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.
Assistive technology refers to a wide range of products designed to help people work around a variety of challenges as they learn, work, and perform other daily living activities. Certain assistive devices allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access technologies that many take for granted, like telephones, televisions, and even alarm clocks. For a young woman in the 1970s and 80s, these products -- now in the collections of The Henry Ford -- also provided greater independence, broader access to popular culture, and improved communication with family and friends.
Hal-Hen Products Vibrating Alarm Clock, circa 1975 (THF158135)
In September 1975, just before leaving home to begin college, a young woman named Shari acquired this inventive alarm clock. It included a bedside clock connected to a vibrating motor, which attached to the underside of the bed and shook intensely when the alarm was triggered. The eager freshman looked forward to waking independently, “rather than trying to rely on others who would have a different class schedule” -- so it’s easy to imagine her dismay when she arrived at her dormitory to find bunk beds! The alarm “would shake and rattle the whole bunk,” creating “quite a rude awakening” for her bunkmate. After a few nights, the students figured out how to separate their bunk beds into twin beds. Even though the new arrangement made the small dorm room even tighter, Shari (and, undoubtedly, her roommate) finally considered the alarm clock to have been “a definite advantage.”
Brochure, "Real-Time Closed Captioning Brings Early-Evening News to the Hearing Impaired, circa 1981 (THF275615)
In December 1981, with money saved from her first job after college, Shari purchased a television caption adapter. At this time, a few programs, like the national news, were broadcast with closed captions for viewers who were deaf or hard of hearing. This text was visible only when activated, at first through separate decoding units.
Shari remembered -- especially as more shows began to include closed captions in the 1980s -- that this decoder “opened up a whole new world of entertainment.” She associated closed captioning with independence -- as she didn’t “have to pester other family members to ‘tell me what they're saying’” -- and participation, recalling, “No longer did I resign myself to reading a book in an easy chair in the same room while the rest of the family watched exciting shows on TV!” The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 required televisions to have built-in caption display technology, decreasing the need for separate caption adapters and giving people access to on-screen captions almost anywhere they watched TV.
System 100 Text Telephone Unit, circa 1980 (THF173771)
In 1981, the same year she purchased her first TV caption adapter, Shari also acquired a teletypewriter, or text telephone, abbreviated TTY. This device connected to a standard telephone line, allowing communication via a keyboard and electronic text display. The technology was freeing -- Shari remembered that “it was wonderful to finally be able to independently make a few of my own phone calls” -- but also limited. At first, she could only communicate with someone else who had access to a TTY device. After she became a mother, Shari recalled loaning a TTY unit to a neighbor who also had small children, making it easier to “set up ‘play dates’ and just do the typical conversing young moms do.” In the late 1980s, some states implemented services to relay dialogue between TTY and non-TTY users. Eventually, spurred by state and federal legislation, relay systems improved nationwide, and TTY technology became more accessible and affordable.
In their time, these lifechanging devices represented the cutting edge of assistive technology. Ongoing research, technological advances, and new design approaches in the decades that followed led to improved products and more choices for consumers. Today, many users have adopted digital technologies. Email, text or instant message, and real-time video services enable communication, and digital devices, often connected to smartphones, offer solutions that address a range of user needs.
Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. Learn more about assistive technology on an upcoming episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.
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.