Wooden Works Clock Industry
Many early settlers of Trumbull County came from western Connecticut, bringing along trades and skills, which included wooden works clocks. There were known clock factories in Vienna, Brookfield, Warren, Howland, and Hartford. Over 75,000 estimated clocks were produced locally when the industry was active from about 1815 to 1835. Wooden works clocks were popular at the time because they were easier to manufacture and more affordable than brass works. All of the tall clocks produced in Vienna Township were 30-hour movements, modeled after those made in Waterbury, Connecticut. "Patent" or shelf clocks were modeled after the movements produced by Mark Leavenworth in Connecticut.
Trumbull County was appealing for this trade as there was a significant amount of large, virgin timber that could be cut into gears, plates, faces, and cases. Virgin timber was desirable since it was often harder, less likely to shrink, and scarcely contained knots.
The clock factories used water from nearby streams a source of power to run the wheel cutting machines and turning lathes. Horses or oxen were thought to be used when water was absent from the vicinity of the factories. Metal parts for the clocks, such as bolts, pendulum bobs, bells, wires, and screws were likely acquired from area iron forgers or blacksmiths. The minute and hour hands were produced by a pewtersmith.
Employees in the wooden works clock factories required less training than those in the brass works industry. Jobs in the wooden works industry included carpentry, iron founding, dial decorating, mechanics and assembly, and clock peddling. Local men were mostly hired and many were the sons of early Trumbull County settlers. On-the-job training was taught by factory bosses or skilled employees, as there were no apprenticeships in wooden clock works. Some men had training in carpentry, others such as Ogden Combs, a relative of Ansel Merrell by marriage, went to work in Merrell's factory when he was only ten years old. Nathan Beach Lewis, son of Lambert W. Lewis, began working in his father's factory when he was twelve years of age. When Nathan Beach Lewis was nineteen years old, he supervised his brother, Gideon Sanford Lewis, age fifteen, when he soldered pendulums and filled verges. The women hired in the factories were usually dial decorators.
After the clock works were made, they were often distributed and sold by peddling. Clock peddlers would usually take just the mechanical parts of the clock - the body with its face, hands, weights, and pendulum from the factories to sell. If a case was desired the buyer could purchase one from a separate cabinetmaker; this way it could be a tall clock or a shelf clock. In 1827 court depositions of Trumbull County clock peddlers, they indicated that they purchased clocks from the factory for $2.00 a piece and could sell them for about $4.00 each. Clocks were also sold by merchants in local storefronts. In 1828 there were 42 stores that carried clocks, by 1831 that number had expanded to 59. Known merchants in Vienna that carried locally made clocks were Miller & Merrell, Isaac Powers, George Cochran, and Cochran & Andrews.
The most financially successful time in the Trumbull County clock industry was from 1825 to 1829. In 1830 the industry started to decline. With a surplus of clocks and reduced demand, factory prices plummeted from $2.00 to $1.12 per clock. Lambert W. Lewis, Garry Lewis, and Ansel Merrell found themselves in Trumbull County Civil Court over debts. Overextension of credit through mortgages along with an economic depression in the early 1830s essentially ended the clockmaking "boom" in Vienna and Trumbull County. Poor workmanship was also noted to be a factor in the decline, which was the result of poor employee training in the wooden works industry. In a court deposition by Norton Wheeler, clock peddler, he testified that Asahel Scovill, a wooden clock manufacturer Trumbull County, purchased damaged parts from the Ansel Merrell and Lambert W. Lewis factories to make his clocks.
Stores that sold Clocks in Vienna
Norman Andrews (Payne's Corners)
Miller & Merrell
Click here to view a list of known clock factory employees, peddlers, and dial decorators.
Map of clock factory locations from Fred L. Martin, "Clockmakers of Vienna," in Vienna, Ohio, "Where We Live and Let Live": Town 4, Range 2 of the Connecticut Western Reserve (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1999), p. 128.
Clock factory names & lists contributed by Rebecca Rogers, architectural historian, September 2017.