Westclox Great Depression Effects


As the Roaring Twenties came to a startling abrupt ending, Westclox positively continued. I have frequently been asked by Westclox Museum visitors, “When did Westclox shut down during the Depression, and how many employees did that put out of a job?” The answer is very simple: Westclox did not shut down, and they tried to keep as many employees at work as possible. I will try to explain how great this company has been.

When 1930 (the beginning of The Great Depression) began at Westclox things were unbelievably advancing. The newest addition to the factory was virtually completed and about ready for occupancy. That would be the 4-story “tower” addition at northwest corner of the factory. Another major event was the Westclox purchase of the Seth Thomas Clock Co. in Connecticut. (Seth Thomas had been established in 1813) On November 12, 1930 they formed a holding company for both companies then named General Time Instrument Company and established a New York office.

A few days before the establishment of General time, Westclox established a Temporary Unemployment Benefit Program, which was to run until April 23, 1931. You must be aware that there had never been any governmental unemployment benefits. Only Westclox employees would benefit from this established program. $30,000 was paid out in half-pay through the winter months to the following: 1.) Individuals with 10 years employment and 500 hours lay-off preceding 12 months. 2.) Individuals with 5 years employment and 750 hours lay-off preceding 12 months. 3.) Individuals with 2 years-service and 1,000 hours lay-off preceding 12 months. The lowest number of individuals to receive benefits was 61; largest number was 378. The amount of benefits varied from a few cents to $30 per day.

That 4-story building that was built and occupied in 1930 is where Westclox Museum now occupies a section of the second floor.

Electric Street Car lines were abandoned in 1930.

In 1931 General Time Instrument Co. purchased Hamilton and Sangamo Electric clock Co.

In 1932, due to reverse business conditions, vacation pay for salaried and non-salaried employees was discontinued this year. The work force was reduced and the Temporary Unemployment Benefit Program was extended. For more stable employees – 6 months unemployment at ½ pay (extended) gained National Recognition from all Industrial Companies. In the winter of 1932, minimum ½ pay to permanent stable employees, $50,000 was spent from a fund that had been set aside for this purpose.

1932 was completed without a lost time accident!

In 1933, Sterling Watch Company, a division of Western Clock Company, manufactured automobile clocks and electric clocks, Charles Gillman was made General Manager of Seth Thomas, and vacation time had no pay because of business conditions. The lowest level of unemployment during depression was 1,779.

This Sterling Mirror Automobile Clock, in perfect condition, is on display at our Westclox Museum.

A tennis club was organized by Westclox for use of the tennis court just west of the office building. Officers were E. McInerney, chairman; Luella Keutzer, Secretary; Liela Loekle, treasurer.

Members of the Engineering Department created a wonderous clock that stood 42 inches high and weighed 300 pounds! This clock looked exactly like a Big Ben and was complete with the tone of the Big Ben Chime Alarm. This clock was for the display at the Progressive World’s Fair in Chicago.

By 1934, things started to improve. Westclox employees were now 2,312, and the company had now completed 2 years with no lost time accidents. A bonus was given to all employees – a half-day holiday with pay!

On February 6, 1935, Westclox employees had completed 11,114,599.8 hours without a lost time accident! The company placed first in the nation!

The City of Peru celebrated its Centennial in 1935, and Westclox entered a float in the parade. The float had a large replica of Big Ben atop the float with a slogan of “A Westclox in every other home in Peru”. Westclox was awarded second prize. At that time the population of Peru was 9,121 and the Westclox employees from Peru were 950.

In 1935, General Time Corporation purchased Stromberg Electric Company. Wondering what they made? Excellent Time Clocks used in Westclox!

1936 was a greater improvement year. Westclox employees were now increased to 2,800, and wages were increased by 7%. The Company was now known as Westclox Division. Remember – they are part of General Time Corporation.

A portion of Central Park property was given to L-P High School for an athletic field, and some of the property was given to the City of Peru.

A softball diamond was established east of Orleans Street and horseshoe courts near the diamond and also directly west of the office building.

The Peru Police were now directing traffic in front of Westclox at noon and 4:30 p.m. This had previously been managed by Westclox employees.

On July 14, 1936 outdoor temperature reached 113 degrees for an all time high!

December 1936 was a special Westclox year. Employees were given a Christmas bonus on December 15, 1936. Those with 1-year service and over received 2-weeks pay. Those with less than 1-year received a bonus by calendar months. This month also recognized the first Westclox employee to complete 50 years of service! R. D. Paton started January 1, 1886 at 13 years of age. At that time there were 8 employees, including R. Paton’s father. Daily output of approximately 8 clocks were delivered daily by R. Paton to Schlichten Dry Goods in LaSalle where they were given as premiums with $10.00 orders. In 1888, they were up to 20 clocks per day. Mr. Paton received a $1,000 War Bond.

One other major thing happened in 1936! A year ago, the United States Government established something that had never been in existence – a system of old-age benefits for victims of industrial accidents, unemployment insurance, aid for dependent mothers and children, the blind, and the physically handicapped. The first time ever Social Security Act of 1935 on August 15, 1935, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1935.

The Social Security Act went into effect at Westclox in 1936, and 1% was deducted from wages.

In 1937, things were continuing to improve and move upward. Wages were now increased 10% in March – increasing the payroll to $3,900,000. 2,474 employees, or approximately 82% on the factory payroll will receive whole or part vacation pay. 97% of total employees are enrolled in the Westclox Pension Plan, in addition to Social Security.

Westclox has continued to hold the National Safety Record from 2-6-1935 – 3-22-1937, with 11,114,000 hours.

In 1938, things just continue positively. This year had promoted Robert D. Paton (now working for 52 years) to the position of Master Mechanic.

1939 is nothing but a positive year for Westclox.

Westclox, Ltd., A United Kingdom Subsidiary has been formed to produce clocks and watches in Scotland.

2,739 employees would receive 1 or 2 weeks of vacation pay.

The Quarter Century Club has 294 active members and 22 associates total 316, and 74 more employees joined in 1939. This was the first year for Hamilton Wrist Watches (14 k gold) to be presented for 35 years of service. Previously, diamond stick pins had been presented.

Westclox received another Trophy for their excellent Safety Record from July 1938 to June 1939.

As everyone can see by now, Westclox did a very good business during the Great Depression. The company was as positive as possible, using set aside funds to provide benefits to unemployed employees – something that was not provided as a government benefit before 1935-36. When the company enters the next decade, there are billions of changes. Check out the Westclox World War II activities.


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