BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Got time on your hands? Check out the new exhibit at the American Clock and Watch Museum and learn how the American industrial revolution began.
This exhibit grabs your interest right away.
When you walk in, the first thing you see is an original sign for Daniel Burnap’s clock shop. By pressing a button, you can hear a monologue done by an actor representing Eli Terry when he was 14 and working under Burnap.
Behind the sign it shows you what a clock shop would have looked like, somewhere around 1800.
In the monologue Terry says, “Someday my dreams will come true.”
Indeed, Terry’s dream for interchangeable parts did come true. The rest of the exhibit tells how that dream changed the face of American manufacturing forever.
Eli Terry is a huge name in the history books because he came up with the idea of interchangeable parts, and thus started the American industrial revolution.
He figured out that if parts were made uniformly, then unskilled workers could each produce a single part of a clock. Those pieces were interchangeable — they would fit together easily — and made it possible for clocks to be made cheaply and quickly.
Instead of trained craftsmen making each one by hand, the new factory line needed just one knowledgeable overseer.
In the 1800s hardly anything was mass produced, but by the 1900’s almost everything came off a factory assembly line. That meant that clocks and other former luxuries could be purchased by any regular Joe, when before only rich folks could buy such things.
Walk around the corner from Burnap’s clock shop, see how the clocks were transported, push another button and hear a Yankee peddler “talk” about his life selling clocks. Though the audio wasn’t yet set up when I visited, it will no doubt add life to the scene.
Back then, four to eight clocks would typically be shipped in a box. Sometimes peddlers tossed in a comb or other trinket to entice people to buy their clocks.
Terry’s breakthrough came when he landed a contract for 4,000 clocks. They were expected within four years. At that time it normally took one man a month to make a single clock.
Terry got to work on his plan for interchangeable parts and presto — mass production.
Next, visitors see an original clock gear assembly station, from the old Sessions factory in Forestville, which I found to be a fascinating display.
Though it wasn’t ready when I toured the exhibit in August, there are plans for a recorded dialogue between two teenage factory workers, a boy and a girl at this station.
Their discussion gives a taste of the social life of the times, the meager pay and the lure of a city job over farm work.
Next to that is a TV that shows a three minute video clip showing workers at their machines in the Ingraham factory in Bristol. Turn around and you’ll see a huge photo of the old Sessions factory, which once dominated Forestville.
The last section shows a history of clocks, where you see how timepieces improved and differed over the years.
So take some time and go learn your history.
The American Clock and Watch Museum, at 100 Maple St., is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Nov. 30. Admission is $3.50 for adults and $1.50 for children.
Kate Majerus is a Reporter from Minnesota for Youth Journalism International.