Century tower clock

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Century clock bell

Century tower clocks were tower clocks manufactured by Nels Johnson, designed to last 100 years.[1] They were "clocks built to last a century," hence the name "Century" tower clocks.[1] These tower clocks were mostly produced from 1880 to 1910.[2] Johnson, by himself, made between 50 and 60 of these clocks.[3]

Johnson designed and manufactured these tower clocks at his machine shop in Manistee, Michigan. He built the clocks by himself and had no employees. Because of this he had low overhead and was able to underbid his competitors many times and obtain the order. The chief competitors of his in tower clock manufacturing were E. Howard & Co. of Boston and Seth Thomas Clock of Thomaston, Connecticut. These firms had large tower-clock departments and large department overhead as well. They were usually considerably greater than Johnson's and he was often able to underbid them. The actual bells he used in his striking clocks were from well-known bell founders such as Meneely in Troy, New York or Chaplin-Fulton bell foundry of Pittsburgh.[3]

One of his tower clocks is that installed in 1906 by Nels Johnson at the Mason County Courthouse in Michigan that is still in use as of 2010. This tower clock he had originally installed in the Congregational Church at Manistee, Michigan, in 1892. The church had the clock removed in 1905 when they received a new clock.[4]

He also has one of his clocks at the Lutheran Church in Rochester, N.Y., one at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, three in Milwaukee, one in Big Rapids, Michigan, and one in Postville, Iowa. One of his finest clocks was in the famed Fort Street Union Depot railroad station of Detroit, Michigan.[4]

Johnson made about 50 to 60 tower clocks. Some are:

  • Los Angeles Times Building (1912) in Los Angeles,
  • San Jose Post Office (1909),
  • The Michigan Building at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair,
  • Detroit Post Office (1891) in Detroit,
  • A bank in Holland, Michigan,
  • Lansing City Hall in Lansing, Michigan,
  • Lyman Building (1889) in Muskegon, Michigan,
  • St. Joseph Court House in St. Joseph, Michigan,
  • Faith Church (1905) in Pelican Falls, Minnesota,
  • One installed in 1892 at Rochester, New York,
  • U. S. Customs House at Memphis, Tennessee,
  • Milwaukee City Hall,
  • Emmanuel's Evangelical Lutheran Church (1890) of Milwaukee,
  • Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church (1891) of Milwaukee,
  • Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (1894) of Milwaukee.
  • Winneshiek County Courthouse, Iowa (1903)

In Manistee:

  • St. Joseph's Polish Catholic Church (1894),
  • First Methodist Episcopal Church (1893)
  • Johnson's Machine Shop around 1889.

There are two known international installations. One in Chengtu, China, installed in 1914 and another at the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow, India in 1910. Johnson did not go to these locations to install these clocks, though he did go and set up his tower clocks himself in every instance when they were installed in the United States.[4]

Clock mechanism[edit]

Nel's tower clocks in the United States[edit]

Cheboygan county courthouse building was sold to a paper company and taken down in 1970 for a parking lot.[5] The Lyman Block & Post Office were taken down and replaced in the 1930s.[6] Detroit Post Office was located at Shelby & Fort Streets in downtown Detroit, Michigan, and demolished in 1931. The San Jose Post Office became the San Jose Museum of Art and the tower clock still exists. The U S Custom House of Memphis, Tennessee, built in 1885, is now the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and the tower clock still exists.[7][8]

Nels Johnson tower clocks over 100 years old[edit]


  1. ^ a b NAWCC Bulletin No. 108, (February 1964), p. 89 Nels Johnson and his Century tower clocks by Dana J. Blackwell; "He called his clocks 'Century' tower clocks, designed to last one hundred years, and those still serving faithfully are a living testimony to his craftsmanship and integrity."
  2. ^ NAWCC Bulletin, August 2006, pp. 391-401, Nels Johnson, Michigan clockmaker by Jack Linahan
  3. ^ a b NAWCC Bulletin No. 108, (February 1964), pages 82-89 Nels Johnson and his Century tower clocks by Dana J. Blackwell
  4. ^ a b c Record Publishing Company, pp. 185-87
  5. ^ Fedynsky, p. 36
  6. ^ Lyman Block & Post Office in 1911
  7. ^ Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Dignitaries announce the U of M's purchase of a historic Downtown building for legal education". Archived from the original on 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2010-12-01.


  • Record Publishing Company (Chicago), Portrait and biographical record of northern Michigan: containing portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, together with biographies of all the presidents of the United States, 1895
  • Fedynsky, John, Michigan's County Courthouses, University of Michigan, 2010, ISBN 978-0-472-11728-4

External links[edit]