Early Sunday, we will turn our clocks back an hour as daylight saving time ends. The La Crosse County Historical Society’s featured artifact this week also turns back the clock — more than 80 years.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, the nation was ready for change. The country was in mired in the Great Depression, with the nation’s jobless nearing 20 percent and hundreds of thousands of people living in shantytowns called “Hoovervilles,” named for the unpopular previous president, Herbert Hoover.
Roosevelt campaigned for a New Deal for the common man, and he gave hope to many who were down and out. His theme song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” became the most popular song in the country. The time seemed right for showing support for a new president.
Roosevelt’s landslide victory over Hoover inspired the Gibraltar Electric Clock Co. of Jersey City, N.J., to create a souvenir clock to commemorate the new president’s election. This clock features Roosevelt standing behind a ship’s wheel, symbolizing him steering the ship of state. On the base below the wheel are “Roosevelt” and the words “At the Wheel for a New Deal.” The wheel holds an electric clock with a plain white clock face. Made of cast pot metal, this clock stands 13½ inches tall and still has its original electrical cord.
There were a number of variations of this clock. Some were a warm pewter tone, like the one shown here, while others had a bronze finish. The company made another version of the clock with a large eagle next to Roosevelt. The company used the same Roosevelt figure for an electric lamp. There was a similar clock manufactured by a different company that featured Roosevelt standing on the opposite side of a ship’s wheel.
Roosevelt certainly was the man of the hour.
Like all novelties, these whimsical clocks were made of inexpensive materials and probably sold at low cost. Their appeal today is not political but as antiques. Time has not completely healed these 80-year-old political wounds, but its passage has turned these old clocks into timeless artifacts.
Don’t forget to turn your clocks back tonight. It’s your opportunity to travel one hour back in time.