Charles Stahlberg was an inventor from Waterbury, Connecticut. He came to LaSalle Peru with a plan to establish a clock factory. Nowhere in my research can I find why he chose this area. He had an idea for improved manufacturing of low cost clocks. This idea was patented in 1885 (326,602).
He was able to attract local investors to help establish his business. With this financing, he was able to build a small plant ( 3 stories; 100 feet long by 40 feet wide). On 12/23/1885, the new company called United Clock Company began operations. It was a small operation. It had 25 employees. Production averaged 50 alarm clocks a day. The factory was struggling from the beginning. In 1887, they filed for bankruptcy.
This might have been the end of the story if not for F.W. Mattiesen. He was a local businessman who was part owner of a zinc smelting plant. He bought the plant and founded the Western Clock Manufacturing Company in 1888. Mr. Mattiesen provided new management and capital for the company. Early on there were manufacturing, financial and marketing issues. Mr. Mattiesen had to put money in the business for years.
The business grew because of the quality of its product and the fair treatment of its customers and employees. The plant was expanded. Modern machinery was was brought into the plant. By 1890, there were 81 workers; by 1900, there were 245; by 1910, there were 896. It expanded its market to foreign customers.
The company obtained a patent for the Big Ben Alarm Clock Movement in 1908. The bell mechanism was integral to the clock case. This clock was first brought to market in 1909. In 1910, the Big Ben was the first alarm, clock to be advertised nationally (In the Saturday Evening Post).
The company name was shortened to Western Clock Company in 1912. It was incorporated in 1919. In 1931, the company merged with Seth Thomas Clock Company. Both companies became divisions of General Time Corporation. The LaSalle Company was known as the Westclox Division of General Time Corporation in 1936.
In 1938, Westclox debuted its first portable travel alarm clock.
During the second World War, General Time and subsidiaries produced aviation instrumentation and control components, compasses for the army, and clocks for the navy. During 1942-1944, Westclox ceased all domestic production and concentrated on resources for the war effort. They became a major producer of of fuses for military ordinance.
For years starting in 1899, Westclox produced inexpensive pocket watches. They continued in this effort to the 1990’s.
in 1959, Westclox introduced its drowse alarm. They also received a patent for this. In 1972, they introduced a quartz movement.
In 1968, Talley Industries acquired General Time. In 1988, General Time was purchased by its management from Talley Industries. Bankruptcy followed. The Westclox and Big Ben trademarks were sold to Salton, Inc in 2001. In October 2007, Salton sold its entire product line to NYL Holdings.
The LaSalle Peru factory was closed in 1980. At its peak, Westclox employed 2800 workers. Its plants covered over 20 acres.
On January 1, 2012, there was a fire at the Westclox compound in Peru. The fire destroyed approximately one half of the structures. The fire was apparently secondary to arson.
Recently, a Westclox Museum has been established in one of the old buildings of the plant. It address is 320 5th Street, Suite 265, Peru, Illinois. There is a substantial collection of clocks and other products made by Westclox. I highly recommend it.