and recommendations that he would be a good customer for
me and I sold him a thousand dollars worth of clocks to begin with. He
gave me his four months' note which was promptly paid when due. He hired
three pedlars and went with them into Dutchess county New York, where
they sold the clocks very fast. The one-day O.G. brass clock was a new
thing to them, first-rate for time, and they readily went off for
fifteen and twenty dollars apiece. I sold them to him for six dollars
apiece, and it appeared, at this rate, that he could make a fortune in a
few years. His credit became established for any amount, and he soon
began to want clocks about twice as fast as at first. A man by the name
of Bates transported them for him in a large two-horse wagon from my
place to Washington Hollow, about twelve miles east of Poughkeepsie. Mr.
Bates lived in the same neighborhood where Frank was brought up in New
Hartford, Conn. Every week or two he would go out with a load. Things
moved on in this seemingly prosperous way for some time. One day I
accidentally heard that parties in New York with whom I had never dealt,
were selling my clocks at very reduced prices, and I began to mistrust
that Frank had been selling to them at less than cost. On seeing him, he
told me I was greatly mistaken and smoothed down the matter so that it
appeared satisfactory to me. He had at this time got into debt about
eighteen thousand dollars. One day he went to Hartford and bought seven
thousand dollars worth of cotton cloth from a shrewd house in that city,
telling them a very fine story that he had a vessel which would sail for
South America the next day, and that the cloth must go down immediately
on the boat. He told them who his father was, and promised to bring his
endorsement in a few days, which was satisfactory to them, and they let
him have the goods. But the paper did not come. One of the firm went to
New York and there found some of the goods in an Auction store, and a
part of them sold. He got out a writ and arrested Frank. His father was
sent for, and settled this matter satisfactorily. I thought I would go
up to New Hartford and see Capt. Merrills about Frank's affairs - he told
me all about them, and said he had been looking over Frank's business
very thoroughly, and found that a large amount was owing him and that
Frank had shown him on his book invoices of a large amount of goods that
he had shipped to South America, besides several large accounts and
notes - one of eight thousand dollars. He told me that he thought after
paying me and others whom he owed, there would be as much as twenty
thousand dollars left. This was very satisfactory to me, though I knew
nothing about the cotton cloth speculation at that time. If I had, it
would have saved me a great deal of trouble. This was in February, 1844.
There was a note of his lying over, unpaid, in the Exchange Bank in
Hartford, of two thousand dollars. I had moved a few weeks before this
to New Haven. In the latter part of February, I went down to New York to
see if he could let me have the two thousand to take up the note; he
said he could in a day or two. I told him I would stay till Saturday. On
that day he was not able to pay me, but would certainly get it Monday,
and urged me to stay over, which I did. He took me into a large
establishment with him, and, as I have since had reason to believe,
talked with parties who were interested with him, about consigning to
them a large quantity of tallow, beeswax and wool which he owned in the
West. He told me that he had some trouble with his business, and that
all he wanted was a little help; he said he had a great deal of property
in New York State, and that if he could raise some money, he could make
a very profitable speculation on a lot of wool which he knew about. He
told me that if I would give him my notes and acceptances to a certain
amount, he would secure me with the obligations of Henry Martin, one of
the best farmers there was in Dutchess county. He also gave the names of
several merchants in New York who were acquainted with the rich farmers.
I called on them and all spoke very highly of him. I thought, there
could be no great risk in doing it, for my confidence in Frank was very
great. I thought, of course, this would insure my claim of eighteen
thousand dollars, but it eventually proved to be a deep-laid plot to
swindle me. Frank had no notes or accounts that were of any value; they
were all bogus and got up to deceive his poor old father and others. He
had no property shipped to South America. It was all found out, when too
late, that he had ruined himself by gambling and bad company, often
losing a thousand dollars in one night. He was arrested, taken before
the Grand Jury of New York, committed to jail for swindling, and died in
a few months after. He ruined his father, who was a very cautious man,
ruined three rich farmers of Dutchess county, and came very near ruining
me. It was a sad history and mortifying to a great many. I was advised
by my counsel, Seth P. Staples of New York, to contest the whole thing
in law. I had five or six suits on my hands at one time, and it was nine
years before I was clear from them. What he owed me for clocks, and what
I had to pay on notes and acceptances and the expenses of law, amounted
to more than _Forty Thousand Dollars_. Nine years of wakeful nights
of trouble, grief and mortification, for this profligate young man!
There never was a man more honest than I was in my intentions to help
him in his troubles, and I am quite sure no man got so badly swindled.
Every clock maker in the state would have been glad to have sold to him
as I did. This young man was well brought up, but bad company ruined him
and others with him. This life seems to be full of trials. In latter
years I have remembered what an old man often told me when a boy.
"Chauncey," he says, "don't you know there are a thousand troubles and
difficulties?" I told him I did not know there were; "well," he says,
"you will find out if you live long enough." I have lived long enough to
see ten thousand troubles, and have found out that the saying of the old
man is true. I have narrated but a small part of my business troubless
[sic] in this brief history. One of the most trying things to me now, is
to see how I am looked upon by the community since I lost my property. I
never was any better when I owned it than I am now, and never behaved
any better. But how different is the feeling towards you, when your
neighbors can make nothing more out of you, politically or pecuniarily.
It makes no difference what, or how much you have done for them
heretofore, you are passed by without notice now. It is all money and
business, business and money which make the man now-a-days; success is
every thing, and it makes very little difference how, or what means he
uses to obtain it. How many we see every day that have ten times as much
property as they will ever want, who will do any thing but steal to add
to their estate, for somebody to fight about when they are dead. I see
men every day sixty and seventy years old, building up and pulling down,
and preparing, as one might reasonably suppose, to live here forever.
Where will they be in a few years? I often think of this. My experience
has been great, - I have seen many a man go up and then go down, and many
persons who, but a few years ago, were surrounded with honors and
wealth, have passed away. The saying of the wise man is true - all is
"vanity of vanities" here below. It is now a time of great action in the
world but not much reflection.

An incident of my boy-hood has just come into my mind. When an
apprentice boy, I was at work with my "boss" on a house in Torringford,
very near the residence of Rev. Mr. Mills, the father of Samuel J. Mills
the missionary. This was in 1809, fifty-one years ago. This young man
was preparing to go out on his missionary voyage. How wickedly we are
taught when we are young! I thought he was a mean, lazy fellow. He was
riding out every day, as I now suppose, to add to his strength. An old
maid lived in the house where I did who perfectly hated him, calling him
a good-for-nothing fellow. I, of course, supposed that she knew all
about him and that it was so. I am a friend to the missionary cause and
have been so a great many years. How many times that wrong impression
which I got from that old maid has passed through my mind, and how sorry
I have always been for that prejudice. The father of Samuel J. Mills was
a very eccentric man and anecdotes of him have been repeatedly told. I
attended his church the summer I was in Torringford. He was the
strangest man I ever saw, and would say so many laughable things in his
sermon that it was next to impossible for me to keep from laughing out
loud. His congregation was composed mostly of farmers, and in hot
weather they appeared to be very sleepy. The boys would sometimes play
and make a good deal of noise, and one Sunday he stopped in the middle
of his sermon and looking around in the gallery, said in a loud voice,
"boys, if you don't stop your noise and play, you will certainly wake
your parents that are asleep below!" I think by this time the good
people were all awake; it amused me very much and I have often seen the
story printed. Many a time when I think of Mr. Mills, an anecdote of him
comes into my mind, and I presume that a great many have heard of the
same. He was once traveling through the town of Litchfield where there
was at that time a famous law school. Two or three of the students were
walking a little way out of town, when who should they see coming along
the road but old Mr. Mills. They supposing him to be some old "codger,"
thought they would have a little fun with him. When they met him one of
them asked him "if he had heard the news?" "No," he says, "what is it?"
"The devil is dead." "Is he?" says Mr. Mills, "I am sorry for you - poor
fatherless children, what will become of you?" I understand that they
let him pass without further conversation. He was a good man and looked
very old to me, as he always wore a large white wig.



In the winter of 1844, I moved to the city of New Haven with the
expectation of making my cases there. I had fitted up two large
factories in Bristol for making brass movements only the year before,
and had spared no pains to have them just right. My factory in New Haven
was fitted up expressly for making the cases and boxing the finished
clocks; the movements were packed, one hundred in a box, and sent to New
Haven where they were cased and shipped. Business moved on very
prosperously for about one year. On the 23d of April 1845, about the
middle of the afternoon one of my factories in Bristol took fire, as it
was supposed by some boys playing with matches at the back side of the
building, which set fire to some shavings under the floor. It seemed
impossible to put it out and it proved to be the most disastrous fire
that ever occurred in a country town. There were seven or eight
buildings destroyed, together with all the machinery for making clocks,
which was very costly and extensive. There were somewhere between fifty
and seventy-five thousand brass movements in the works, a large number
of them finished, and worth one dollar apiece. The loss was about fifty
thousand dollars and the insurance only ten thousand. This was another
dark day for me. I had been very sick all winter with the Typhus fever,
and from Christmas to April had not been able to go to Bristol. On the
same night of the fire, a man came to tell me of the great loss. I was
in another part of the house when he arrived with the message, but my
wife did not think it prudent to inform me then, but in the latter part
of the night she introduced a conversation that was calculated to
prepare my mind for the sad news, and in a cautious manner informed me.
I was at that time in the midst of my troubles with Frank Merrills, had
been sick for a long time, and at one time was not expected to recover.
I was not then able to attend to business and felt much depressed on
that account. It was hard indeed to grapple with so much in one year,
but I tried to make the best of it and to feel that these trials,
troubles and disappointments sent upon us in this world, are blessings
in disguise. Oh! if we could really feel this to be so in all of our
troubles, it would be well for us in this world and better in the next.
I never have seen the real total depravity of the human heart show
itself more plainly or clearly than it did when my factories were
destroyed by fire. An envious feeling had always been exhibited by
others in the same business towards me, and those who had made the most
out of my improvements and had injured my reputation by making an
inferior article, were the very ones who rejoiced the most then. Not a
single man of them ever did or could look me in the face and say that I
had ever injured him. This feeling towards me was all because I was in
their way and my clocks at that time were preferred before any others.
They really thought I never could start again, and many said that Jerome
would never make any more clocks. I learned this maxim long ago, that
when a man injures another unreasonably, to act out human nature he has
got to keep on misrepresenting and abusing him to make himself appear
right in the sight of the world. Soon after the fire in Bristol I had
gained my strength sufficiently to go ahead again, and commenced to make
additions to my case factory in New Haven (to make the movements,) and
by the last of June was ready to commence operations on the brass
movements. I then brought my men from Bristol - the movement makers - and
a noble set of men as ever came into New Haven at one time. Look at John
Woodruff; he was a young man then of nineteen. When he first came to
work for me at the age of fifteen, I believed that he was destined to be
a leading man. He is now in Congress (elected for the second time,)
honest, kind, gentlemanly, and respected in Congress and out of
Congress. Look at him, young men, and pattern after him, you can see in
his case what honesty, industry and perseverance will accomplish.

There was great competition in the business for several years after I
moved to New Haven, and a great many poor clocks made. The business of
selling greatly increased in New York, and within three or four years
after I introduced the one day brass clock, several companies in Bristol
and Plymouth commenced making them. Most of them manufactured an
inferior article of movement, but found sale for great numbers of them
to parties that were casing clocks in New York. This way of managing
proved to be a great damage to the Connecticut clock makers. The New
York men would buy the very poorest movements and put them into cheap
O.G. cases and undersell us. Merchants from the country, about this
time, began to buy clocks with their other goods. They had heard about
Jerome's clocks which had been retailed about the country, and that they
were good time-keepers, and would enquire for my clocks. These New York
men would say that they were agents for Jerome and that they would have
a plenty in a few days, and make a sale to these merchants of Jerome
clocks. They would then go to the Printers and have a lot of labels
struck off and put into their cheap clocks, and palm them off as mine.
This fraud was carried on for several years. I finally sued some of
these blackleg parties, Samuels & Dunn, and Sperry & Shaw, and found out
to my satisfaction that they had used more than two hundred thousand of
my labels. They had probably sent about one hundred thousand to Europe.
I sued Samuels & Dunn for twenty thousand dollars and when it came to
trial I proved it on them clearly. I should have got for damages fifteen
thousand dollars, had it not been for one of the jury. One was for
giving me twenty thousand, another Eighteen, and the others down to
seven thousand five hundred. This one man whom I speak of, was opposed
to giving me anything, but to settle it, went as high as two thousand
three hundred. The jury thought that I had a great deal of trouble with
this case and rather than have it go to another court, had to come to
this man's terms. The foreman told me afterwards that he had no doubt
but this man was bought. New York is a hard place to have a law suit in.
This cheat had been carried on for years, both in this country and in
Europe, - using my labels and selling poor articles, and in this way
robbing me of my reputation by the basest means. After this Sperry, who
was in company with Shaw, had been dead a short time, a statement was
published in the New York papers that this Henry Sperry was a wonderful
man, and that he was the first man who went to England with Yankee
clocks. After I had sent over my two men and had got my clocks well
introduced, and had them there more than a year, Sperry & Shaw, hearing
that we were doing well and selling a good many, thought they would take
a trip to Europe, and took along perhaps fifty boxes of clocks. I have
since heard that their conduct was very bad while there, and this is all
they did towards introducing clocks. There is no one who can claim any
credit of introducing American clocks into that country excepting
myself. After I had opened a store in New York, we did, in a measure,
stop these men from using my labels.

I have said that when I got up this one day brass clock in 1838, that
the fourth chapter in the Yankee clock business had commenced. Perhaps
Seth Thomas hated as bad as any one did to change his whole business of
clock making for the second time, and adopt the same thing that I had
introduced. He never invented any thing new, and would now probably have
been making the same old hang-up wood clocks of fifty years ago, had it
not been for others and their improvements. He was highly incensed at me
because I was the means of his having to change. He hired a man to go
around to my customers and offer his clocks at fifty and seventy-five
cents less than I was selling. A man by the name of J.C. Brown carried
on the business in Bristol a long time, and made a good many fine
clocks, but finally gave up the business. Elisha Monross, Smith &
Goodrich, Brewster & Ingraham were all in the same business, but have
given it up, and the clock making of Connecticut is now mostly done in
five large factories in different parts of the State, about which I
shall speak hereafter.



It would be no doubt interesting to a great many to know what
improvements have been made in manufacturing clocks during the past
twenty years. I recollect I paid for work on the O.G. case one dollar
and seventy-five cents; for the same work in 1855, I paid twenty cents,
and many other things in the same proportion. The last thing that I
invented, which has proved to be of great usefulness, was the one day
timepiece that can be sold for seventy-five cents, and a fair profit at
that. I remember well when I was about to give up the job, of asking the
man who made the cases for the factory what he would make this case for.

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Online LibraryChauncey JeromeHistory of the American Clock Business for the Past Sixty Years, and Life of Chauncey Jerome → online text (page 4 of 7)