The Life and Times of New Jersey’s Colgate Clock

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In today’s blog article, we would like to discuss a very famous clock, which is located in New Jersey.

The clock is known as the Colgate Clock, and it has a very long and interesting history.

It’s owned by Colgate-Palmolive and Company, and it made its debut in 1924. The clock was designed specifically to be seen from a great distance, and for many years, it was considered the world’s largest clock. Although it’s probably way down the current list of the largest clocks in existence, it’s still thought of fondly by the people of both New Jersey and New York. They are very proud of this landmark; it’s always been there to help keep them on time for work and scheduled events.

Traveling Through Time: The Colgate Clock’s History

The highly recognizable octagonal clock faces Manhattan Island, and it debuted on December 1, 1924.

The surface of the clock is 1,963 square feet and 50 feet in diameter. The minute hand measures 25 feet in length. The hour hand stretches out to 20 feet. The clock is adjustable, and the clock’s accuracy is within one minute of the correct time. There was once a small master clock at Colgate that was used to synchronize with the time of the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. The mechanism of the Colgate Clock is much like a traditional wall clock. It uses weights and wheels, but it is powered by 28 large-volt batteries, which are rechargeable.

The Colgate Clock was, at one time, the largest clock in the world, making it one more thing that New Yorkers and people from New Jersey liked to boast about (including the then-mayor of New York).

The Original Colgate Clock

The original Colgate Clock, as it appeared in Jersey City, New Jersey, atop the old Colgate factory building.

After enduring the elements for over 31 years, the clock was stopped for repairs on June 13, 1955. The laminated wooden hands were waterlogged, and the steel trusses that supported the hands were rusted. The replacement hands were made of porcelain steel facing, and the hour and quarter-hour points were lit with fluorescent lighting to replace the old incandescent lighting. The replacement of the clock’s hands took much longer than expected. This prompted hundreds of calls to the company from New Yorkers who were counting on the clock to keep them on schedule(!). The clock’s restoration during this time was completed on July 29, 1955.

Colgate’s landmark clock is a replacement for an earlier and much smaller one. The earlier clock was designed by Warren Day, and it was built by the Seth Thomas Company for the centennial of Colgate’s founding in 1906. This older version measured 38 feet in diameter, and the face was made of stainless steel slats. It was installed in 1908. The clock had a large sign used to advertise Colgate’s products. It was illuminated at night by 1,607 lights. When replaced by the present-day clock, it was retired to a building owned by Colgate located in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The Colgate Company

Colgate was founded by William Colgate. He began as a manufacturer of starch, soap and candles with a shop in New York City. Colgate eventually moved the company to Jersey City to make starch; many people thought it was a mistake. Instead, the company flourished. In 1908, Colgate opened a large complex in Jersey City. The company once produced soap and perfume, but it eventually gave up the production of perfume. After William Colgate died, his son reorganized the company as Colgate and Company. It began to produce brands such as Cashmere Bouquet, which was one of the first milled perfumed soaps. Colgate also revolutionized dental care with the production of toothpaste, which was sold in jars. Colgate was one of the first companies to sell toothpaste in collapsible tubes.

In 1910, Jersey City became Colgate’s corporate headquarters. It merged with the Palmolive-Peet Company in 1928. The company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1930. Colgate occupied a modern plant for its time over the six-block area of York, Greene, Hudson and Grand Streets in the 1950s. The Colgate Clock overlooks the Hudson River, and the original sign beneath the clock was removed in 1983; it was replaced by a new sign bearing the Colgate name. After 141 years in Jersey City, Colgate decided to leave for improved facilities that the original manufacturing complex couldn’t provide. The old complex was torn down and lowered to ground level. The sign was removed, and the clock became an iconic landmark in New Jersey. It’s a welcome and familiar sight to New Yorkers. The clock is currently maintained by Goldman-Sachs.

Colgate Clock Renovations

The Colgate Clock is currently being refurbished once again. Hurricane Sandy and time itself created the need for major repairs on this iconic landmark. The clock was bolted into place on its frame in September, 2013. It was installed slightly higher than before. Projects such as this one are quite expensive. Grants were procured to complete the repairs so that New Jersey and New York can continue to enjoy this wonderful landmark, which represents a time when factories dominated the Jersey Shore. We hope that all renovations for this classic timepiece will be completed soon!

Old clocks such as the Colgate Clock must be maintained so that their rich histories can be preserved. Although our current time can be tracked with a great deal more accuracy, old clocks possess a charm that newer devices just don’t seem to have. This American company was an important part of the Industrial Age. It should be kept running for as long as possible.

Colgate Octagon Bar Soap

An old-fashioned package of Colgate’s Octagon Bar Soap, showing the octagonal shape that inspired the shape of the Colgate Clock!

For those of you who might be curious, the octagonal shape of the clock is fashioned after the original shape of a product that Colgate called Octagon Soap. This soap was quite harsh; it contained lye, but at the time, lots of people used it for their laundry detergent. There are even tales that kids would use it to wash their hair, but it had a bleaching effect that was quite noticeable. Later, this soap was manufactured in bars, and it was used as a hand soap that removed heavy dirt and grime.

Colgate Octagon Soap Powder

A package of Colgate’s Octagon Soap Powder, which was also used as laundry detergent.

If you are ever in New York, look over the Hudson River at this marvelous clock; think about what it represents.

Try to imagine the warm and fuzzy feeling that New Yorkers and people from New Jersey feel when they see this clock, which they have looked at since their early childhood. Particularly, any stroll through Battery Park in New York made it difficult not to notice this popular landmark. In addition, the Colgate Clock has been featured in many Hollywood movies, perhaps most prominently in “The Insider” (1999) with Al Pacino and Russel Crowe.

Battery Park Scene - Desperately Seeking Susan

A scene taking place in Battery Park from the great, classic 80s movie with Madonna, “Desperately Seeking Susan”. Somewhere in the background, if they’d just turn around, they’d see the Colgate Clock!

In the meantime, will continue to keep the precise time for you. We don’t have the bright lights of the old Colgate Clock, but we DO have some unique clocks and timers to help keep you on schedule. And many people would argue that we’re on our way to becoming a classic clock in our own right. 😉

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