Time to Drive: Early Automobile Clocks

At the start of the New Year, people often reminisce about the past. With time on the mind, you might be interested to know that, in addition to the Library’s reference book and sales literature collection, we also have information on antique automobile clock accessories. Taken for granted today, clocks were an afterthought in the infancy of the automobile and didn’t appear on the market until about 1904. While automotive timepieces have come a long way since then, clocks up until the 1930s have retained the greatest charm.

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Interestingly enough, it was pocket watch companies, not clock makers, who scrambled to meet the needs of this growing market. In America, companies such as Phinney-Walker, Chelsea Clock Co., and Waterbury made their mark. However, the more desirable high quality clocks proved to be those made by Waltham and Elgin. According to a 1918 Waltham ad, “the high class cars which are equipped with the Waltham Automobile Clock are an index to the reliability of this super time piece.”

In England and Europe, the most popular manufacturers were made by Jaeger and Smiths. While Smiths clocks were often relegated to lower priced cars, Jaeger timepieces made their way into more luxurious makes. For example, Jaeger’s chronograph auto clocks could be found in Duesenbergs and Bugattis.

Just like the pocket watches manufactured by these companies, early automobile clocks needed to be wound by hand. To the frustration of many, some required a winding every day. On the other end of the spectrum, companies like Waltham incorporated 8-day movements in their clocks to save drivers time, only needing a wind once a week.

As an optional accessory, most early auto clocks were mounted with a bracket to the surface of the dashboard. However, some were placed in spots unusual by today’s standards, such as the rearview mirror or steering wheel. Made in 1916 by the Eisenstadt Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis, MO, the Automobile B-4-U Clock was placed on the wheel with the safety claim, “see it without taking your eyes off the road; wind it without taking your hands from the wheel.”

While keeping one’s eyes on the road was important, two of the greatest threats to automobile clocks were open cars and unpaved roads. Exposed to the elements and vibrations from traveling along bumpy roads, they needed to be built to withstand this daily “abuse.” Patented in 1916, the Lewis NOJAR Rubber Retained Auto Clock sought to address both problems. In this particular piece, the clock was “encased in pure black rubber” to keep out dust and absorb the shock from driving over rough terrain.

Since this time forgotten, automobile clocks have continued to evolve. Electric models introduced in the 30s were refined over time, giving way to the digital displays which have dominated the market over the past two decades. As time marches on, however, early clocks seem likely to remain the most cherished pieces.

In addition to clocks, we here at the Library also have information on several different types of automobile accessories. Whether you fancy tires and carburetors or cigar lighters and baby cribs, there’s more to the Library than meets the eye. Seeking information on a particular auto-related subject? Consider filling out a research request via our website. We’d love to hear from you!

 


A Brief History of the Automotive Mascot

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For as long as automobiles have existed, their owners have looked for ways to personalize them. One such automotive accessory was the mascot, a radiator cap which also doubled as a small sculpture of self-expression. While mascots surged in popularity after the invention of the automobile, they all but disappeared by the 1940s thanks to streamlining and would only later return as an extension of trim.

While Lord Montagu of England was the first known person to place a mascot on their car (an 1896 Daimler), a growing number of resourceful people used their own materials to give their car a unique touch. Club badges, paper weights and ashtray sculptures were among some of the objects affixed to radiator caps. Even eagles from flagpoles were sawed off to serve as mascots.

In the years that followed, entrepreneurs began manufacturing mascots to meet the needs of a growing niche market. Up into the 1920s and 30s, manufacturers in France and England gained a reputation for high quality mascots which were often cast in silver or bronze. Lalique of France even produced fine pieces made of glass. By contrast, most American mascots were considered of lesser quality, usually made of pewter or pot metal. While quality was sacrificed, mass production through die-casting meant that many mascots were well within reach of the general public.

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Aside from a few instances, it wasn’t until the 1920s before automobile manufacturers began offering their own mascots for their cars. Most of these were sold as optional accessories. Subjects symbolizing speed were frequently used, such as birds and mythological figures. Still, others chose to use their company’s logo.

By the 1920s, motometers were widely used to cap the radiator and gauge its temperature. The location of this device marked a decline in mascot production. However, some companies like Boyce worked around the issue by creating pieces which integrated the motometer into their design.

Once car manufacturers began placing the temperature indicator on the dashboard in the late 1920s and 30s, there was a short-lived resurgence of mascots. During this period, however, streamlining lead to a decline in the mascot’s use as a form of self-expression.  Matters were worsened by the fact that safety experts in the U.S. government believed mascots were potentially hazardous. By 1942, mascots had been almost completely phased out.

While there was a renewed interest in mascots beginning in the 1970s, they were mainly used to accent the trim. However, this change has had little impact on the mascot’s current desirability as a popular collectible.

The AACA Library has a wealth of information on mascots & radiator caps in our uncataloged files. While you won’t find listings in our online catalog simply contact us and we will search through our ads, sales brochures, parts catalogs, photos, and reference books to find exactly what you are looking for.

AACA Library 717-534-2082

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