Timex has become one of the most known watchmakers to date and is arguably the most famous brand raised in the United States. While most people don’t think of expensive or luxury when they see a Timex brand watch, the company has done a great job in serving the public with stylish and affordable options in the world of horology. Timex watch history dates back to the 1800’s and has had a few twists and turns throughout it’s time.
Although today we know the company as Timex, it wasn’t always called that. When the company first started in 1854, it went by the Waterbury Clock Company.
Founded by Benedict & Burnham, a brass manufacturer, the Waterbury Clock Company manufactured clocks using brass wheels and gears.
During this time, the American clock industry was booming and even had its own region known as the “Switzerland of America,” which was located in Naugatuck River Valley of Connecticut.
The Waterbury Clock Company was one of many companies located in this region and was one of the most successful as well as far as domestic sales and exports.
In 1887, the Waterbury Clock Company introduced the “Jumbo” pocket watch, which was relatively successful and more importantly, helped them secure a partnership with Robert H. Ingersoll. This led to a partnership between Waterbury Clock Company and Robert H. Ingersoll & Bro, in which the former produced millions of pocket watches for the latter.
In 1986, the Ingersoll Yankee was released, which was a wildly popular watch due to it’s $1 dollar price tag. The success of the watch led to a saying that it was the reason the dollar became famous.
As the success of the partnership continued to grow, Benedict & Burnham incorporated the Waterbury Watch Company in 1880 as a sister company to the Waterbury Clock Company. By selling a new prototype pocket watch featuring cheap, brass pieces, the newly created company started off very strongly and became the world leader in watch production volume by 1888.
However, the newly found success was short-lived as the company quickly fell into bankruptcy due to poor sales tactics and mismanagement. Eventually, in 1914, Ingersoll & Bro. bought the Waterbury manufacturing plant and began manufacturing their own watches there.
World War I & the Wristwatch
When World War I broke out, it meant new demands needed to be met in order for soldiers to effectively keep track of time.
It was inefficient for them to have to dig around their pockets while holding their weapons to check the time. They needed an easier way and the Waterbury Clock Company was able to meet this need.
They modified their “Midget” model pocket watch, a small timepiece for women, by adding lugs for a strap and moved the crown from the 12 o’clock position to the 3 o’clock position. They also made the hands and the numbers luminescent for visibility during the night. It was one of the first wristwatches produced and helped lay the foundation for how watches would be made in the future.
In 1922, due to post-war recession, the Waterbury Clock Company ended up buying the Robert H. Ingersoll & Bro. company for $1.5 million. However, they also fell on hard times due to the Great Depression, but was able to bounce back due to a deal with Disney.
Under the Ingersoll brand name, as it was still continued in the US, the Waterbury Clock Company introduced the now famous Mickey Mouse timepieces to the public during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.
This move is what essentially saved the company from financial ruin as the Mickey Mouse line became their first million-dollar line.
World War II would follow shortly and lead to further success for the company. Due to the Nazi invasion of Norway, Thomas Olsen and Joakim Lehmkuhl, along with their families, fled their country for the United States in 1940.
They were able to purchase controlling interest in the Waterbury Clock Company in 1941. Olsen became the chairman of the company, while Lehmkuhl was appointed the president. However, their new focus was not on watches, but producing precision timers for bomb fuses.
This endeavor was extremely fruitful and led to the company being awarded the Army-Navy “E Award and also a decision to change the name of the company to the United States Time Corporation.
Getting Back to Their Roots
While the war was going it was very lucrative to sell bomb fuses, however, once the Korean War ended in the 1950’s, sales began to decline. Lehmkuhl knew it was time to get back into the watch business and decided that inexpensive, but quality timepieces could bring them success.
This led to the production of the V-Conic, which was the first high-quality massed produced watch movement under the Timex brand name. The name Timex was chosen by combining the name “Time” from Time magazine and adding an “x” to the end like the Kleenex brand.
To prove the quality of the Timex wristwatches, the company used TV spots to show Timex watches being “stressed tested.” These tests would show the watches being subjected to all sorts of abuse while continuing to work.
This led to the brand becoming known as the “watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
By the early 1960’s, 1 in 3 watches sold was a Timex and due to the unforeseen success of the Timex watch, it led the company to change its name again in 1969 from the United States Time Corporation to the Timex Corporation.
The Quartz Revolution – 90s
In the early 1970’s, the American and Swiss watch industry was devastated by the production of cheap mechanical watches from Far East companies as well as the advent of quartz powered digital watches from Japanese companies, such as Casio, for example.
As the Quartz Revolution continued to develop, Timex’s mechanical watchmaking production facilities began to become obsolete, thus leading to a loss of around 24,000 employees. This led to the Timex Co. to venture into other endeavors such as the home computer business.
However, by the mid 1980’s, Timex saw itself getting back to what made them world renown in the first place and refocused their efforts on timepieces.
They produced new quartz analog movements to reduce overall production time and costs. They partnered with top athletes to design sports watches and in 1986, they released the Ironman wristwatch.
It was the most successful Timex watch in the post-mechanical watch era and quickly became the best-selling watch in the US.
The Indiglo night light, which is the feature Timex watches are arguably most known for, was introduced in the Winter of 1992.
Amongst the tragedy of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the company was able to find further success due to an office worker who happened to be wearing a Timex with Indiglo night light technology.
The office worker used its light to evacuate a group down 40 flights of stairs in a dark stairwell. After hearing this news, this caused Timex sales to skyrocket and increase their American market share.
Throughout the rest of the decade and into the 2000’s, Timex continued to grow and acquired fashion brands as part of it’s multi-brand strategy.
They even rekindled their partnership with Disney to produce the Disney Classics Collections line. Other companies they began working with included, Microsoft, Guess, and Motorola, to name a few.
The turn of the millennium led to further growth for the company. They acquired French fashion watch brand, Opex, and secured a watch license for urban fashion designer Marc Ecko.
They also entered the luxury watch market back when they acquired Swiss-based Vertime SA, which is the driving force behind Swiss-made watches and jewelry for the Versace and Versus brands.
In 2008, the company was restructured and the Timex Group B.V. is running the show. They are a Dutch holding company that oversees the Timex brand business and global manufacturing.
They have divided the labor of their watchmaking between two entities, the Timex Group, USA and the Timex Group.
Hopefully this post helped you learn more about Timex watch history. While Timex has had their share of ups and downs, as many companies do, one thing is for certain, and that is that they have established one of the most well-known watch brands not only in the States, but worldwide.
When you think of Timex, of course affordability comes to mind, but also, so should quality and success. Timex is a brand that is open and affordable to almost anyone of any watch expertise level.
Do you own a Timex watch or thinking of getting one? Let us know what you think in the comments below!