Grimm Jewelry Store on its original site on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, 1926, before being moved to Greenfield Village. / THF254049
In the 1880s, an entrepreneur named Engelbert Grimm sold modestly priced clocks, watches, and jewelry out of this store when it was located in Detroit, Michigan. One of Grimm’s customers was, in fact, Henry Ford, who often stopped by the store to purchase watch parts and chat with him.
Grimm Jewelry Store in Greenfield Village. / THF1947
The Grimm Jewelry Store, now located in Greenfield Village, also provides a way for us to look at larger changes in Americans’ lives at the time, especially for people living in cities.
Shops selling clocks and watches became increasingly common, as seen in this photograph of a clerk posing in such a shop from Urbana, Ohio, taken some time between 1907 and 1915. / THF250161
In an increasingly urban and industrial nation, people were expected to know the time and be on time, all the time. Notice that, if you look hard enough, you can see that each of these photographs from our Detroit Publishing Company collection has a public clock in it.
Looking down West 23rd Street, New York City, about 1908. Clock-finding clue: Look down the street, above the horse-drawn carriage, and you’ll see a large street clock on a stand. / THF204886
Tremont Street Mall and Boston Common, Boston, Massachusetts, about 1905. Clock-finding clue: Look at the bottom of the church steeple in the center of the photograph. / THF203418
Elevated railway at Cooper Union and 4th Avenue, New York City, about 1900. Clock-finding clue: Look at the top of the building to the left of the railroad tracks. / THF203350
Synchronizing one’s watch with public clocks became part of meeting one’s social responsibility. The clock and the watch came to be seen as models for disciplined, regulated personal behavior. One advertisement for pocket watches in the 1880s claimed, “The man is nothing but a botch, who tries to live without a watch.”
The downside to this, of course, was a greater level of anxiety—living with what was called “clock time,” an artificial construct very different from following the natural rhythms of the sun, the moon, and the seasons, as farmers had done for centuries.
Photograph of farmers haying, Northfield, Massachusetts, about 1900. / THF141862
Today, we seem to be controlled by clock alarms and alerts, schedules, calendars, and the pressure to be punctual. “Clock time” has become an expected part of our lives.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
I have a cool job here at The Henry Ford. Once a month I climb 75 steps up to Henry Ford Museum's Tower Clock to inspect and lubricate the Seth Thomas clock. Above is my view of the Greenfield Village entrance from opening week in April of this year.
And here’s what it looked like now with the trees leafed-out in July. These shots are from a “porthole” window about 15 steps up from the clock itself.
The collections of The Henry Ford contain hundreds of clocks. Many of these are on display, either in the Clockwork exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum or as part of the recreation of daily life in the buildings of Greenfield Village, but many more are not. We’ve just added a number of clocks, dating from the late 17th through mid-20th centuries, to our digital collections, bringing the total number online to about 120. More than half of these are not currently on display, including this early 19th century novelty clock, which keeps time by rolling a steel ball down a zigzag track. Visit our online collections to view our growing digital collection of clocks and related artifacts.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.