A 19th-century Chauncey Jerome clock.
Chauncey Jerome (1793-1868) was a clock maker in the early 1800s. He made a fortune selling his clocks, and his business became enormous. Born in Canaan in 1793, Chauncey Jerome was the son of a blacksmith and nail-maker.
Jerome began his career in Waterbury, making dials for long-case clocks. Jerome learned what he could about clocks, particularly clock cases, and then went to New Jersey to make seven-foot cases for clocks.
In 1816 he went to work for Eli Terry making "Patent Shelf Clocks," learning how to make previously handmade cases using machinery. Deciding to go into business for himself, Jerome began to make cases, trading them to Terry for wooden movements.
In 1822 Jerome moved his business to Bristol, opening a small shop with his brother Noble, producing 30 hour and eight-day wooden clocks. The company installed the first circular saw ever seen in Bristol.
By 1837 Jerome's company was selling more clocks than any of his competitors. A one-day wood-cased clock, which sold for six dollars, had helped put the company on the map. A year later his company was selling that same clock for four dollars.
The company sold one line of clocks at a wholesale price of 75 cents.
By 1841 the company was showing an annual profit of a whopping $35,000, primarily from the sale of brass movements.
In 1842 Jerome moved his clock-case manufacturing operation to St. John Street in New Haven. Three years later, following a fire that destroyed the Bristol plant, Jerome relocated the entire operation to the Elm City. Enlarging the plant, the company soon became the largest industrial employer in the city, producing 150,000 clocks annually.
Because of his discovery of a method of stamping rather than using casting gears, Jerome was producing the lowest-priced clocks in the world at the time.
In 1850 Jerome formed the Jerome Manufacturing Co. as a joint-stock company with Benedict & Burnham, brass manufacturers of Waterbury. In 1853 the company became known as the New Haven Clock Co., producing 444,000 clocks and timepieces annually.
Jerome's future should have been secure but in 1855 he bought out a failed Bridgeport clock company controlled by P.T. Barnum, which wiped him out financially, leaving the Jerome Manufacturing Co. bankrupt. Jerome never recovered from the loss. By his own admission, he was a better inventor than businessman.
Traveling from town to town, Jerome took jobs where he could, often working for clock companies that had learned the business of clock making using Jerome's inventions. Returning to New Haven near the end of his life, he died, penniless, in 1868 at age 74.
Nevertheless, Jerome had made a historic contribution to his industry when he substituted brass works for wooden works, said to be "the greatest and most far-reaching contribution to the clock industry."
He made, and lost, a fortune selling his clocks and was perhaps the most influential and creative person associated with the American clock business during the mid-19th century. In addition he served as a legislator in 1834, a Presidential elector in 1852 and mayor of New Haven from 1854 to 1855.
Always humble, of his own life he wrote: "The ticking of a clock is music to me, and although many of my experiences as a business man have been trying and bitter, I have satisfaction of knowing that I have lived the life of an honest man, and have been of some use to my fellow men."
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