Origin of Big Ben
By the early 1900s, Western Clock Mfg. Co. was known for its good, low-priced alarm clocks such as the America. In 1908, advertising manager Gaston Leroy suggested the name Big Ben for a new alarm clock designed by George Kern. Big Ben was a better and higher-priced clock than their current alarm clocks, so LeRoy suggested that the company name not appear on Big Ben.
LeRoy wrote in his 1908 advertising report:
“In our new alarm, we have a clock that is on the contrary susceptible of being very successfully advertised, i.e., sold through advertising, through the public instead of the dealer. It is distinctive, new and attractive in appearance; therefore it will secure attention and be easily recognized and hard to substitute on. It is built on a good principle – The movement is all enclosed within the bell and the bell has a larger surface than any other clock, therefore the movement is better protected and the alarm more effective. It has on this account excellent talking points and selling points. It can be made at a relatively low cost, therefore sold either at a lower price than others, either with a larger margin of profit for the wholesaler and the retailer than the other makes and we can afford to put it up in an attractive manner in a good cardboard box and in a good shipping case, always a matter of great importance with the consumer. It is an absolutely new clock, one which has never been placed on the market and on which a special campaign of distribution and sales can be planned without having to tear down or change any previous policy and it is a clock that is important enough to justify a campaign for itself. It is a clock that will particularly appeal to the watchmakers because it can be easily taken apart and repaired and because it can be kept out of department stores, therefore one through which we can secure the jewelry trade, which is still keeping away from our goods and it is an article that will appeal to a higher class of consumers, the one that is the least affected by the cost of the goods, therefore a clock without the reach of the German peril.”
Big Ben branded
“The first step is to give the clock a good name that will at the same time be used as a trade mark. This matter is of extreme importance: a name has often made the success of an advertising campaign and frequently caused its failure.”
“I would for lack of better names, suggest the name “Big-Ben”. Big Ben is the name of a very well known Tower Clock in London, therefore appropriate for an alarm clock, it is a proper name, it is a distinctive name, it is a “jolly” name, short, pleasant to hear and pleasant to see in print. I shall therefore refer to this clock as the Big Ben in the balance of this report. Should we get out a small 2 inch alarm of the same style, we could call it “Bennie” or “Little Ben” and thus give it the benefit of any advertising we have done for the bigger clock.”
“The present trade mark could hardly be used on the BIG-BEN, because it already appears on the AMERICA which goes to a cheap trade and it would be bad policy to have on a $1.50 or $2.00 clock the same mark that appears on the 75¢ or 69¢ alarm. The name BIG-BEN would therefore be the trade mark. It would be mentioned conspicuously on every ad, placed on every dial, on every box and every case leaving our shipping room. It would be made so well known that the very same clock without the word BIG-BEN could not be sold for as high a price as those with the trade mark on. It might also be advisable to leave our name entirely off the dial of the clock because it already appears on the AMERICA and other low priced clocks.”
A relatively small number of Big Ben alarms were made from 1908 to mid-1910. They say “MADE IN U.S.A.” on the back and at the bottom of the dial. They followed LeRoy’s advice: there is no company identification on the clock.
Westclox often appeared on the back in various forms through ca. 1917.
A few Big Ben dials made around 1911 through 1913 have Westclox at the bottom in small lettering:
Finally, in 1917, Westclox appeared in a prominent position on the dial of Big Ben and their other clocks.
Thus, the company gradually introduced the name Westclox to the public on their clocks.