Henry Ellis Warren of Massachusetts was not the first to experiment with electric clocks—in fact, Edinburgh clockmaker Alexander Bain invented the first electric clock in 1843. But after failed experiments with battery-driven clocks, Warren did create the forerunner to the modern electric clock using a small alternating-current synchronous motor, known as the “type A motor,” in 1915, which he sold through his Warren Clock Company.
In the process of inventing these clocks, Warren noticed his timepieces were unreliable, not because of the faultiness of his clocks but due to the irregular nature of the power utilities at the time. To fix this problem, Warren created a “master clock” for the Boston Edison electric company in 1916. His invention operated through two movements, one run by the current from the power plant and the other using an old-fashioned spring and pendulum.
The time from the pendulum was reset twice a day to match the time from the Naval Observatory, and the electric-driven clock was then compared to the spring-driven clock as a way of measuring the steadiness of electricity produced by the power company. These clocks were soon used in power plants across the U.S., which led to the standardization of A/C frequency and the formation of large interconnected regional power-plant grids. That made electrical service much more reliable, spurring the development of electrically powered machines and devices that could be used anywhere in the country.
Around 1920, Warren introduced the “type B motor,” with a sealed container for the motor, which could run for many years without being serviced. By 1923, Warren had registered the brand name “Telechron,” also seen as “Telekron” in early examples. Over the years, the motors were continuously perfected—each improvement was given a letter like “F” or “H.”
Arriving in the Art Deco era, the Telechron was known for its technology as well as its beautiful, streamlined design—it was considered tremendously chic. Top designer of the era, Paul Frankl, was employed to make a “modern” Telechron clock, the 8-inches-tall “Modernique,” which he styled after his “Skyscraper” furnishings using Bakelite, chrome, and steel. After the stock market crash of 1929, broke consumers scoffed at this “$50 clock.”
Between the 1920s and 1950s, Telechron introduced a series of stylish geometric clocks, in materials such as wood, Catalin, and Lucite, by designers like Leo Ivan Bruce and John R. Rainbault. These included the “Cathedral,” the “Administrator,” the “IMP,” and “Dimension.” Telechron alarm clocks were particularly popular before the war, as they featured real, loud, metal bells.
When Warren retired in the ’40s, Telechron became part of the General Electric company. Before long, though, his technology would be outdated with the invention of quartz clocks.