Electric Street Clock
Gillette street clocks were actually slave clocks because they were powered by impluses provided by a master clock that was located inside the building. It is believed that these master clocks were manufactured by either Gillette or by clock companies like the Standard Electric Time Company or the Waterbury Clock Company.
The word "observatory" is imprinted at the top of Gillette street clocks and most likely refers to various master clocks including one from the Self Winding Clock Company. In that case, the master clock would have received Western Union time signals insuring great accuracy.
The impulse movement does not have the ability to keep time on its own. The mechanism contains a magnet, a ratchet and an assortment of gears.
Once a minute, it receives a 1 to 3 second long impulse from the master clock, activating the mechanism. When the power is disengaged, the magnet releases the ratchet, causing the hands to advance once minute.
In the case of the Gillette clocks, the master clock was the real "time-keeper" in this master-slave clock system. The master clock was wound electrically by batteries which also supplied power to send the signal or impulse to the slave clock. If the batteries died or the master became disconnected from the sidewalk clock, the sidewalk clock would stop running.
According to his nephew ......"Bill became a jeweler to the stars. He kept files about celebrities, their jewelry likes and dislikes, which were scribbled on note cards.
If you wanted to buy a gift for stars like Gloria Swanson or Hedy Lamar, Bill could tell you their particular taste in baubles.
I have a magazine article about Uncle Bill thats shows a picture of him posing with Rin Tin Tin. The dog came into the store to be featured in some publicity photos.
The Stromberg clock is designated as a landmark by the state of California.
During the silent movie era, the Stromberg clock was often captured on film during car chases. The clock and the store interior were featured prominently in the movie The Grifters in 1990."
Master clock which runs the slave sidewalk clock
The clock remained a fixture on Main Street through the 1940's, but was gone by 1951 and it's whereabout today is unknown.
In the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Mackay for Sept. 1, 1942, Mrs. Ralph Larter appeared before the Board. She brought up the matter of the Village Board paying for the repair of her car which was damaged by the clock in front of the Clock Cigar Store when it fell over on her car producing $18.75 damage.
The clock was 14 feet tall, the lighted dial measured 30 inches in diameter and was adorned with 3 street lamp-type lights. Due to the lighting, the clock was quite eye catching at night. The hands were driven and controlled via wires from a master clock works inside the store.
The word "observatory" is imprinted at the top of some Gillette street clocks and most likely refers to a special master clock which received Western Union time signals, via telephone type wires from a Western Union office. This was a more expensive set-up, but insured great accuracy. A signal from Western Union would automatically correct the time of the master clock.
Below is an example of the Self Winding Clock which has a weight driven pendulum movement. This movement winds itself every few minutes by a battery. Each minute this clock sends an impulse to the sidewalk clock.
This Gillette master clock was manufactured by the Waterbury Clock Company and is a weight driven pendulum movement. The movement operated a lever which made an electrical connection once per minute, via batteries, which send an impulse to the Gillette Street clock which was located in front of the jewelry store on the sidewalk. The sidewalk clock was actually a slave clock in that it's movement was powered by the master clock located inside the store building.
This master clock never received Western Union time signals, so was not an "Observatory Time" Gillette clock. Only the Self Winding Clock Company master clocks received the time signals.
Here are some of the clock patents.
We are always searching for more photos and factory literature from the Gillette Clock Company.
If you have anything, please scan and email to:
steveschmidt at hotmail.com