The Standard Electric Time Company

by Larry Gormally
from the
Springfield Journal
May 18, 1989

There are still many local people who fondly remember a former Springfield company, Standard Electric Time Company, whose plant was tucked away on Logan Street, a small side street, which runs between Alden and King Streets in the Upper Hill neighborhood. Standard Electric Time moved to Springfield in 1911, and left in 1981. The firm, employing between 400 to 500 people at its peak employment, was known for its high quality products, including clocks, timing devices, fire alarm systems, meter testing equipment, and laboratory panels. It was the oldest maker of electric clocks in the United States.

The company was founded in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1884 by Charles Warner, a pioneer in the clock-manufacturing field. Warner developed the idea of making clock hands move by electromagnetic force. He first developed a crude model, connected to a battery, later fitting contacts to a simple pendulum clock, leading to the development of the Master Clock.

Warner, in 1893, hired a 19-year-old ambitious young man, George L. Riggs, who was destined to become the sole owner of the company. Riggs purchased the company in 1897 for the sum of $6,000, and was soon on his way to developing a company, known worldwide for its high-quality, precision products. Riggs decided to move his small clock manufacturing company to Springfield in 1911, locating in a small three-story brick building on Logan Street, a stone's throw away from another growing institution, Springfield College.

Standard Electric Time developed its early fame as a manufacturer and installer of electric time systems for public buildings, private industry, schools and other institutions, where time control was essential. The system consisted of a master clock located in a central location. The secondary clocks could be located in any number of rooms, and were all electrically controlled by the master clock. Most of us attended schools employing this system. The master clock was located in, or near, the principal's office, and all classroom clocks were set by the master clock. It was wound electrically, eliminating the need for hand-winding. How often we students looked at the clock on the wall, always placed high enough to be out of the range of those of who might have been tempted to accelerate its progress. The secondary room clocks were not affected by moisture, temperature or vibration, and were foolproof, requiring little or no attention.

These handsome timepieces came in a variety of sizes, forms and finishes. The secondary clocks came in both round and square wooden cases, made from many different kinds of wood. The plant was located on a rail siding, the Highland Brand, still in operation, for deliveries of car loads of wood, including oak, birch and mahogany. Standard Electric had its own kiln for drying the lumber and, as well, manufactured their own glue. I have seen several of the beautiful old Master and Secondary clocks that have been refinished and restored to their original condition, and are now considered collectors' items. If you have one, treasure it! One of the early Springfield customers of Standard Electric Time was the Hotel Kimball, who proudly boasted at its opening, in 1911, that all the clocks in the hotel were furnished and installed by Standard Electric Time Company.

One of the early catalogs produced by Standard Electric Time, on its last page, features a reproduction of the Medal of Honor award, presented to the company at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, for their electric clock systems. Standard Electric Time installed a clock in Vancouver, Canada, in 1913, in the largest clock tower in Canada. The four faces of the clock were each twenty-two feet in diameter. The glass weighed four tons, and was seven-eighths of an inch thick. The minute hands were eleven feet long. A master clock on the eighth floor controlled the mechanism, powered by electricity, all for $10,000.

The one individual who probably had the most influence in the company, and its employees was Mrs. Frances Riggs-Young. Frances Wakefield joined the company as a receptionist, in 1916, after graduating from the High School of Commerce. Frances married George Riggs, owner and president of Standard Electric Time in 1923. She became a member of the board of directors in 1924, and was elected its secretary in 1925. A son, George, their only child was born February 22, 1928. Mr. Riggs died in December 1928, leaving Mrs. Riggs with a very young son, and a growing company.

The Depression years were severe for many companies, small and large. Standard Electric Time was no exception, suffering from financial difficulties during the early thirties. Loyal friends gave financial support to the company during this crucial period. During the twenties and thirties, the company began to expand their product line. The laboratory panel line was started in 1926. Herb Blake, who started with the company in the twenties, developed this product line. Herb worked full-time for many years on this line, traveling around the country, working with company salesmen on selling this concept, retiring as vice-president, in charge of advertising in 1956. Another new product line was the Hospital Signal Systems, first developed in the late 1920s. Basically, it consisted of an advance system of use in hospital for doctors' and nurses' pagings, Staff Registers, and centralized radion stations.

World War II introduced some dramatic changes in the old clock factory. One of the many changes was the introduction of a large number of women employed in production. Prior to 1942, there were only two or three women, in production, employed as winders. Restricted to their department, they were not allowed in other parts of the plant. Many employees of Standard Electric Time left for active service in World War II, creating many openings for women. Company products were used on many defense projects. Three large special control boards were built for the DuPont Company, reputedly for use in the atomic bomb project. Many of Standard Electric Time's timers were also used in testing facilites associated with the atomic project. During the latter part of the War, Standard Electric Time was working on a contract with Curtis-Wright Company, designing and building special field test units for propeller and engine synchronizing systems of the B-29 and B-32 bombers used in the Pacific Campaigns. The units were shipped to major airfields in the Central Pacific. Hospital signal systems were supplied to military hospitals at home and overseas. The increased demand for these projects led to the construction of a new machine shop in 1945.

Following World War II, the company continued to grow and develop new products. Ground was broken in 1950 for a two-story addition of 15,000 square feet. One of the new product lines, started in the early fifties, was a Network Fluid Analyzer. This instrument was an analogue computer used to calculate flow rates in pipelines for gas, water, air, oil and steam, all for custom designed, and built to customers' specifications. Another new line was the electronic tachometer, supposedly the rage of the industry. Standard Electric Time now had two hospital divisions, one producing a button-type nurse call system with Doctors' in and out call system, and silent paging. The Royal division produced electronic nurse call, and monitors system, with voice calling and radio-TV selection. Standard Electric Time now had sales and service offices in major cities throughout the United States, as well as several overseas locations. The plant was unionized by Local No. 1075, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing approximately 160 members. A brief strike, lasting a duration of two days, occurred in 1962.

The Athletic Association sponsored adult and children's outings, at the Old Red Barn in Chicopee for the adults, and at Riverside Park for children. A Pistol Club was organized in 1967, practicing with .22 caliber automatic pistols at a local range. Plant golfers formed a team, competing in the local AAA league. A plant softball team, playing in a city league, emerged as city champs in 1955. Candlepin bowling was also a popular sport, with several teams participating. John Turner, a former employee with 40 years of service, thought that Standard Electric Time was the best place to work in the city of Springfield. There were never any layoffs, even when sales were down, and personnel remained on the job. Emmeth Thomas, another former employee, echoed similar sentiments, "the Company wasa family-oriented from top to bottom, very quality-conscious, and very loyal to one another."

Mrs. Riggs-Young, Standard Electric Time's long-time President, announced on June 14, 1967, that negotiations were underway to sell the firm to Johnson Service Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A final agreement was reached the following December, with an estimated sale price being $3.4 million. Mrs. Riggs-Young announced her retirement in 1970, after 55 years of service. She was a very unique woman, a pioneer, serving as top executive in a highly technical field, long before the equal opportunity movement gave women a chance to move into the executive ranks.

According to former employees, she took a very personal interest in her employees' welfare, concerning herself with the types of homes they purchased, their marriages, and family problems. She frowned upon the use of alcohol. At Christmas parties, only a few employees would take a drink while she was present. Her life was not without its share of tragedy. A son, George, her only child, was born in February 1928. Her first husband, George Riggs, died the following December. She married for a second time, in February 1962, to Marvin Young. He died shortly thereafter, while they were on a trip to Florida. Her son, George, a 20-year employee of the company, died in 1969, at age 42.

The company was sold by Johnson, Inc., in August 1978 to Faraday, Inc. of Michigan. Annual sales at that time, were $9 million. Faraday announced in 1981, that the Standard Electric Time Company would be moving to Tecumseh, Michigan. Only a small group of local employees moved to Michigan. The Standard Electric Time name is still used by the current owner, with a branch office remaining in Springfield. Former employees hold a reunion each May.

Thanks to Dale French for providing me with this article.

Return to SETCLOCKS - the tribute to The Standard Electric Time Company