Thursday, August 20, 2015

Westclox Clock Company

In addition to steel, coal, farm machinery, glass, and candy, I'm discovering that timekeeping was another important industry in Illinois.

20150809 3932
Peru, IL, gives real meaning to the phrases "high road" and "low road". After doing a couple of trips east from Peru to La Salle using the low road of Water/Brunner Street to check out the railroads and industrial buildings, I took a trip east on the high road of US-6. When I spotted an obviously old industrial building on the south side of the road, I stopped to take a picture even though it was (lightly) raining.

Since it was a long building, I stopped more than once to take pictures.

And I got some pictures of this complex from the low road (south or river side) as well. The building is long enough that I had to take the picture in two segments with my 18mm setting.

East end of South side
East end
West end of South side

It was the Westclox Clock Co. building and it manufactured clocks and watches. During its peak in 1956 it employed 4,000 workers who annually produced nearly 2 million clocks and watches (Wikipedia). Employment was down to 900 in 1980 when it closed.  "Since then, the roughly 800,000-square-foot complex has been mostly vacant." (ChicagoTribune) According to a 1916 Sanborn Map (Sheet 13), the buildings occupied 3 square blocks. Now they occupied about 11 square blocks.

If you compare the 1939 aerial photo below with a current satellite image, you will notice that some of the buildings are gone.
Photo by News Tribune Amanda Whitlock Associated Press

The missing buildings is because a couple of bored teenagers were playing with gasoline and caused a big fire on Jan 1, 2012. "It took about 40 fire departments, 200 firefighters and 3 million gallons of water to get the fire under control." (ChicagoTribune)
Bird's Eye View
To verify that the buildings existed before the fire, I once again use the Bing maps as a time machine.

Christie Pasieka posted two photos with the comment: "Two more older views. The one on the left is from 1940 looking away from the river. Other one looking towards the river.  Let me know what you see."
Ruth Spayer: Both photos I see Westclox, L-P football stadium, and other areas around the east end of Peru. The 1940 photo has the smoke stacks and east section of the factory, coal mine on the east end of the plant, Orleans St. heading north, past the football stadium, and proceeding north in Central Park on Westclox Ave. to connect to 9th St. in LaSalle. In the other photo I see L-P High School on the left, the football Stadium in the center and Westclox factory, office building, and other businesses along the Illinois River. A lot of homes north of here probably around 9th St. in LaSalle and usually west of Chartres St. (LaSalle). Thank you for the good pictures.


Lost Illinois Manufacturing posted
1955 ad.
Courtesy of David Delden and the Local History Project from Then & Now: Westclox Company – LaSalle-Peru [This link is well worth clicking. It has some of the earlier history.]

Bill Molony shared
Tim M. Hickernell I lived in Ottawa from 85-90 and used drive by the old Lasalle-Peru factory. It was quite a sight. I even picked up an old alarm clock made there at an auction. The Illinois Valley was a watch and clock manufacturing center for some time, including radium dial painting in Ottawa. Many a young woman died of cancer in later years from imbibing radioactive radium when "tipping:" their brushes to a point using their tongues. The Ottawa factory was a supplier of radium dials to Westclox.
Jerry Heien Same for Elgin Watch . The old Elgin Watch tower is still standing..... in Elgin (IL)

The Joliet Herald-News posting
Although the company employed thousands of LaSalle-Peru residents by the early 1950s, a series of mergers caused the LaSalle plant to close by 1980.

Matt Overstake posted
Westclox Factory in Peru, IL

LaSalle County Historical Society Museum posted
Davis Shroomberg shared
Westclox. Peru, IL.
Dennis DeBruler: Thanks for identifying the location. It looks like the tipple of the Union Coal Mine is peaking over the left end of the buildings.

Lost Illinois Manufacturing has a posting describing the history of the plant that includes 12 photos.

A post with 16 photos
Davis Shroomberg It was originally built as 3 separate buildings, as the clock production expanded. They were connected with hallways. This separate construction is what saved most of the factory complex. It was the largest section, the middle second section, that was burned by arson on the earliest hours of January 1st, 2012.

Wikepedia provides some interesting links:
A silent video about how the factory functions. The women do the "finger work." I wonder how many of them suffered from carpel tunnel. Given the repetitiveness and speed of many of those jobs, it is hard to imagine doing that all day long.

Felicia Carboni commented on at post: "My grandmother worked at Westclox where they made aviation devices, compasses and fuses for bombs etc."

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