Year Established: 1854
Headquarters: Middlebury, Connecticut
Watch Category: Budget
Brand Accomplishments: One of the first American wrist watches and of course Indiglo.
Timex is a brand I grew up with and holds a special place in my personal watch history and collection. Some of my first watches were Timex watches. As well, I had a very close friend of my youth whose first job was with Timex in Connecticut. As a historian and researcher, it’s fascinating to dig into the history of Timex. The images associated with this post came from my iPhone while at the National Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania
In 1854, a Connecticut brass manufacturer, Benedict & Burnham, decided to make clocks. The company legally incorporated the Waterbury Clock Company in 1857. This made them one of Americas first clock companies. The mid-1800s was an industrial boom time in America. In specific, the Naugatuck Valley in Connecticut became the“Switzerland of America.”
Waterbury Clock tried its hand at watch production. In 1877, Waterbury Clock made the 58 part Long Wind watch from punched sheet brass. In 1880, the clock company carved off some floor space dedicated to watch production. With $400,000, they created the Waterbury Watch Company. The goal of the watch company was to produce inexpensive watches and timepieces.
Jumbo and the Dollar
In 1891, Waterbury Clock (not Waterbury Watch) produced the Jumbo watch named after the Famous PT Barnum elephant. The Jumbo was marketed in New York City. It caught the eye Robert H. Ingersoll who, along with his bother, ran a successful catalog company. In 1892 the Ingersoll’s contracted with Waterbury Clock Company to produce 1,000 “clock watches” for $0.85 a piece. The watches sold for $1.00 a piece in the 1892 Ingersoll mail order catalog. The success of the “Dollar Watch” saw the brothers order another 10,000 watches. This watch was named “The watch the made the dollar famous.”
Waterbury Watch Goes Under
Waterbury watch lacked solid salespeople and gave away a lot of product. It was not long before it succumbed to bankruptcy. In 1898, Waterbury Watch Company reorganized into The New England Watch Company. This company ceased doing business in 1912. Seeing value in the watch business, Robert H. Ingersoll & Bros bought the Waterbury Watch Company plant. They began production of Ingersoll watches in 1914.
World War I calls on Waterbury Clock
WWI artillery gunners needed a way to calculate and read time while still operating the big guns. The US Army asked Waterbury Clock Company to revise the Ingersoll Ladies Midget pocket watch. The redesign called for the crown to move to 2 o’clock, luminescence added to the hands and, lugs added for a wrist strap. The result was one of America’s first wrist watches. After the war, the civilian population snapped up these new watches. Unfortunately, Ingersoll did not survive the post-war recession and filed for bankruptcy. In 1922, the Waterbury Clock Company purchased the Robert H. Ingersoll & Bros company for $1.5 million. Below is an image of the Ingersoll Midget.
The Mouse came calling
After muddling through the post-war years and the depression, a weakened Waterbury Clock was saved by Walt Disney. Waterbury Clock signed an agreement with Disney to produce timepieces in 1930. The watches and clocks held the Ingersoll name. The Mickey products arrived at the Chicago World Fair in 1933.
Another war reshapes the business
In 1941 two Norwegians, Thomas Olsen and Joakim Lehmkuhl, took a controlling interest in the Waterbury Clock. Both men fled Norway as a result of the Nazi invasion. In America, they looked to start a business to help the wartime effort. Waterbury Clock became the largest producer of timers and fuses for defense products. In 1944 the company became the United States Time Corporation.
Post-war boom time
Lehmkuhl thought that an accurate, durable, reasonably-priced watch would be a hit with Americans. Wartime material innovations and automation helped bring Timex into existence in 1950. In 1956, famous TV adds testing the watches were produced. These adds are the origin of the tagline “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” The company bought Lacher & Co AG from Pforzheim, Germany (Laco) to get their electric watch technology. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the US Time Corporation manufactured missile components such as fuses and accelerometers.
By 1970 half of all watch sales in the US were Timex. The party was not going to last too long though. In the 1970’s and 80’s inexpressive mechanical watches from the Far East put a huge dent in sales for Timex. Timex even entered the personal computing space for a short time. Timex created the Ironman Triathalon series of watches in 1986. These watches targeted outdoors enthusiast that wanted a multifunction, waterproof, durable watch. The Ironman series has become the most successful post-mechanical watch for Timex. Late1992 brought the introduction of Indiglo night light feature for Timex watches.
Timex Group BV
Timex Group USA is owned by a Dutch conglomerate name Timex Group BV. Under this conglomerate are many brands from Timex to Versace. Timex USA still has corporate offices in the United States. Production of most watches sold in the US takes place in the Philippines. Development of many watches occurs in the US, Germany and Switzerland.
At the time of writing, Timex has reintroduced its first mechanical watch in over 30 years – the Marlin. Timex is still innovating and creating great, durable and affordable watches. It would be incorrect to label Timex as a fashion brand. With its Ironman, Expedition, and Waterbury lines it is safe to say Timex is a staple watch brand. In my humble opinion, every collection should have a Timex in the mix.
Times has taken their lickings and are still ticking.