April 13 – Happy Birthday to the Henry Ford of Clocks!

Posted on April 13, 2018

Do you know what "interchangeable parts" means?

It means that many different products can use the same gear, or plug, or whatever-it-is. That means it's easier to build things, easier to replace broken things, easier to replace lost parts, easier to use different products together...


Consider this example:

Back in the bad old days, every cell phone had a different, but similar looking, phone charger.  

Plugging a phone into a car recharger required a different cord attached to something that connected with a car's cigarette lighter. 

And plugging the phones into computers or anything else required entirely different cords and cables and connectors and...

Well, nowadays, almost all cell phone chargers and plugs and connectors work with standardized USB technology. My iPhone cord may not be the same as your Android cord, but either one can connect with an electrical plug, and both can connect with a USB outlet on a computer, TV, car, electrical strip, or other device. Because of this, things have become easier.

That "interchangeable parts" thing is what Henry Ford did for automobiles. And before that, it is what today's famous birthday, Eli Terry, did for clocks.

Born in Connecticut 1772, Terry began to make clocks when he was just twenty years old. He had learned the craft from two master clockmakers, but he also innovated:

He had apprentices make rough-cut wheels that he and other skilled clockmakers could shape into precise clockworks.

Then he created water-powered machines to make those rough-cut wheels. Still, a master clockmaker had to make the gears with precision so that they would fit together.

Then he invented jigs and fixtures so that the gears themselves were manufactured - always the same, always fitting together perfectly, and therefore interchangeable with one another!

Before all of Terry's inventiveness, a skilled clockmaker could make six clocks in a year. But, with Terry's inventions, Terry could make three THOUSAND clocks in a year!

Naturally, this meant that clocks could be sold way more cheaply, to average folks. They weren't just for the rich, anymore!

Terry's inexpensive household clocks didn't sell right away. Many people were not used to the idea that they could have timepieces in their homes - they relied on hearing the time from the community or church bells that chimed out the hour, half hour, and quarter hour.

So Terry came up with another innovation - this time in marketing and sales: 

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Own your own clock! 
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Eventually, Terry sold enough clocks that he had accumulated a comfortable bank balance - one might even say a fortune. He then worked to help his three sons who went into the clockmaking business to establish themselves, and he also went back into the making of fine hand-made clockworks for high-end special-order clocks!

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