Western Union Telegraph Company offered their clock service until the middle
1960's and this service included a clock setting circuit from the master
clock at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.
Every hour on the hour, the master clock sent a pulse out which
syncronized the local clocks and in most cases what this pulse did was
briefly light (for a half to three-quarters of a second) a small red
light bulb on the clock dial as the sweep second hand was yanked
forward or backward the number of seconds required (usually ten or
less) to bring the clock into synch with the master clock. The pulse
was sent over telephone/telegraph lines. The Great-Grand Master clock
in Washington DC sent a pulse once a day to the various Grand Master
Clocks which were located in Western Union main offices offices around
the USA such as St. Louis and Chicago. I think this went out at about
3:30 AM. It was on a half hour mark, I do recall that. In turn, the
Grand-Master Clocks sent out a pulse every hour to the master clocks
located in local telegraph offices all over the USA, and these in
turn pulsed once an hour to calibrate:
1. The sub-master clocks in places where there were several clocks
under one jurisdiction such as a factory time-keeper's office (which
in turn set the local clocks under him);
2. The local clocks wherever they were.
In the case of (1) above, many business places and factories where
exmployees were expected to 'punch the clock' when they came to
work or left work had WUTCO time-clocks. The phone companies also
used little clocks with imprinters in them to stamp the time on
long distance toll-tickets. These were calibrated by the clock service.
In the case of WGN Radio in Chicago (720 AM) -- and perhaps other radio
stations -- was that they wired from the little red light bulb into a
relay which when triggered would make the tone which was sent over the air.
Through the 1940-50 period (maybe from an earlier time to a later time) the
Federal Communications Commission had a rule that all radio stations had
to have Western Union Clock Service in order that the station would be
on accurate time for the purpose of station identification and programs,
WUTCO started their clock service sometime around the turn of the
century and operated it for over sixty years. *Everywhere* where accurate
time was important had one or more WUTCO clocks, i.e. bus stations,
train stations, etc. All watch and clock shops had them, as did many
schools, government agencies, etc. It was common in downtown Chicago
to see WUTCO clocks in many places of business.
The cost of the clock service was about $2 per month and that included
a free clock of the standard variety with a nine inch dial (no sweep
second hand). Users could lease larger, more elaborate clocks with
extra features and fancier designs if they desired, with the more
expensive clocks leasing for $5 per month plus the cost of time service.
One variety of clock had a sweep second hand; another had a larger, 16
inch dial. Another variety came in a wooden case (as opposed to the
standard brown metal case) and the most elaborate was a large grandfather
style clock with Western Union works inside it. I think I only saw
two of these grandfather clocks, as they were quite expensive to lease
and had very nice ornate woodcarved cases and glass doors where one
could see the pendulum as it swung back and forth.
They had one in the front office of the old Telegraph Federal Savings
and Loan Association (formerly the Western Union Employees Credit Union)
on Jackson Boulevard at LaSalle Street downtown, and the other one I
know of was in the Chicago Temple Building on the third floor in the
library/lounge area for members of the Chicago Temple where coffee and
refreshments were served following guest speakers, etc.
When WUTCO announced that the clock service was being discontinued
they sent a notice out to all subscribers telling them the time signal
would not be sent any longer but allowing the subscribers to simply
keep the clocks for free if they wanted them. That would have been
about 1965 or so. People who expected the clocks might have some value
at a later time began getting them wherever they could, cutting deals
with their owners.
At the Western Union headquarters building in Chicago there must have
been at least one hundred such clocks alone (this is a ten story
building downtown) and within a day or two of the time service being
dropped, every single clock was gone from the walls, with electric
clocks put in their place. Obviously a few WUTCO executives made off