Early Clockmakers Left Mark on Face of Time

History and Landscape
Published August 26, 1999

Early Clockmakers Left Mark on Face of Time

| Published August 26, 1999

An excellent example of an outdoor public clock in Newark is the timepiece that graces the steeple of Old First Church. The Newark Public Library

Clocks as we know them today have been in use since the last decade of the 17th century, and several important examples were made right here in Newark and New Jersey the following century.

As an instrument used for the measurement of time, the clock was preceded by the sundial and hourglass, but it differed from them as it was operated by use of a pendulum or spring device and was connected with a mass which stored energy and which turned a pointer. Authorities disagree as to when the first 'modern clocks' were made, arguing that it was sometime between the 11th and 17th centuries, but acknowledged they were produced first in Europe. The earliest ones were installed in public buildings including cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys and public plazas. They were designed by the French, English, Italians, Dutch and Germans.

Some of the earliest interior clocks were found in the great homes of Virginia, the middle colonies and New England. Today, when we talk of a grandfather, or tall clock, we are referring to an instrument with a pendulum enclosed in an elaborate wooden case of oak, walnut or mahogany, and often finely decorated with wooden or metal inlays. Several excellent examples are to be found in the decorative arts collections of the Newark Museum and the New Jersey Historical Society. Great clocks on the outside of public buildings include ones such as on the Houses of Parliament in London or the Metropolitan Life Building in New York City, and have been replicated on a smaller scale locally. Some of the best local examples include those at Old First Church, Trinity/St. Philip's Cathedral and North Reformed Church, all in Broad Street.

William E. Drost, clock expert and author of 'Clocks and Watches of New Jersey,' published in 1966, is the great authority on New Jersey-made time instruments of all kinds. His years of meticulous research and love of the subject have produced the definitive inventory and his comment on their makers is the unquestioned authority because of its depth, accuracy and diversity. A quick sample of his Newark-associated clocks and clockmakers shows just how rich the community has been in this area over the past two centuries. One of Newark's earliest and greatest artisans was Moses Ogden. Born in 1736, he died in 1814. One of his masterpieces was owned in later years by Robert H. Hill of Ohio, and on the clock face is inscribed 'Moses Ogden, Newark.' Isaac Brokaw from Rahway and Elizabeth was in business in 1760, and one of his clocks now in the possession of the New Jersey Historical Society has been described by Howard Wiseman, former curator of the society's museum, as one of their best clocks. Stephen Tichenor's 1760 tall case clock at the society's Park Place headquarters is a particularly fine curly maple case clock with an unusual movement. In 1792, William Van Buren advertised that he sold clocks and watches in Wood's Newark Gazette, announcing that he 'would accept country produce as payment for his wares.' Burnet Smith opened a clock shop opposite Arch Gifford's Tavern in Broad Street in 1795. There he made and sold clocks and served in the First Regiment of the Cavalry from Essex County during the Pennsylvania insurrection of 1794. James Ridgeway Jr. had a Newark clock business, which as announced in the Sentinel of Freedom in 1802 was also located near Gifford's Tavern. Abner Dod (later Dodd) lived in Newark, and advertised in the Sentinel that 'his shop was one door East of the Union School House in Newark Street.' He was also an established gunsmith. Stephen Dod (Dodd) was born in 1770 and died in 1833. He is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Described as 'mechanically inclined,' he learned clockmaking from his father at Mendham. He moved to Newark in 1817, served as justice of the peace, surveyor and Newark mayor in 1844. Johan Smith Crane was a 'clock and watch maker' at 262 Broad St. who kept on hand a good 'assortment of jewelry.' He paid particular attention to repairing clocks and watches. A. L. William had a business at 7 Cedar St., where he was also a watch and clockmaker. He had a 'general assortment of jewelry, watches, clocks, spoons, articles constantly on hand.' Aaron Dodd Crane specialized in eight- and 30- day clocks for shelves and walls, and tower clocks. He was associated with the First Presbyterian Church in Orange in the installation of their clock in 1855. In 1875, the Newark City Directory described in some details a beautiful clock of Oliver R. March. 'The elaborately ornamented and perfectly finished marble clock which attracts the attention of all who pass the show windows of his store was entirely made by him and is a perfect example of horological skill as was ever produced in this country or abroad.' It contained 10 rubies and 20 sapphires, had hollowed marble columns, and two large dials. The front side tells hours, minutes, seconds, day of the year, months and date. The rear of the clock tells the hours, minutes and seconds.' In 1883-85, August Smith Crane built an electromagnetic clock and an electrical clock. In 1884, James Gerry applied for a patent for a winding attachment for a clock 'whereby the winding of both the time and strike mainspring is done from a single winding arbor, a forward motion of the key winding one and a reverse motion the other.' By 1905, D. S. Plumb was listed as a 'manufacturer of general clock works.'