One of the first things most of us do in the morning, and one of the last things before going to bed at night, is check the weather report. This means either a quick look at our smartphone, tablet or computer, turning on The Weather Channel on TV, tuning in our local radio station or possibly checking the newspaper. (Your method of checking probably depends a lot on your age, but we won’t get into that.) Whatever you choose, you can count on a pretty accurate and detailed report, based on data collected electronically via satellite and interpreted for you by highly trained meteorologists.
Did you ever stop to wonder how your grandparents or great-grandparents got their weather data, nearly a century ago? I bet you didn’t think it had anything to do with a clock factory – especially a clock factory located in little old Peru, Illinois. Well guess again.
On April 4, 1919, the U. S. Weather Bureau established a Cooperative Weather Station at Westclox. The government furnished the instruments, daily telegraphic forecasts, daily weather maps and flags. Initially, a Westclox employee took daily readings at the same time as observers all over the country – 7 a.m. Washington time. The readings were then telegraphed to Washington, where clerks assembled the reports and transcribed the data on a map of the United States. The map showed temperatures, storm areas, barometric pressures and wind directions.
The forecast for the next 24 hours, starting at 7 p.m., was then made out and telegraphed to distributing centers in Boston, New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco. The forecast was then broken up into states and sent to the local areas affected. Westclox received the forecast between 8:30 and 9:00 every morning, via Western Union.
Westclox then printed cards that were placed in metal holders around the factory. More cards were printed for mailing to businesses from Marseilles on the east to Colona on the west. In addition to the printed cards, signal flags were run up the flag pole above the north entrance of the plant. These color-coded flags allowed a person to get the weather forecast at a glance – as long as you knew the code. It was pretty simple:
White, alone, indicated fair weather, stationary temperature.
Blue, alone, indicated rain or snow, stationary temperature.
White and blue, alone, indicated local rain or snow, stationary temperature.
White, with black above it, indicated fair weather, warmer.
White, with black below it, indicated fair weather, colder.
Blue, with black above it, indicated rain or snow, warmer.
Blue, with black below it, indicated rain or snow, colder.
White and blue, with black above it, indicated rain or snow, warmer.
White and blue, with black below it, indicated local rain or snow, colder.
White, with blue center, indicated a cold wave.
Have you got all that committed to memory? It wasn’t an exact science, but that is how your ancestors got their weather forecast if they lived or worked in the area. All thanks to Westclox!
In addition to forecast work, general climatic conditions were observed daily. A rain gauge collected and measured rainfall; there were minimum, maximum and recording thermometers for temperatures; a barometer for indicating weather changes and hygrometers for measuring molecules in the air. Initially, these weather instruments were located on the roof of the factory.
Harold Maurer, a member of the maintenance department, was assigned the responsibility of manning the weather station in 1921. He continued in this position until around 1971, likely beyond his retirement. Harold took his responsibility seriously, and was quite dedicated. He good-naturedly accepted the occasional barbs he received concerning the weather. It’s common the “blame the weatherman” for less than desirable conditions.
Harold saw many changes in the weather station and reporting over the years. By 1949, readings were taken 3 times a day – 9:30 a.m., 4:20 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. The weather flags were likely replaced with a different form of notification. Even the location of the weather equipment changed. In 1949, and continuing until Harold could no longer man the station, the thermometer house was located on the lawn, near the east end of the factory.
Harold Maurer, Westclox Official Weather Observer (Tick Talk / October 1949)
A 1949 Tick Talk article mentioned several records that Harold had observed and recorded – the heaviest rainfall and the highest temperature.
On November 11, 1931, the rainfall reached 4.57 inches, the heaviest on record for this area.
On July 14, 1936, the thermometer reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit, for an all time high.
(The coldest this area ever got was on February 13, 1905, when the temperature dropped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit below zero!)
Westclox received no compensation for its work as a cooperative weather observer.
Note: When Harold Maurer stopped manning the Westclox weather station, the task was taken over by Eldon Gunia of Peru. Mr. Gunia set up the instruments near Peru Greenhouse, where he was employed. In 1982 he moved the instruments to his back yard, where he continued his observations until his death in 2011.
“You never know what you might find at the Westclox Museum!”