Clinton Watch Co. & Hampden Watch Co.
Bringing the story up to date.
The Wein family, formally Weinzieher, originally emigrated to the US from Russia but it’s a little unclear how many of the family travelled with the head of the family, Hersh Wein, and how many arrived later. Hersh Wein had a large family that would diverge and go on to form important branches of the North American watch industry. Nevertheless, the foundations were established in 1904 with the incorporation of Weinstrum Watches, who became the authorised dealership of “Abra Swiss Watches” and were situated at 93 Nassau Street, New York City. Later the concern would be known as Wein Brothers. Hersh (or Hirsch) left a number of his sons and sons-in-law in the business. Family lore had it that the larger family enterprise broke up due to fighting among the wives.
Monya Wein moved to Switzerland and during WWII helped to keep the family businesses alive by scrounging enough movements and parts to send back to the families in the US and Canada. Monya’s son is Boris Vansier the artist.
Rose Wenger, nee Weinzieher, and her husband went to Montreal and in 1923 started Wenger Ltd. owners of the Cardinal Watch brand. The current President is Myer Wenger the great-grandson of Hersh.
The Canadian Wenger Watch Company (Wenger Ltd.) are not affiliated with Wenger Switzerland or their sister company Victorinox. Wenger Switzerland did not start producing watches until the late 1980s.
Morris Wein (seen above sitting on his father’s knee) would become the founder of Marathon Watch in Montreal Canada in 1939, which is run today by his grandson Mitchell Wein (family pronunciation ‘ween’).
One brother moved in New York and another went to live in Los Angeles.
Last but by no means least there was Hyman Wein, pictured right, (family pronunciation ‘wine’), born in 1888 in the city of Kiev, then a part of the Imperial Russia Empire, today the capital of the Ukraine. He was 34 years old when he emigrated to the US with his wife Susan, also known as Sasha.
He had formerly been an officer in the Russian Army and had witnessed the horrors of pogroms following the revolution.
Between 1920 and 1922 as many as 30,000 Russian soldiers, aristocrats, professionals and intellectuals left Russia as "white émigré", so named for their opposition to the Bolsheviks (Marxist, Leninist faction of Communism).
They settled in Chicago Illinois where he founded the Clinton Watch Company in 1922 at 29 East Madison Avenue. Clinton is the name of both an Illinois county and an area in Chicago. The company were like many others of that time ‘watch designers and compilers’ bringing-in movements, dials and cases and assembling them in their workshops.
Involvement in community projects runs through the three generations of the Wein family who figure in the chapter. The Wein Family Foundation, set up by Hyman in memory of his wife Susan in 1946, remains in place today and makes charitable donations to a wide variety of good causes (approx. $250,000 in 2009).
Hersh Wein and family
Photo by permission of Joseph Wein
Hyman Wein began a watch repair school for immigrants. Alfred Blum, who worked at Clinton and was well known in Chicago as “The German Watchmaker” taught there on a voluntary basis for two years in the late 1930’s. After finishing his regular job with Clinton at 5 p.m., he would teach from 6 to 9 at night. The school catered for the disabled and for war veterans.
Irving L. Wein.
Hyman’s son Irving L. Wein, born 1925, grew up in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side and at age 16 enrolled in the University of Chicago. He spent two years in the U.S. Army in Europe, as a member of the 8th Armoured Division. He also studied at the Sorbonne in France and the University of Geneva in Switzerland; afterwards he returned to Chicago to finish his degree and join the family business.
One of his earliest ventures was to set up the Josan SA company in Neuchatel, Switzerland in the 1960s (about the time the company moved it's Chicago offices to 1104 South Wabash Avenue). He assembled watches there for the next 20 years. Following on from this in the 80s he opened a watch factory in St. Croix, in the US Virgin Isles (the name St. Croix became a Hampden Corp., brand). Irving Wein was a leading lobbyist to the US Federal Trade Commission in connection with watch movement assembly in the US Virgin Isles. He sought markings clarification, arguing that it would improve the domestic industry.
A loophole in US tariff law, in the late 1950's, ment many American firms turned to watch assembling in the Virgin Islands. The loophole had stipulations. Watches could be imported duty free into the United States from there provided they did not contained foreign materials valued at more than 50% of the total value. Labour being a high proportion of manufacturing costs meant it was not difficult to meet this stipulation.
Watches assembled in the Virgin Islands started to flow into the United States in 1959. Within a decade 15 different companies had assembly plants there. Approx. half the parts, by value, used in the Virgin Islands operations came from Japan. With a further quarter came Germany. The Swiss were restricted by law from exporting parts until 1971.
By 1968 almost 15% of total American watch imports came into this country via the Virgin Islands. But then watches also started to come in from Guam and in order to limit this blossoming circumvention of tariff duties, the U.S. Government put a quota on imports limiting them to one-ninth of US consumption from the previous year. Several firms, citing the quota as one reason for their decision, shut down their Virgin Islands Plants. Hampden closed their factory there in 2008, leaving just one other company still operating.
Photo by permission of Joseph Wein
The introduction of LED/LCD Quartz Watches.
There is another phase of the Virgin Islands story which was recently relayed to me by Neal Tenhulzen. Neal had read this blog and contacted me, we exchanged emails and this is what he was able to tell me.
"Irving hired me in late 1974 after hearing about me from one of his vendors. I had just finished setting up a digital watch manufacturing plant in Korea (Handok) and was back in California working for a semiconductor company making CMOS watch chips. Irving made me an offer and I moved to Chicago to become a key member of staff alongside Len Carson, Mel Dicker, Morrie Draft and Stan Kriz, all under Irving's leadership.
Digital products were taking off and Irving wanted Hampden to get involved. We purchased the equipment and set up manufacturing at the Hampden factory in St. Croix. Gerard Karsenti was the manager there and along with about 50 girls was already assembling mechanical movements. Things went well and by 1975 we were in production making LED digital modules from kits supplied by Nortec in California. In mid 1975 we received a huge order for our LED tank watches and had to buy assembled modules from Nortec to meet the demand. We also bought Suncrux LCD modules to add a LCD watch series to our line. In my opinion the Suncrux LCD module was one of the best. By late 1976 to mid 1977 the price of digital modules had dropped dramatically. We ceased production of digital modules in St. Croix and purchased assembled modules from various suppliers.
I left Hampden in late 1978 for work back in the semiconductor biz but continued as a consultant to Irving for a few more years. I really enjoyed my days there and considered Irving a good friend. "
A collection of adverts from 1940 to 1968. These will help to identify the age of a Manheimer or Wein era watch.
1968 advert - clearly implying a link with the original Hampden company.
In 1981 Irving acquired Benrus after that venerable old American brand had gone through some troubles. The company had been sold in 1967 to Victor Kiam, of Remington Razors fame. His attempt to consolidate various manufacturing enterprises under one roof proved to be a much more expensive move than anyone calculated and was the final blow to the company which subsequently filed as bankrupt in 1977. The company passed through several hands before it came under the ownership of the Wells Benrus Corporation; it to ultimately ended in bankruptcy (Victor Kiam being the largest shareholder and creditor)and was purchased by Clinton in 1981.
The Benrus watch brand was sold to catalogue showrooms and mass merchants until the sale of the business in 1995 to Bernie Mermelstein of M.Z. Berger & Company, with headquarters in Long Island City, NY,. M.Z. Berger also, separately, acquired the Trade Marks of three other old American watch companies, Elgin, Waltham and Gruen.
Clinton had changed its name to Benrus in 1981 but following the sale in 1995, the name was changed again, this time to it's current one, Hampden Corporation. In light of the subsequent Monica Lewinsky scandal, this choice proved to have been an astute one; for a long time the name Clinton may not have immediately evoked thoughts of fine timekeeping. Pity in a way because a President William Clinton model would have been in keeping with the Dueber-Hampden President William McKinley model.
It was during the Benrus era, 1989, that the company move to their current location in West Carroll Avenue.
I was interested to know what wristwatch Irving wore. His son Joe said that his father wore a variety of watches, “Oddly, (or perhaps not) he never fell in love with any particular watch. He’d wear one of our newer models, or whatever was lying around”. I asked Joe what watch he wore "Haha – right now I’m wearing one of Mitchell’s watches... a Marathon" he told me.
My collecting interest finishes with the demise of the mechanical watch and what more apt way to finishing than to draw your attention to Electric Watches. I am lucky enough to have three, two Hampden & one Clinton in my collection. Electric watches should not be mistaken for Quartz watches, whilst both are battery powered, electric watches have jeweled mechanical movements. These watches only lasted for a short period between the development of the cell battery and the advent of quartz movements which were cheaper to produce. I am grateful to top enthusiast Paul Wirdnam who provides details of the watch movements on his website at Electric Watches. In addition to containing excellent information generally he also catalogues his own Clinton and all but identical Baylor (the latter has no connection to Clinton or Hampden) models.
Hampden & Clinton Electric watches
Joseph H. Wein & Hampden today.
The third generation, Joseph H. Wein, took over the business when his father died in 2002, continuing his family’s ownership of the Hampden name. An association that has lasted for nearly 60 years, greatly exceeding the 40 years it was owned by the Dueber family.
Joe Wein was born on January 5, 1961 in Chicago, he grew up in the family business and learned all the traditions that had guided it throughout its long history. When it was his turn to take the reins, he is said to have questioned everything. He applied modern economic principles and forward-thinking process innovation, an approach that has ensured Hampden continues to be successful.
Joe & his wife Dr. Michele Sackheim Wein (right), also carry on the family tradition of supporting community organisations and have won awards for their work.
And so my story ends.
This site is non-commercial and not sponsored in any way, but I include a Hampden Watch Corp., banner below for the following reason. My URL "hampdenwatches.com" could easily deflect searchers seeking their site "hampdenwatch.com" and yet they have not objected. On the contrary they have been most helpful in making archive information available to me. Click it to link to their site.