Tuesday

Time On The Road - A Dash of Dashboard Clock History


"Travelers have benefited from any number of portable timepieces over the years. During the 19th century, as more and more people began to travel by carriage, they needed timepieces that could travel with them. One such timepiece was the carriage clock, whose remarkably shockproof movement was perfected by the French watchmaker Abraham Louis Brequet in the late 18th century. In other instances, pocket watches were placed in leather holders that fit over the front board of the carriage. As inventors and manufacturers like Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Charles and J. Frank Duryea, Henry Ford, and Ransom E. Olds furthered development of the automobile, a new breed of clock was introduced—the car clock.

By 1908, speedometer companies were producing and marketing clocks as after-market accessories. Over the next decade, the car clock grew in popularity and several companies began catering to the growing market, including the Phinney-Walker Keyless Clock Company, the Warner Instrument Company, the Seth Thomas Clock Company, the Stewart Speedometer Company, the Chelsea Clock Company, and the Boston Clock Company. In some cases, there was a clear crossover between marine clocks and automobile clocks. Waltham, a major supplier of car clocks, marketed identical timepieces for both automobiles and boats.

Manufactures gave customers many choices offering models that mounted on general interior surfaces, dashboards, steering wheels, gearshifts, and rear-view mirrors. The winding mechanisms also evolved from key-wind clocks to stem-wind clocks to rim-wind clocks. During the 1930s and 1940s, electric automobile clocks were in production, but mechanical clocks were still being offered. It was not until 1950s and 1960s that electric clocks truly dominated the market, at least up until the advent of quartz technology. Today's car clocks mostly have quartz movements, however new technologies like Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are available as both production and after-market accessories."

From the NAWCC Museum


1822 Carriage Clock by Breguet

1905 Leather Dashboard Clock Holder

In the early days of the "horseless carriage", automobiles were open vehicles with a dash or kick board in front of the driver's legs. The first car clocks were often large timepieces in heavy leather holders which were slung over the dashboard.

1911 Heuer "Time of Trip"

The "Time of Trip", the first dashboard chronograph patented by (TAG) Heuer in 1911, was designed for aircraft and automobiles. Its 11-cm diameter and its size are well suited for installation on all types of dashboards. The large hands at the centre of the dial indicate the time. The small pair of hands, at the 12 o'clock position, give the duration of the trip (not exceeding 12 hours). The same button is used to start, stop and reset the clock. A small window at the 3 o'clock position serves to monitor the proper operation of the device.

1912 Brown Clock-Speedometer

Speedometers were available as standard equipment in vehicles as early as 1908, though most drivers could not afford this luxury. Often speedometers were combined with odometers, trip meters and clocks.

1925 Phinney-Walker Rim-Wind Car Clock

The "Embassy" was one of the most popular car clocks produced by Phinney-Walker. The eight day clock was wound and set by rotating the outer rim.

1925 Limosine Clock

This car clock was made by Waltham for use in Cadillac limousines. The clock would have been mounted on the partition which separated the driver from the passenger compartment.


1929 Waltham 8 Day
Dial color matching car color

1932 Jaeger

Along with Sterling Electric, Jaeger was a major manufacturer of 1930s car clocks. Their clocks could be seen in Cadillacs, Packards and Lincolns in the thirties. This clock was made for the Packard Super 8.

1933 Heuer Autavia Dashboard Timer

In 1933, Heuer introduced the "Autavia", a dashboard timer used for Automobiles and Aviation (and thus the name "Autavia"). The companion "Hervue" was a clock that had an 8-day movement (meaning that it could run for eight days without being wound).

Heuer Collection at On The Dash

1941 Packard "Woody" 110 Station Sedan Dashboard Clock

"The Woody"

1950s Ford

1951 Ford

1952 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Station Wagon

One of the most spectacular car clocks I've seen. The clock is by far the largest feature in the entire dashboard.

Chieftain Station Wagon

1955 Ford

1956 Oldsmobile
clock above, car below


1960 Oldsmobile
clock above, car below


1965 Dodge Dart

1970s Cadillac

And of course, digital displays started to appear in the seventies. This one from a Cadillac featuring rolling drums of numbers like most alarm clocks of that era.

2006 Peugeot 908 RC concept car
by Bell & Ross

Watch brand, Bell & Ross was picked to appoint the dashboard clock in this concept car. Featuring a jumping digital hour and central minutes hand based upon their timepiece of similar design.

Watch brand, IWC with their clock
in a Mercedes S63 AMG

And if you have any unique dashboard clocks you'd like to share for a future follow-up to this posting, please email me.

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