Baby Ben

When we moved from our one bedroom apartment in central Virginia to a 4 bedroom house (well, technically 3 bedrooms and an office…), I had the sudden urge to keep a cute little old alarm clock in the guest room.   Every sale I went to in Roanoke, whether it was an estate sale, a flea market, a yard sale, or consignment shop, I searched for one.  After several months of not finding anything I liked-sure there were alarm clocks, but they were either ugly, didn’t work, or more than the $5ish I was willing to invest in it-I gave up.  I bought a $6 one at IKEA.   I wanted the clock to add character to the room, be cheap, as well as actually function (not that anyone would really use it, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)  The clock at IKEA did all these things.  But, I found out soon enough, that if I’m patient, and I stop looking, I usually find what I’m looking for.  And this is a perfect example.

I found this clock a week after I finished redoing the guest room at an estate sale in Old Southwest Roanoke.  I think I paid $1.50 for it.


Its sleek design caught my eye, even with the green gum stain at its crest.  And one of the best things about it is its wind up design!  No need for batteries!  I’m not completely sure if it keeps time accurately though, or if it’s slow, because I keep forgetting to wind it.


Turns out, this clock is older, but it’s not as old as I was thinking. Regardless, it’s still a cool piece of history, and I’ve decided to keep it, not in the guest room like I wanted, but on one of my bookshelves at the end of the hall.


It’s a ‘Baby Ben’ by Westclox, a company that has been around since 1885.  The company began in Peru, Illinois, as the United Clock Company, but two years later filed for bankruptcy.  Frederick Matthiessen bought the company and renamed it the Western Clock Company, which was eventually shortened to Westclox.  Their first, and most famous, alarm clock was the ‘Big Ben,’ marketed in 1909.  ‘Baby Ben’ followed in 1912.

The simple design by German immigrant George Kern, utilized the entire back of the clock as the alarm bell, giving it a loud, tin can sort of sound, making it unique.  I like watching the clock as the alarm sounds; it rattles the entire clock, making walk backwards along the nightstand.  It’s pretty crazy how loud it gets.  There’s also a ‘soft’ setting, which just muffles the bell slightly.  The video below gives you a pretty good idea of the soft and loud variations on the big and baby ben alarm clocks.  If you do decide to listen/watch it, just be prepared for some shaky camera syndrome.

Westclox continues to manufacture variations of the Big and Baby Bens, but during World War II, they ceased operation for the public and created aviation instrumentation, compasses, clocks, and fuses for the U.S. Army and Navy. The federal government recognized the company for their contribution with an Army-Navy ‘E’ award (which stands for ‘excellence in production.’)

Up until 2001, the Westclox brand was made in the U.S.; now it’s yet another item made in China.

My clock is a Baby Ben Style 8, which ran from 1964 to 1980.  Apparently, if you remove the backing and look on the mechanical parts on the inside, there is a ‘birth date’ of sorts, including the month and year it was manufactured.  Now, I’m no mechanic, but I tried my hand at removing the backing.  I found this:

plastic casing

Even Tristan was interested in the clock.  (I actually think he saw all the little screws as an opportunity to go all curious kitten on me).


I wasn’t about to try and remove the plastic casing, so I gave up.  I want it to continue to work, and if I manhandled it, with my luck, I would end up cracking it somehow.  But the little gears inside the casing looked pretty awesome.

So, there you have it.  A pretty neat little clock, both historically and aesthetically.

Further Reading:

Clocknuts. ‘Westclox ‘Baby Ben’ Alarm Timepiece.’ Clocknuts. 22 February 2013. Web. 23 August 2013

LaSalle County Historical Society. ‘Westclox.’ The Society Story. Newsletter of the LaSalle County Historical Society. December 2011. Web. 23 August 2013



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3 responses to “Baby Ben

  1. Heather Milne

    My parents have the same clock and have had for as long as I can remember. And is still floating around in their house somewhere. It does ring loudly and has fallen off the night stand more times than I can remember.

  2. I’ve got a ‘Big Ben’ somewhere in the parent’s loft. I can back up Heather’s comment above, regarding the loudness of the alarm on these types of clocks. Sadly I had to stop using it owing to appalling time keeping, though this could have been because it was wound in a sloppy manner by slapdash old me when young.

    Glad to see that Tristan is as interested in old clock parts as the rest of us!

  3. Zed

    When I was in college (early ’70s) I had one of these clocks. I have had one for years. I tend to keep things. I now wonder if it not around the house some where. I am going to have to check.

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