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Chapter XIII - The Electric Clock

hen I developed the motor that turned the shutters for Teleview, I had become very expert in how to make a small synchronous motor. A synchronous motor, of course, installed in a clock, is wonderful thing, because if the generator is constant, it gives perfect time. The trouble was, power companies didn't bother to keep their generators running at a constant speed. Then, all of a sudden, General Electric Company began selling the Telechron synchronous clock that you could just plug into the light socket. They were persuading their power people to keep their generators at 60 cycle, so the clocks running on their current would keep time.

Well, if someone was going to regulate the service so the clocks would run on time, that to me was the most marvellous news, and I must do something about that right away. Because with my experience of the alarm clock and my knowledge of these motors, I could design a clock that would sell for vastly less money than anybody else could. I just knew that. It was just like falling into a fortune, which it was.

So I rushed down and bought one of the clocks and brought it home, and said, well, now, how would I build one of these clocks for this purpose? The Telechron clock, designed by Henry Warren, was clevery designed. But it was self-starting. That means, if there's an interruption in the electric supply, the clock stops, and after that when the current comes on again it starts up again, but it's wrong, and it makes you miss the train. And the motor went very fast: 3600 R.P.M., and it was quite expensive.

proceeded to design a clock. Of course it took some experimenting. I discovered a thing which I didn't know before, which was that if you just had a wheel with a magnet to attract it, you could get a thing like that to run, but it wouldn't run reliably, and it was extremely hard to start. You needed a fly- wheel which is loose on the shaft, and which develops friction between it and the shaft. But I finally designed a little clock, and as I didn't have any money to put into tools to make a very handsome case, I made a case out of wood. The motor ran eleven times slower than the Telechron. It was all in the open air, a very simple design. Clocks were one of the things I had saved out between myself and Andrews, so in 1928 I formed the Hammond Clock Company and the Andrews-Hammond Company put some money into it and recieved stock. I rented what had been a roller skating rink above a grocery store in Evanston to assemble the clocks. I ordered the pieces. Eventually we became very large- there was an enormous market for that kind of clock, and lots of companies made clocks under license from us eventually.

enry Warren had patented only the self-starting aspect of his clock. Hammond took out a patent on his synchronous clock but when he put it on the market, General Electric claimed that he infringed on their rights. They had persuaded some electric companies to maintain their generators on time. They claimed that Hammond was exploiting this fact and brought suit against the Hammond Clock Company.

We were selling clocks into homes on a similar system. But we beat them to the draw, sending out salesmen into any town where the generators' time was NOT being regulated. Our salesmen would go to the electric operators of the generators, and they would offer a present to the operating engineers, a present of an electric clock to each. and they said, "You'll find it's nice to keep your clocks on time. If the clock is slow, just go in and speed up the generator til it catches up."

So in a short time, we had a great number of generators whose speed was regulated, that General Electric didn't know anything about. And when the trial came up, I said to the Court, "I'd like to give you a list of power stations where time is regulated because we've given away clocks. There are many more of them than the ones General Electric has persuaded to keep on time, and we and our licensees are selling ten times as many clocks as they are." The judge laughed and so did the courtroom audience. General Electric was caught unawares and virtually laughed out of court.

Well, the Hammond Clock Company prospered greatly and I made this trip all around, especially around New England, New Haven, Waterbury. There was the Waterbury Clock Company, Sessions, Ingraham, and so on. I went to all of them and in the beginning this thing I had to sell was the little motor which we made and they could put in their clock very very simply, and what they had to do to make it an electric clock was just nothing at all.

edmond, a miraculous fellow, took a shine to me when we formed the A-Box Company. He seemed to feel instinctively that I was going places and he said, " I want to work for you." Redmond had joined me then and now he sold the clocks. He was so good with everything and with the people and with every kind of thing- I'm not so good with people; I care more about things and processes- that I said to him, "Now, you sell this product, and you hire and fire the people; actually, you are going to run the company. Because I'm so busy trying to improve the product, and also I'll find other products, and I can tell you this, that any product I find that the company makes will be a product that has not heretofore been sold, so that everything that's sold will be a novelty.

It was a policy of mine for years to so design everything that the company made that the company would employ toolmakers for the making of tools. They were high-paid men and we always paid very high prices, and no toolmaker ever struck, and we had very little labor trouble, and in my time, no union. Then the pieces that were made on the tools should all be pieces that were stamped out and all could be assembled by people with no experience; we had a belt operation where they sat on both sides and they had to work to keep up with the belt.

At first we used to advertise: "Wanted: factory girls! We teach you - no experience necessary." After awhile as the company got along, it turned out that we had without realizing it employed a large number of Polish people. These Polish people fell into a kind of a clique of their own and got other friends of theirs to come and work so that after awhile we never had to advertise for any help; we just put up on the bulletin board a sign - We could use so many more assembly girls, and whey would arrive practically the next morning. It was just extraordinary. People were well paid and they were paid by the hour, not by the piece.

We continued to make money very fast after the stock market crash. Every manufacturer seemed to be getting into trouble except Hammond Clock. All of this was occuring just before the Great Depression and some of the most tragic things occured to some of my licensees. But we went merrily along. Macy's had about twelve pretty girls stationd around different parts of the store holding out a Hammond clock and saying, "Have you tried one of these?" Macy said they had never sold a gadget that was so trouble free --- that is people almost never brought them back because of anything going wrong. They must have sold millions of our clocks, which went for about three dollars.

hen I designed a clock that became tremendously successful. The reason was that it was modernistic, molded out of black bakelite and it had a calandar underneath that said Saturday 12th, etc. The drum that said the days of the week, just kept on because there's no variation. The other one you had to set supposedly five times of the year, at the end of the month. But the clock just hit at a very peculiar time when the depression had already come on. There was a wedding in Wilmette, a suburb next to Evanston, and the bride and the groom received among their gifts eighteen Hammond calendar clocks because everyone said, "Oh what a wonderful thing!" They'd never seen a thing like that - "Won't they be surprised!" It really was amazing how many of those things were sold. Everyone who sold that kind of thing was so anxious to get in on the gravy train.

Then I thought, well now, I think I'll develop a clock that will run through current interruptions and still show the right time. That would be a great advance. Warren had patented a thing that they never made because it didn't work so well....it was so cumbersome. He had a pendulum clock with everything in it and a magnet connected with it. Normally the pendulum was stuck - held by an electro-magnet. Then if there was a current interruption the pendulum would be released until the current came back on when the magnet would grab the pendulum and stop it. But it didn't sell.

The clock I designed was called the bichronous clock. In that was a rotor that ran around and never stopped. On the same shaft was a self-starting spring motor with a peculiar governor (whose working none of the dealers seemed to be able to undrstand). Well these clocks were in very handsome cases and sold at a tremendous price. We'd had such success before that every dealer who sold clocks said, "Oh, Hammond has a new clock that doesn't stop, and here are pictures of those new clocks..." and so they all bought just a hell of a lot of those clocks - so many clocks that is was absolutely ridiciulous in view of the coming depression - but of course they didn't really realize how bad it was going to be. Some people still had plenty of money, and the fancier the clock the better. But that absolutely loaded up the clock market all over everywhere, with clocks. In order to produce that clock we had borrowed an awful lot of money from banks. We were the fair-haired boys - everything we were doing was just a gold mine, making money, licensing everybody and so on, and borrowing money - and the banks are funny, they loan you money when you don't need it but when you do need it its very hard. We had two banks which fought with each other to get their share, they were so anxious to loan us money. We had borrowed over $400,000 and when all of this fell apart there wasn't a prayer of us paying back all that.

All they had to do was call the loan and they would have put us into bankruptcy.

--- uriously enough, what hit the Hammond Clock Company was news from abroad. The Company's business was built on its patents, and much of its income came from licenses to other manufactureres. One day the news came out that in 1895, the year of Hammond's birth- a German had built a clock with a synchronous electric motor like Hammond's and mounted it in the main square in Cologne. Because of interruptions in the current, it didn't keep good time, so it was replaced with a pendulum clock, but what had been done constituted a publication of the invention which meant that Hammond's patent was invalid.

One by one, Hammond's Licensees called him on the telephone. "I suppose you've heard about that clock in Cologne." "Uh-huh, uh-huh." "Well what about royalties?" "You needn't pay any more. What you've paid, we'll keep" And that was that. With no royalties to pay, every Tom, Dick and Harry tried manufacturing inexpensive clocks like Hammond's. Competition became ruinous to all. Some 150 clock companies went out of business in 1932 and sold the clocks they had left for whatever they could get. What with this, and no more royalties coming in, Hammond Clock's profits turned to deficits of alarming size. In rather short order the Company fell from sitting pretty to a desparate financial position. In the deepening depression, people just weren't buying the expensive models the dealers had loaded up with. How long before the bankers would call the loan?

Hammond felt under enormous pressure to save his company. There were now 700 employees and he felt responsible for their jobs. in this crisis, he produced an odd invention which impressed the bankers so much that it did the trick. Belive it or not it was an electric card dealing bridge table. The dealer (called the "Bridgeadier") placed a deck of cards in a drawer and shut the drawer and this whirling contraption with a rubber thumb dealt out four hands - one to a pocket in each side of the table. Hammond got their 16 year old mail boy, Stanley Sorenson, to deal out 1,000 sets of four hands and record what he got. Hammond had his device deal 1,000 sets, too. He wwent away and analyzed the results with a slide-rule and came back as happy as could be. "It works!" he cried.

The way the device distributed the 52 cards among the four hands was just about as random as if they had been shuffled to perfection (which isn't usually the case when we play bridge). And well-shuffled hands tend to be more interesting than under-shuffled hands. The only drawback was, it didn't give you much time for a breather between hands!

Interesting webpage about the Bridge Table

Well this strange contraption, the cheapest model sold for $25, caught on for the Christmas market, 1932, to such an extent that Marshall Field, trying to fill orders for the Christmas rush actually used taxicabs. A taxi would be waiting at the factory for each lot of four or five tables as they were finished and rusehd them to the store for their pre-Christmas customers.

It so happened that a few months before, my wife had applied for a charge account at Marshall Field. Everything had gone well until she'd been asked her husband's occupation. When she replied "Inventor", credit was refused. When she told me that I said, "Oh, for heaven's sake!!! Never say that!" Now, however when Marshall Field had their taxis outside just praying us to give them more bridge tables, I kind of twitted the guy saying, "Well, I don't know why I should do so much for you when you wouldn't do anything for us because I was an inventor!"

In one month the profits from the bridge tables were $75,000 temporarily reversing the alarming monthly losses. The bankers decided they didn't need to worry about their loan.

Hammond realized that this product was only a fad, a flash in the pan, which would not last and didn't even bother to work on improving it. With the depression deepening, production of this luxury item ended with 1932 and even with the aid of its profits, the year ending March, 1933, showed a loss of $240,000. Nevertheless, Hammond's ability to come up with a new and profitable invention had restored the confidence of the bankers. "He's unsinkable", said one of them.

An order from Wrigley for 500,000 clocks, even at the cutthroat price of 84 cents apiece helped keep things form coming to a standstill. When an order was secured from Postal Telegraph for a lot of big dial clocks, their $75,000 advance was a financial reprieve for the company. But clocks alone were not going to keep the business afloat through that awful depression.


 
   
Chapter XIV - The Hammond Organ is Born    Index

ęCopyright 1974, Stuyvesant Barry All Rights Reserved May not be copied, published, used on anyone else's web pages or in any way without express written permission.


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