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Eli Terry

Eli Terry

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Eli Terry Sr. was an inventor and clockmaker
Clockmaker
A clockmaker is an artisan who makes and repairs clocks. Since almost all clocks are now factory-made, most modern clockmakers only repair clocks. Modern clockmakers may be employed by jewellers, antique shops, and places devoted strictly to repairing clocks and watches...

 in Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

. He received a United States patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 for a shelf clock mechanism. He introduced mass production
Mass production
Mass production is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines...

 to the art of clockmaking, which made clocks affordable for the average American citizen. Terry occupies an important place in the beginnings of the development of interchangeable parts manufacturing. Terry became one of the most accomplished mechanics in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 during the early part of the nineteenth century. The village of Terryville, Connecticut
Terryville, Connecticut
Terryville is a census-designated place in Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States, and is a village of the Town of Plymouth, Connecticut. The population was 5,360, at the 2000 census. The village is named for Eli Terry Jr.,the son of the well-known clockmaker Eli Terry Sr.. Terryville is...

 is named for his son, Eli Terry Jr.

Background


Terry was the son of Samuel and Huldah Terry, born in what was is now South Windsor, Connecticut
South Windsor, Connecticut
-History:In 1659, Thomas Burnham purchased the tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford from Tantinomo, chief sachem of the Podunk Indians. Burnham lived on the land and later willed it to his nine children...

 (at the time of Terry's birth, South Windsor was part of East Windsor, Connecticut
East Windsor, Connecticut
East Windsor is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 11,162 at the 2010 census.The town has five villages: Broad Brook, Melrose, Scantic, Warehouse Point and Windsorville.-Area:...

.

He began his career as an apprentice under Daniel Burnap ("the forerunner of manufacturing"). It is also likely that he received limited instruction from Timothy Cheney, a clockmaker in East Hartford
East Hartford, Connecticut
East Hartford is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 51,252 at the 2010 census.-Geography:...

. Cheney specialized in the making of wooden clocks, which was fairly unusual at the time. The use of wooden components would show great influence in Terry's later career.

Terry's apprenticeship to Burnap ended in 1792, and he quickly established himself as both a clockmaker and a repairer of watches in East Windsor. His earliest clocks were fitted with silvered brass dials, which were engraved
Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

 for him by Burnap. The movements of the clock were made of brass
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 or wood
Wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

, depending on the requests of his customers. Brass was more commonly used for movements, but it was also considerably more expensive and difficult to work with. Terry moved to Northbury, Connecticut where he continued his business on a smaller scale for several years. In 1801, Terry was granted a patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 on an equation clock. This was the first patent for a clock mechanism that was ever granted by the United States Patent Office.

Career


Soon after 1800, Terry's production of wooden clocks grew considerably. Like other Connecticut clock makers, Terry knew that apprentices could cheaply rough-cut wooden wheels for more skilled journeymen to shape precisely into clockworks, making clocks slightly more cheaply. And Terry was one of a number of Connecticut clock makers who began to substitute water-powered machines for apprentices in the production of these rough-cut wheels. In 1802 or 03, Terry purchased a mill to produce wooden clock wheels, which still had to be finished by hand by skilled journeymen clock makers. He purchased a grain mill and used the water wheel and main shaft to run saws and lathes, which helped speed the production of parts. He later created jigs and fixtures to produce a large number of interchangeable clock parts. This allowed for the rapid adjustment and assembly of clocks, freeing Terry from the task of fitting and modifying each individual piece of each clock. Using his own ingenuity and inventiveness, Terry was thus able to speedily cut wheels, pinions, and other important clock parts accurately and repetitively.

In the year 1806, Terry signed a contract to produce 4,000 wooden clock movements (other shops would make the cases). According to historian Diana Muir
Diana Muir
Diana Muir, also known as Diana Muir Appelbaum, is a Newton, Massachusetts writer and historian. Muir is best known for her 2000 book, Reflections in Bullough's Pond, a history of the impact of human activity on the New England ecosystem....

 writing in Reflections in Bullough's Pond
Reflections in Bullough's Pond
Reflections in Bullough's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England is a book by Diana Muir. The Providence Journal called Bullough’s Pond "a masterpiece," and Publishers Weekly called it "lyrical"...

, at that time a skilled craftsman could produce six to ten clocks per year. Muir writes that Terry spent the first two years of the contract inventing and perfecting machinery that could turn clock wheels with enough precision to require relatively little shaping by skilled craftsmen. In the third year he produced 3,000 wooden clocks. He sold his manufactory to two of his assistants Seth Thomas
Seth Thomas (clockmaker)
Seth Thomas was an American clock maker and a pioneer of mass production at his Seth Thomas Clock Company.-Biography:Thomas was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, in 1785. He started in the clock business in 1807, working for clockmaker Eli Terry...

 and Silas Hoadley
Silas Hoadley
Silas Hoadley was an American clockmaker.Hoadley was born in Bethany, Connecticut. Hoadley was a cousin of the architect and builder David Hoadley. He received little formal education before becoming apprentice carpenter to his uncle Calvin Hoadley...

 and retreated to his workshop to create the first machine in the world to be mass-produced using interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts are parts that are, for practical purposes, identical. They are made to specifications that ensure that they are so nearly identical that they will fit into any device of the same type. One such part can freely replace another, without any custom fitting...

.

Terry envisioned a new kind of clock, intended for mass production
Mass production
Mass production is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines...

 from machine-made parts that would come from water-powered machines ready to go into clocks without any additional hand cutting by skilled workmen. This would be a shelf clock, costing less than a tall clock. It would be made quickly and be easily repaired. Terry's further innovations included the design of an escapement with removable verge. This later became a standard design feature of American clocks for the following century.
The mass produced wooden clocks manufactured from interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts are parts that are, for practical purposes, identical. They are made to specifications that ensure that they are so nearly identical that they will fit into any device of the same type. One such part can freely replace another, without any custom fitting...

 that poured from Terry's factory beginning in 1816 were the world's first mass produced machines made of interchangeable parts. As such he would mass market
Mass market
The mass market is a general business term describing the largest group of consumers for a specified industry product. It is the opposite extreme of the term niche market.-General:...

 an affordable, complete cased-clock to American consumers. Terry's first clocks were offered in plain wooden box cases. Terry is also credited with the design of the pillar and scroll case. In his autobiography, History of the American Clock Business for the Past Sixty Years and Life of Chauncey Jerome Terry's employee and assistant Chauncey Jerome
Chauncey Jerome
Chauncey Jerome was a Clockmaker in the early 19th century. He made a fortune selling his clocks, and his business became enormous. He was born in Canaan in 1793; Chauncey Jerome was the son of a blacksmith and nail-maker....

, later a great clock maker and owner of the world's largest clock factory, mentions building the first pillar and scroll in Terry's workshop with the master's design and under his direction. The pillar and scroll case provided a large, clear dial in a wooden case about thirty inches tall and six inches deep. The upper part was the clock face, the lower part was either a mirror or a picture back-painted on glass. Despite the small size of the clocks compared with traditional long case clocks, Terry was able to provide sufficient power through gearing for the clock to run a full thirty hours before it needed to be rewound. Anticipating a successful product Terry had the foresight to patent his arrangement of clockworks. At least five patents were issued to him through the years up to 1825 in order to protect his invention.

According to Diana Muir
Diana Muir
Diana Muir, also known as Diana Muir Appelbaum, is a Newton, Massachusetts writer and historian. Muir is best known for her 2000 book, Reflections in Bullough's Pond, a history of the impact of human activity on the New England ecosystem....

 in Reflections in Bullough's Pond
Reflections in Bullough's Pond
Reflections in Bullough's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England is a book by Diana Muir. The Providence Journal called Bullough’s Pond "a masterpiece," and Publishers Weekly called it "lyrical"...

, within a few years, several hundred men worked in two dozen factories in the Naugatuck Valley and Bristol produced virtually identical Terry-style thirty-hour wooden clocks. Salesmen innovated such now-familiar marketing devices as installment-plan purchases and model changes of the cases to induce consumers who already owned a functional clock to buy a more fashionable model.

As noted Terry was granted many patents for his advances in clock making, most of which were immediately infringed upon by local competitors eager to participate in satisfying the demand for an affordable clock. Many competitors would note "patent clocks" on their label in order to prevent litigation. One lawsuit did develop as noted below.

Terry also produced wooden-movement tower clocks, such as those found in the steeples of churches and meeting houses, one of which is still operational today in the town of Plymouth.

Heritage


Between 1808 and 1833, Terry focused the majority of his time and effort on the production of standardized wooden clocks, which helped him accumulate a modest fortune. By 1833, he was sufficiently satisfied his material success. At this point, he abandoned involvement in quantity production, and returned to clockmaking as the world had known it before his innovations, focusing on the production on a few high-end special clocks and the development of original clock mechanism. He also spent considerable time helping along the businesses of his sons. He continued with this small-scale clock production until his death on the last day of February in 1852.

His achievements place him in an unusual position in the history of clockmaking, leaving him as one of the last of the clock craftsmen, but also as the first of the true manufacturers. His shop represents one of the last Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 clock shops (of which there were many) in which there was both pride in workmanship and a high level of personal skill and aptitude.

Terry's brother Samuel (1774–1853) was also involved in the production of wooden-movement clocks, and for several years he worked as Eli's partner, manufacturing improved pillar and scroll clocks after his brother's design.

Most of Terry's sons also became clock makers. His son Eli Terry Jr. was the most famous, as the village of Terryville
Terryville, Connecticut
Terryville is a census-designated place in Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States, and is a village of the Town of Plymouth, Connecticut. The population was 5,360, at the 2000 census. The village is named for Eli Terry Jr.,the son of the well-known clockmaker Eli Terry Sr.. Terryville is...

 in Plymouth, Connecticut was named after him; he purchased the lock making equipment that would eventually be used to form Eagle Lock Company, which for a long period of time was Terryville's biggest employeer.

His son Andrew Terry began a very successful malleable iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 foundry
Foundry
A foundry is a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal in a mold, and removing the mold material or casting after the metal has solidified as it cools. The most common metals processed are aluminum and cast iron...

 that later became OZ/Gedney, which has since moved to Mexico. That business was in operation for more than 150 years just down the stream from Andrew's brother Silas's clock shop.

Silas had many financial difficulties in his time, but was eventually a founding member of the Terry Clock Company.

Bootleg Eli Terry Clock Designs


Eli Terry's success in mass producing and selling an affordable shelf clock for the public drew much inspiration from other entrepreneurs in Connecticut and beyond. Immediately Terry's former partners Seth Thomas and Silas Hoadley began making similar clocks. Others in the Bristol and Plymouth communities manufactured movements, cases or other clock parts for others to assemble and sell complete clocks in order to compete with Terry. Terry was forced to continually update his patents. Paradoxically his updated patents became very narrowly described and this enabled competitors to make slight changes to their design and evade patent infringement. In 1826-7, Eli Terry filed a lawsuit in Litchfield district court against Seth Thomas for patent infringement. Judgement was in favor of Terry but it is unclear if he ever collected compensation. Contemporary historians believe the suit was staged between the two principals in order to dissuade others from competition, but it is unclear that this is correct since Terry, unlike Thomas, was the least interested in the business side of mass clock production.

As one example of the frenzy at the time to copy Terry's designs, Reeves & Co.
Reeves & Co.
Reeves & Co. was an American farm tractor builder for thirty years. It built some of the largest steam traction engines used in North America. Founded in 1874 in Columbus, Indiana, the company made threshers...

made clocks in the United States to the Eli Terry design. These clocks faithfully copied the scrollwork and wooden movement of the original Eli Terry clocks. However, since the designs of these clocks were infringements of the Terry patents, Reeves & Co. were forced out of business and were also forced to destroy their stock of unsold clocks. Very few genuine Reeves & Co. clocks still exist. One excellent example of an operating Reeves & Co. shelf clock is in the John Basmajian clock collection, in Altadena, California. Due to its rarity it is extremely valuable to collectors.

Legacy


Eli Terry Elementary School, located only a few miles from Terry's childhood home in South Windsor, Connecticut, is named for the clockmaker. His likeness adorns a sign at the school's entrance.