Time to get to know your University’s clocks

Clock in the Colonial Room in the Illini Union.

On Oct. 4, Bruce Hannon, professor of geography and geographic information science, led a small group on a tour of eight historic clocks at the University. The tour stretched from the College of ACES to the Engineering Quad, showing clocks dating back to 1820. Hannon, who restores clocks in his free time, has given about six tours in the past, one or two per semester. He said he enjoys giving tours to anyone interested, because he thinks “it’s fun to show them something that you’re interested in.” He is also in the process of planning another tour for sometime in November.

1. The Ag. Dean’s Clock: The first clock on the tour is located in the Agriculture Dean’s office in Mumford Hall. It was purchased by the College of ACES in 1906. The clock’s system failed in the 1920’s and was given a new dial in 1960. It was fully restored by Hannon in 2009. This clock has its roots in the Champaign-Urbana area, because it was created by the National Self-Winding Clock Company in Champaign.

2. The 1850’s clock of Gregor Mendel: The clock belonged to Gregor Mendel, a significant contributor to the field of genetics. A gift to the University, the clock is located in the Library Archives room in the Main Library, Hannon said.

“From 1960 to 2005, the clock was sitting down in the archives (and wasn’t running). One of the archivists told me about it, and I had to get it fixed,” Hannon said. He restored the clock in 2010.

3. The University President’s Clock: The University President’s Clock was made in the 1820s and donated to the University. Hannon recently restored the clock. This grandfather clock displays the lunar cycle above its face, and it now sits in the University President’s Office in the Henry Administration Building.

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4. The Altgeld Library Grandfather Clock: The Altgeld Library Grandfather Clock was made by the Self-Winding Clock Company of New York in the 1890s. Before the Master Clock took over, the Altgeld Library Grandfather Clock controlled all the other University clocks by sending a signal to other clocks for them to be synced.

5. Illini Union clock No. 1: There are two historic clocks inside the Union. The first is a Howard Miller Grandfather Clock, located in the lobby, which is “the longest-running clock without attendance,” Hannon said, meaning that “it doesn’t need to be re-wound as much as the other clocks.” This chain-driven clock was made in 1978.

6. Illini Union clock No. 2: The second Union clock has a moon dial and is kept in the Union’s Colonial Room. It was made in the 1890’s by German clockmaker Gustav Becker. Hannon restored it 40 years ago, and he described it as being well-built.

7. The Master (Engineering Dean’s) Clock: The Master Clock, or the Engineering Dean’s Clock, was originally built in 1898 and was restored in 2011. It controlled the campus bells and clocks from when it was built until the 1960s. The self-winding clock is kept in Engineering Hall.

Both this clock and Mendel’s clock impressed Chris Wright, tour attendee and assistant director for DNA services in the Biotechnology Center.

“It was a tie between the Master Clock, for its appearance, and the Mendel Clock for who owned it,” she said.

8. The 1878 Tower Clock: The last stop on the campus clock tour was the Tower Clock, located in the Mechanical Engineering Lab. Unlike the rest of the clocks, this clock’s face is clear, and the motion of the gears can be seen through it. It was designed and built by S.W. Robinson, the first mechanical engineering professor of the University, along with his students, primarily a student named Fred Francis. The gears were purchased by the class of 1878, which was the first four-year graduating class at the University, Hannon said. This clock was the favorite of Craig Flowers, director of computing services for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This one was by far my favorite because it has its origins here,” Flowers said. “You can see everything quite clearly,” he added in regard to the gears.

The Tower Clock is also Hannon’s favorite to show people on his tours.

“(I like to show it because) it was the longest and hardest to fix and find a place for,” he explained. “And because Fred Francis worked so hard on it.”

Abby can be reached at [email protected].