A (Personal) History of Timex

How one of Huckberry's bestsellers — not to mention a classic American favorite — was born
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May 11, 2015 | By Evan C. Williams


t's late. I have work in the morning, and I can’t sleep. I’ve always been a light sleeper, at least as long as I can remember. Tonight, it’s not because I’ve had a cup of coffee too late in the day, or because of sirens or passing cars. That ticking isn’t one I’m counting off in my head, either. It’s my watch, believe it or not. It's sitting on the other side of the room. But in the near dead-quiet of rural Arizona, there isn’t a sound within earshot that could manage to drown out the frightfully trusty movement of the Timex Weekender resting just a few feet away.

Any even casual wanderer of our online shelves here at Huckberry knows the timeteller well enough. It's one of our best-selling items of all time, worn by more than one of us here in the office on any given day. It's climbed the Huckberry charts and come to adorn none to few wrists for good reason. It's one hell of a trusty watch — and, for the price, I wish you luck in finding a superior option.

Interestingly enough — given Timex's current day renowned on both the fashion and functional fronts — the company's journey to the top of American watchmaking hasn't been quite as steady as you might imagine. 

The American clockmaking industry was born in the mid-19th century, in what now might be remarked as an unlikely place: the Naugatuck Valley in Western Connecticut. Around this time, the area — nestled just in-between Boston and New York and along the Connecticut River, which led directly to the Atlantic — was home to the vast majority of the region's manufacturing. And, so, it made quite a lot of sense for Western Connecticut to house the birth of American timekeeping, much like its other industries. The region, believe it or not, even earned itself the nickname "Switzerland of America".

Despite the fact that, at one point, millions of clocks were produced in the Valley, Timex is the only company that remains in production there today.

Timex — then the Waterbury Watch Company — came to the fore during the first World War. Having previously made cheaper version of expensive European clocks and pocket watches, there was a new demand for artillery gunners to be able to work the guns while still keeping an eye on the time. Up until this point, wristwatches were almost exclusively women's fare — but when Timex created the military issue wristwatch, with a canvas strap and luminescent hands and numbers, the first men's wristwatch was born.

In the post-war recession, the demand for wristwatches fell off and the Waterbury Watch Company company changed hands a number of times over the next decade. A slew of rebranding efforts and marketing ploys following, one of which involved a licensing agreement with Walt Disney to product a Mickey Mouse watch (yes, that one).

In 1940, two Norwegian industrialist refugees fleeing the encroaching Nazis, landed in the United States, keen on assisting in the war effort. The two purchased a controlling stake in the Waterbury Clock Company, and reinvigorated their production of precision timetellers during the Second World War. Shortly thereafter, the company's name was changed to the United States Time Corporation. 

If nothing else, Timex's success was the product of marketing brilliance at its finest. The Timex (then simply a model produced by the United States Time Corporation) debuted in 1950. The company began the now-famous "Takes a licking, keeps on ticking" campaign featuring John Cameron Swayze, the most respected news anchor of the time, as the campaign's face. The commercials, inspired by the real efforts of Timex salesmen, involved a Timex watch being stress-tested in extreme conditions — everything from submersion in a water tank to hammered on anvils and heaved against walls.

The campaign was, perhaps, one of the greatest marketing successes in history. By the end of the 1950's, one in three watches purchased in the United States was a Timex and in 1969, riding on the campaigns immense success, the company was officially renamed the Timex Corporation. In the years that followed, Timex whethered the storm that was the "Post-Mechanical Watch Era", narrowly escaping death at the hands of digital watches with the invention of more stylish options, as well we the sport-centric Ironman and Triathalon series, made famous with Indiglo glow-in-the-dark technology. 

The ticking that kept me up that night, while perhaps aggravating to the insomniac, is a piece of undeniable proof as to the Weekender's reliability. The mechanics seem to move with such assuredness that, were it ever to tick quietly, or even silently, as many watches do, I might worry that something were off.

It wasn't the first watch I'd ever worn, but it was the first watch I ever bought myself. 30 bucks on Amazon, as a freshman in college. I'd decided that buying a watch — even a cheap one, with a nylon strap, a plain white unadorned face, but one dial and no date counter to speak of — could herald something of a coming of age. I didn’t replace my Weekender until just a couple of months ago, and even then my change was more lateral than anything, to a Timex Field Watch from J. Crew. It’s a nice watch, a bit pricier than the Weekender. Its face is a bit smaller. But its resemblence to the Weekender is undeniable.

The first thing I did when I took my new one out of the box was to bring it up close to my ear and listen for the ticking. It doesn’t make quite the same sound as the trusty Weekender, which is now sitting in my top dresser drawer, next to a few well-worn, sweat-stained straps. Nowadays, when I go to sleep, I can’t hear any ticking — not from the new Timex, which is just next to my bed, or from the old Weekender. But I’d be willing to bet it’s still in there, trusty as always and sturdy as hell, counting the seconds away.

Tick. Tick. Tick. [H]

Get a Timex Weekender of your own, complete with a Horween leather strap by form•function•form right here.

Evan Williams helps to grow Huckberry through Content and Retention Marketing.
You can usually find him telling puns, speaking in accents, and watching football (the European kind).
Follow him on Instagram.

Images ©: 1, 4, 5; Jeff Masamori. 2; Vintage Timex. 3; Antique Waterbury Clocks