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.

aacaJAN 297x300 Time to Drive: Early Automobile Clocks

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!