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Big Ben Clock

This is a clock. It was designed by Henry Dreyfuss. It is dated 1931 and we acquired it in 1999. Its medium is cast metal, glass, blued steel (hands), printed paper. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

Around 1930, the Western Clock Co. (Westclox) hired emerging industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss to redesign its Big Ben alarm clock—which would become his first mass-produced design. Dreyfuss studied the company’s manufacturing techniques at its Illinois factory and tested the existing Big Ben clocks and its competitors on his nightstand. Dreyfuss and his assistants produced over a hundred sketches, which he and Westclox representatives whittled down to two or three to be made into models, first of clay, then of wood. Finally, a design was chosen for manufacture. Throughout his long career, Dreyfuss was concerned with designing products that fit three basic criteria: a good product should be convenient to use, easy to maintain, and easy to manufacture. Changes from the previous Big Ben model to Dreyfuss’s include: shifting from serif to sans-serif typefaces and from slightly ornate to more streamlined minute and second hands, all of which eased legibility; setting the clock face closer to the glass, reducing shadows; and creating a slightly smaller form overall. The clock received a patent in 1931, but Dreyfuss would redesign the Big Ben again in 1939, continuing to trim and refine the form.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled Making Handles Obvious.

It is credited Museum purchase through gift of Neil Sellin.

  • Box Clock (USA)
  • wood case with painted dial on glass door, lead weights, paper.
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, 317044.
  • 14.2012.46
  • 1A Gift Kodak Camera And Box
  • leather-covered metal, chrome-plated and enameled metal, glass (camera);....
  • Gift of George R. Kravis II.
  • 2015-41-2-a,b
This object has not been digitized yet.

Our curators have highlighted 1 object that are related to this one.

  • Clock, Askew
  • anodized aluminum, plastic, quartz movement.
  • Gift of Tibor Kalman/ M & Co..
  • 1993-151-29-1/4

Its dimensions are

H x W x D: 13.5 x 12.6 x 6.1 cm (5 5/16 x 4 15/16 x 2 3/8in.)

Cite this object as

Big Ben Clock; Designed by Henry Dreyfuss (American, 1904–1972); USA; cast metal, glass, blued steel (hands), printed paper; H x W x D: 13.5 x 12.6 x 6.1 cm (5 5/16 x 4 15/16 x 2 3/8in.); Museum purchase through gift of Neil Sellin; 1999-2-1

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Big Ben Clock |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=6 June 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>