One of the most frequently asked questions in the museum is, “Why does everything Westclox say LaSalle if the company was in Peru?” That’s very good question that has caused me to spend many hours in researching an answer, only to find that there is no definite or simple answer.
As I grew up, I heard all kinds of rumors about the Westclox address. The most common were:
· Westclox was mad at, or had a disagreement with Peru, so it changed the address to LaSalle.
· LaSalle had a bigger post office.
· LaSalle was a bigger city.
I decided it was time to resolve this issue once and for all. My research has taken me on a very interesting journey through local history.
In any research, I like to begin with known facts. Western Clock Company, a.k.a. Westclox has always used LaSalle, Illinois as its mailing address. Every piece of paperwork we have found, from the 1890s through the 1970s list the mailing address as LaSalle. I have reviewed a few patent documents from the early 20th century that refer to the company as Western Clock Manufacturing of Peru, Illinois. Some promotional materials after WW II refer to the LaSalle-Peru plant, but the mailing address is always LaSalle. These are known facts.
I don't know what address Mr. Stahlberg used when he initially organized the United Clock Company in 1885, but that is not really important, since his bankruptcy in 1887 led to Mr. F. W. Matthiessen taking over and reorganizing the company as Western Clock Manufacturing Company, later known as Western Clock Company, and best known by the adopted trade name of Westclox. When Mr. Matthiessen took over in 1887, he was president of Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company in LaSalle. His home was in LaSalle. He was also Mayor of the City of LaSalle. There's one clue.
The post office in LaSalle was located on Main Street (now First Street), in the main business district of LaSalle and several blocks north of the Illinois River and Illinois-Michigan Canal. This is where Mr. Matthiessen would have received his business and personal mail. It’s possible that the LaSalle post office was larger than Peru’s, but that was not a big factor. In Peru, the post office was located in its main business district on Water Street, a good distance from Mr. Matthiessen's office in north-east LaSalle, and along the Illinois River. Access to this post office would require an additional trip by foot or horse (Mail was not delivered in the early days. You had to claim it at the post office.) over streets that at times were nearly impassable due to flooding. There's another clue.
The area where the clock factory was established was quite different then from today. In fact, the original 1885 factory was not built along today's Route 6, but about a block south of where the museum entrance is today. Someone told me that the whole area for several blocks north of here was known as LaSalle Center, possibly an unincorporated area of the county at that time. Results of research into this topic are a little vague. I haven't been able to prove conclusively that the area was unincorporated in 1887, but a 1910 plat map shows the area listed as “LaSalle Center Addition”. Another clue!
The Illinois Central Rail Station, used by Westclox for receiving raw materials and shipping finished products, was located in LaSalle. Final clue!
So, putting everything together, I have drawn this conclusion: From the beginning, Mr. Matthiessen chose to use the LaSalle address simply as a convenience, so that he could collect all of his mail from one location. As the company progressed and began national advertising, it was necessary to maintain a consistent format. Changing an address would create confusion, since communication was much slower in the 19th and early 20th centuries than the “instant gratification” we have become accustomed to today. Maintaining the same address was simply good for business.
As for the ‘urban legend” of a feud between Westclox and the City of Peru, I think we can safely conclude that it is just that – an unfounded urban legend.
The Westclox Museum is proud to be located in a portion of the historic Westclox Building. Our address is 350 Fifth Street, Suite 265, Peru, Illinois 61354. We hope you will visit soon.
“You never know what you might find in the Westclox Museum!”