Timex evolved from three notable 19th-century clockmakers: the Waterbury Clock Company, the Waterbury Watch Company, founded in 1880, and Robert H. Ingersoll and Brothers, also an international manufacturer and marketer of pocket watches since 1881.
Waterbury became known as the “Switzerland of America” during the 19th century. Its sister company, Waterbury Watch, manufactured the first inexpensive pocket watch in 1880.
By World War I, Waterbury began making wristwatches, which were just then becoming popular. In the 1930s, Waterbury became known for creating the first Mickey Mouse clock with Mickey’s hands pointing to the time.
During World War II, Waterbury Clock became U.S. Time Company and following the war, in 1950, it introduced the Timex wristwatch. At first, jewelers resisted carrying the watch because of its low 50 percent mark-up, as other brands offered 100 percent mark-ups. U.S. Time Co. then went elsewhere with its watches, setting up displays in drugstores, department stores, and cigar stands — mechanical displays that dunked a ticking watch into water and banged it with a hammer. Then the company began its magazine advertising, stressing its product’s durability, shock resistance, and waterproofing. Consumers soon began buying the watches. By 1951, the company had produced almost 2 million, gaining an 18 percent share of the low-priced U.S. wristwatch market.
The first Timex watches rolled off the assembly line in 1949 and soon became known for their dependability. In1952-54, the company began a more focused advertising campaign, first with print ads using the torture tests. Shortly thereafter, in 1956, it teamed up with spokesman John Cameron Swayze to do TV advertising, and sales took off. The company later became the Timex Corporation, then the Timex Group. To date, Timex has sold over one billion watches. But it was in the 1950s that the brand established itself, and in no small part due to its celebrity-assisted, “torture test” advertising, using the famous line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
John Cameron Swayze Advertising Campaign
What made Timex watches so durable was their design and inner workings. Technically, the watch employed a special escapement which had a cone-shaped balance staff that rotated in bearings made of a very hard alloy called “Armalloy.” The balance staff is the most delicate component in a watch, the part most likely to be displaced by a jolt. Timex made theirs sturdier, which greatly enhanced the watch’s shock-resistance. In addition, the Timex movement had fewer parts than other watches, making it even more durable. The Timex watch was also priced right — with 1950s prices ranging initially from $6.75 to $7.95, then $9.95 to $12.95. And the watches kept reasonably good time, off only by a minute or two a day, according to one 1950s’ estimate. Consumers loved them, and they snapped them up in the millions.
One version of the Rocky Marciano ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of June 1954. Marciano was then the World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. In the ad, the headline and text ran as follows:The Watch ‘The Rock’ Couldn’t Stop!
Then in 1956, Timex moved its torture-test advertising campaign to television, teaming up with John Cameron Swayze.
“It Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking”
Among other tortures that Timex watches endured and survived in these demonstrations were the following: being placed in a paint mixer, frozen in an ice cube tray, spun in a vacuum cleaner, placed on the leg of a race horse, attached to ice skater’s boot above the blade (see video above ), tossed over the Grand Coulee Dam, attached to an archer’s arrow tip that was shot through a pane of glass, attached to the blade of an outboard motor, strapped to a tackle line and cast off a deep-sea fishing boat, attached to the pontoon of a plane that landed on water in Hawaii, and swallowed by a farmer’s cow in Texas. However, there was one reported incident of an elephant crushing a Timex — a board with a Timex affixed to its underside, then stood upon by the elephant in a one-leg pose.
Timex, meanwhile, continued to do well in sales, and was soon at the top of the U.S. and world markets. By 1963, nearly half the watches sold in the U.S. were from Timex. By 1967, it was the world’s best-selling watch brand.
Next time we look at Timex as it moves into digital watches in the 1980’s