DOWN MEMORY LANE: TIME UP AT WESTCLOX

Women from the Westclox workforce at a retirement presentation night in the Balloch Hotel.

From Two Minutes Silence, a book by BILL HEANEY

When God made time, he made plenty of it. But even the Almighty could not have kept up with the production figures at Westclox on the Strathleven Industrial Estate in Dumbarton.  Westclox opened in 1948 in what is now the Vale of Leven Industrial Estate as a branch factory of the of the US clock manufacturer Westclox.  By 1949 Westclox was making 10,000 clocks a week, and by 1950, one million clocks had been produced since its opening. So successful was the Dumbarton factory that in the mid-1950s Westclox had to expand into adjoining buildings.  The factory then added watches to their product line as well as timing devices for other sectors.  By the mid-1960s, employment levels at the plant were around 1,100. Over a third of the clocks manufactured in Scotland were exported to 110 countries across the globe. A mixture of problems, including dumping by Iron Curtain countries and new technology, caught up with it and the factory closed 40 years later in 1988.  But not before the Westclox workforce, which included highly skilled technicians and toolmakers and assembly line operators, produced over 50 million clocks.  Westclox had originally planned to start production in Scotland in 1939 but the Second World War intervened and it was not until 1948 that they were able to fully commission their factory in Dumbarton.

A Baby Ben alarm

The factory produced its first clock on September 21, 1948.  It was a full manufacturing plant, where all the clocks were assembled from start to finish, with only the basic raw materials being brought in from outside suppliers. No less than 95 per cent of the staff were local people and the company trained their employees from scratch to a high level of skill.  Westclox had its own apprenticeship for toolmakers and classes in horology.  The ubiquitous Westclox name appeared on Big Ben dials as early as 1911 and the trademark was officially registered by the company on January 18, 1916.  In 1919, Western Clock Co., Ltd., was incorporated.  Twelve years later, in 1931, the company merged with Seth Thomas Clock Company, with both companies becoming divisions of General Time Corporation.  In 1938, Westclox introduced their first portable travel alarm clock to the market.  During the Second World War, Westclox and other General Time Corporation subsidiaries produced aviation instrumentation and control components, compasses for the United States Army, and clocks for the United States Navy.  From 1942 to 1945, Westclox ceased all production intended for domestic civilian sale and dedicated its production resources to the war effort, becoming a major manufacturer of fuses for military ordnance.

The Westclox company was a major manufacturer of “dollar watches”.  The company started production of an inexpensive, back-winding pocket watch in 1899, which was intended to be affordable to any working person and continued producing cheap pocket watches into the 1990s.  In 1959, Westclox introduced and patented their “drowse” alarm, which was one of the first of its kind powered by electricity, which integrated what is known as a “snooze” function. Talley Industries acquired General Time in 1968 and 1972 saw Westclox’s introduction of the quartz movement.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong and astrologer Sir Patrick Moore on a visit to Westclox on Strathleven Industrial Estate.

In 1988 General Time was purchased by its management from Talley Industries.  Another bankruptcy shortly followed, with the “Westclox” and “Big Ben” trademarks being acquired by Salton, Inc. in 2001.  In October 2007, Salton sold its entire time products business, including the Westclox and Ingraham trademarks, to NYL Holdings LLC, and that is why the Westclox name is still alive and ticking today.  Difficult times came in 1967/68 when 400 workers were paid off in Dumbarton and the future of the plant was in doubt.  However, strong petitions to the UK Government produced the passing of an anti-dumping law and production from the factory picked up.  In 1968, General Time, which owned the Westclox brand name, was bought out by Talley Industries of America which also manufactured timing equipment, such as clocking-in units, automobile air bag modules and other devices.  However, there was no overlap with the Dumbarton product range.

In the 1970s and early 1980s Westclox was booming.  Familiar names in the management included Freddie Chapman, John Santos, Russ Kitchen and Rob Maclean, all of whom chose to live in Helensburgh. In 1971 the factory was filmed by the BBC for the preparation of a visit by Her Majesty, The Queen, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Royal Highness, The Princess Anne. In October 1974, the factory hosted a Space Seminar for the moon landing astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore. Both men visited the Scottish factory to promote the introduction of ‘Quartz’ time-keeping.  Although Westclox had produced over 50 million clocks, it was a cruel irony that Quartz technology, which evolved largely due to General Time for use in the |US Apollo 11 Command Module, ultimately replaced the mechanical clock. Wind ups no more.

Having a ball – the women from Westclox having a big night out.

On the ball – the Westclx works’ football team supported, of course, by Miss Westclox.

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