This is the first in a series of articles on “Things You Might Not Know About Westclox”. This first article is written in response to a question from a former employee via Facebook. I hope you enjoy it and will check back for future articles covering a wide range of topics.
About a year ago, we had a group of Cub Scouts visiting the museum, and I was reminded that, in spite of having numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I was a little out of touch with today’s cartoon world. It also made me feel a little sad that a character that was so much a part of my childhood had apparently passed into oblivion. It happened when I was pointing out one of the Westclox children’s clocks from the late 1950s – early 1960s. I was greeted with a somewhat blank stare and the question, “Who’s Woody Woodpecker?” I quickly recovered and advised the child to ask his daddy about Woody. Thankfully, the young father had been exposed to Woody Woodpecker cartoons.
Wood is described by Wikipedia as an “andromorphic animated woodpecker”. He was created in 1940 by Walter Lantz and Ben Hardaway in the Walter Lantz animation studio, but the idea for the character was formed when Mr. Lantz and his new wife were on their honeymoon. Much to their dismay, a large Acorn Woodpecker disturbed them to no end. When it began to rain, they discovered that the pesky woodpecker had drilled holes in the roof of their cabin, allowing them to get soaking wet. Mr. Lantz wanted to shoot the bird, but Mrs. Lantz suggested he make a cartoon about him instead. (I’m sure he was happy he listened to her!) The character was originally voiced by Mel Blanc, then by Ben Hardaway and later by Gracie Stafford, wife of Walter Lantz.
Woody became wildly popular in short animated films a.k.a. cartoons. He was so popular that orchestra leader Kay Kyser wrote a song about him – “The Woody Woodpecker Song”. Those of us “of a certain age” can clearly remember the distinctive lyrics – “Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song . . .. “ That song was so popular that it received an academy award nomination as best song of the year in 1949!
What does all of this have to do with Westclox? Well, I’m getting to that – keep reading. After WW II, that new device called television became very popular, and some of the programming was devoted to children in the form of Saturday morning cartoon shows. (Remember, this was long before Nick Jr., Disney Jr. & similar stations we are so used to now.) In 1957, the Woody Woodpecker cartoons burst onto the little screen and became a huge success. Now comes Westclox.
Not wanting to miss a marketing opportunity, Westclox got its designers, engineers, marketing and legal departments busy and developed a line of Woody Woodpecker clocks for children.
The May 1959 issue of Tick Talk magazine announced the release of two new children’s clocks – Woody Woodpecker clocks!
A key wound alarm clock (Model no. 587-L) stood 4 ¾ inches high and featured a colorful face with woody peeking out of Woody’s Café. As the clock ticked, Woody pecked away at his tree trunk. (No, the alarm did not sound like Woody’s famous call.) This clock also featured a luminous dial and hands, shatterproof crystal, and a metal case with bright nickel trim. Our friend, Mary, who suggested this article, recalled that she worked on these clocks in the early 1960s. She remembered that they were on a big Ben, but that is not 100% correct. The movement may have been the same, but the case was the same as the Bingo model.
In the wall clock model (Model no 515), Woody is in cowboy attire, galloping along a brightly colored horse, while his shiny spur and stirrup pendulum moved back and forth. This clock measured 7 inches tall. Each of these clocks retailed for $4.98.
I haven’t found any detailed information on the pocket watch, but it is assumed that it was released in the same time period. On the watch, Cowboy Woody’s Twirls his revolvers to indicate the time.
Now, for something else you probably didn’t know about Westclox. Close examination of these clocks will show that they are marked “Columbia time Products, LaSalle, IL. You might think that indicates these clocks were not made by Westclox. Wrong! Columbia Time Products was a division of Westclox, used for marketing lower-priced lines. As one former manager explained it, if the clock had the Westclox name on it, it would have to sell for a higher price.
Now you know some things you may not have known about Westclox. Keep watching for more “little known facts and stories”.
“You never know what you might find at the Westclox Museum!”