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Road trip – Clocks of Milwaukee

A quick trip to Milwaukee surprises with fantastic clocks

I recently was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a conference, and found myself surrounded by fantastic clocks. My conference was non-horological, and even though Milwaukee isn’t far from the Twin Cities metro area I call home, my unfamiliarity with the city left me surprised at the amazing clocks that seem to top nearly every building in the area.

Allen-Bradley Clock Tower

The most well-known clock is the 40′ diameter 4-dial Allen Bradley clock built and installed by Allen Bradley employees in the early 1960’s. Housed in a 280′ tower and with faces more than 3 times the area of Big Ben in London, this clock was the largest in the world until 2012, when the 141′ diameter clock in the Abraj Al-Bait building in Saudi Arabia was completed.

The picture I got while driving hardly does the clock tower justice, but considering I was several miles away at the time, gives at least a little sense of scale. Better pictures and some history can be found here.

Milwaukee City Hall

The most striking building on the Milwaukee skyline is City Hall, completed in 1895. The 393′ tall clock tower houses a 4-sided clock with 18′ dals and a 22,500 lb bell. The City Hall clock tower stands taller than the Elizabeth Tower of Big Ben, and its 18′ diameter dials are only slightly smaller than the 22.5′ diameter dials of the Elizabeth Tower Clock. 

At the time of its completion in 1895, the Milwaukee City Hall clock was believed to be the third-largest 4-sided chiming clock in the world, though this title was to be short-lived, as the Minneapolis City Hall clock, completed in 1909 knocked both Milwaukee City Hall and the Elizabeth Tower Clock down the rankings with it’s 24.5′ diameter dials. Sorry sports fans – the Vikings/Packers rivalry is new news; Minnesotans and Wisconsinites have been competing with each other about everything, forever.

Seth Thomas Street Clock

This one may go under the radar for a lot of Milwaukee locals, but the Seth Thomas street clock outside the Milwaukee Historical Society is special, but on a smaller scale.

Street clocks are a relatively common sight, but the vast, vast majority of them are reproductions, such as this one on Wisconsin Avenue:

This clock is an Electric Time, one of several companies that sell modern versions of street clocks, both in two dial and four dial arrangements. According to records, only about 200 Seth Thomas street clocks and perhaps only 1600 mechanically-driven street clocks of all manufacturers combined were made in the United States in all.

Seth Thomas Street clock in it’s new home near the Milwaukee Historical Society

The Seth Thomas clock was property of the Milton H Kloph jewelry store in the Bay View district, survived an odd assault in 1906 by a former Milwaukee mayor who sought the destruction of street clocks, and was donated to the historical society in 1963. Somewhere along the way the clock was converted to an electric movement. While I mourn the loss of the original movement, the clock operating with little maintenance ensures it remaining valuable to the community. Hopefully the community will return the favor and trim the weeds surrounding the clock at some point.

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