The Lawson Clock Story is still missing some
details but thanks to contributions from Henry
Fenenbock, Dr. Neil Kuns and Dana Slawson we now
have many more pieces of the puzzle.
If you are interested in obscure 20th century
history, I think you'll find the story interesting.
If you just want to know who the Lawson designers
Fehrer & Adomatis were, you can skip to "Is my
K.E.M. Weber clock really a Paul Feher
It's commonly assumed the products of Lawson Clocks
Limited, established c.1934 are among the very
first digital clocks. And it's a good guess, what
with the 1930's interest in speed and streamlining.
But as with many facets of the Lawson story, what
seems to make sense doesn't happen to be true.
Digital clocks were available at least as early as
1903, when Eugene Fitch patented his Plato
Of course, the Plato clock was what we would call
today a "flip" clock. Cyclometer clocks--clocks
that displayed the time on rotating drums
(wheels)--first appeared in the 1930s and
were produced by several companies. However, just
two, the Pennwood Company and
Lawson Time, Inc. would produce them for decades.
The invention that made Lawson clocks possible came
from F. A. Greenawalt. From the Circleville (Ohio)
Herald, June 2, 1933:
ODD CLOCK- The clock has lost its face and hands. That
is the result of an
invention by Frederick A. Greenawalt of Pittsburgh
who has perfected a contrivance which tells time by
figures. After two years work Greenawalt achieved
his aim using three drums of different size and
bearing figures. The piece is electrically
controlled and works much similar to an automobile
an employee of the Pennwood Company of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, filed hiscyclometer clock patent
on March 10, 1933. Close on his heels, Edgar
Bourquin, tireless inventor for the Warren
Telechron Company, filedhiscyclometer clock
on July 6. In one of many odd coincidences in the
Lawson story, both inventors received their patents
the same day, February 12, 1935.
If it matters, it's likely Greenawalt was first
because he claimed his patent application was a
"continuation" of an application filed in 1932.
Both Lawson and Pennwood used Greenawalt's
mechanism and clocks were available in 1934, prior
to the issuance of Greenawalt's patent, but more
about this later. Let's start in 1934, when Lawson
Clocks Limited opened for business....
1934 was dismal. The Depression wore on and it was
obvious it wouldn't be over anytime soon. One
bright spot, the Chicago Worlds Fair, an early
showcase of the streamline moderne style that would
be used for many Lawson clocks, was wrapping up. In
another coincidence in the Lawson story, a
concessionaire at the fair, Henry Fenenbock, would
eventually be the owner of Lawson Time, Inc.
But for now, in 1934, unemployment was at 25%.
There was no social safety net to speak of. The
federal government began insuring bank deposits up
to $2500 but this was no help to those who had lost
everything in the crash of 1929.
In the midst of this long nightmare, Lindley
Spencer Lawson and his son Harold opened Lawson
Clocks Limited at 2329 W. Washington Blvd., Los
Angeles. You may wonder why someone would start a
business making fancy novelty clocks under these
circumstances. And where would the money come from?
To take the second question first, it appears money
wasn't an issue. Lawson Clocks Ltd. was an offshoot
of a much larger, older and highly successful
business, the Lawson Manufacturing Company
established in Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1901.
Lawson Manufacturing made gas water heaters, room
heaters and stoves. It was a very good business. In
1914, Lawson built a bigger factory in nearby
Pittsburgh and by the 1920s, there were factories
in London and Paris as well.
even with money available, why do it? I can only
speculate but I think the key is Los Angeles. Even
in the worst years of the Depression there were
people who did well, and many of them were in Los
Angeles. Not just in the movie business, but also
oil, real estate, vice, and people of means who
moved to California for their health--sunshine,
oranges and fresh air. Whatever the reason, it was
a canny decision to make the clocks in L.A. where
non-traditional things were appreciated and at
least some people could afford them. For reference,
A Lawson Zephyr, listed at $27.50 in 1938 would
cost $421.05 in 2010 dollars. And it wasn't the
most expensive model!
What about K.E.M. Weber? Having mentioned the
Zephyr clock, I might as well address KEM Weber's
connection to Lawson Time, which appears minimal.
Three things are known. First, he made some
drawings for Lawson. Second, no clocks have
surfaced that match any existing drawings. Third,
it's unlikely that people selling Lawson clocks
today will abandon their claims that Weber designed
their clock if they think it will lead to a higher
One thing it seems certain KEM Weber did NOT design
is the Zephyr clock--in part because the Lawson
catalog says he didn't--but for other reasons as
well. I've written a long explanation of this but
unless you are very familiar with early Lawson
clocks its simply too much detail to go into here.
For another take on this, see theLACMA blog.
Before I move on to whodid
design the clocks, for those of you who see KEM
Weber's modernistic hand in every Lawson design let
me point out that some were far from modern in
By the way, it seems Lindley Lawson was himself a
capable modern designer. His 1930 drawing for a
heater looks like a rocketship!
Is my K.E.M. Weber clock really a Paul Feher
clock? I think so.
The Lawsons clearly understood the value of good
design and in making their designer's
names known. The earliest Lawson catalog to
surface, 1938, shows models that would be produced
for years, both before and after the war, yet none
of the early "pre-patent" clocks appears. Why?
Enter designers "Ferher and Adomatis".
My first thought was that Ferher was Paul Feher,
the brilliant Hungarian designer and
metalsmith who worked worked at the Rose Iron Works
in Cleveland. Initially, I dismissed
this for two reasons. (1) The different spelling of
the name and (2) I knew that, lacking
work, Feher left Cleveland in the 1930s and
returned to Hungary. What Ididn't
that, finding things no better in Hungary, Feher
returned to the U.S. and this time he went to...Los
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Paul Feher
was in Los Angeles in the early days of Lawson
Time. But for now, let's assume that Paul Feher,
with his extraordinary skill in metalwork, and
specialization in Art Deco design was the "Ferher"
on the Lawson catalog.
The other player in our story, Adomatis, has been
identified by the Yale University Art Gallery as
George H. Adomaitis (sic?), a somewhat obscure
designer. Here, I believe Lawson got the spelling
right because there are references to George
Adomatis (Lawson's spelling), first in Cleveland
and then in Los Angeles, each at exactly the right
We now come to two more all but impossible
coincidences. You'll recall, Paul Feher worked in
Cleveland but ended up in Los Angeles c.1935.
George Adomatis, positively identified as one of
the Lawson designers, was also from Cleveland. And
in the 1936 Los Angeles phone directory, we find
So, we have Lawson Clocks established in 1934. We
then have Paul Feher ("Ferher") and George Adomatis
(possibly Adomaitis), both from Cleveland, both
relocating to Los Angeles
c.1935 and both appearing in the Lawson catalog of
1938. It also makes sense that Feher, the more
prominent of the two, would receive top billing.
Finally, it seems the name spelled "Ferher" is rare
almost to the point of being nonexistent; if you
Google "Mr. Ferher", it will substituteFeher
in the search results.
Here are photos of Feher's extraordinary screen
that served as the centerpiece of the Smithsonian's
American Art Deco exhibit in 1988. Also, a Feher
table. Many art experts consider Paul Feher's work
to be the pinnacle of American Art Deco.
Extraordinary metalwork from Paul Feher. Above: A
screen; Top right: a Feher table; Bottom right:
we leave the topic of design, I should mention that
many Lawson clocks have parts in common. Some model
variations are so minor, there may have been no
designer at all. It may not be obvious, but this
simple and attractive model 200 and the jazzier
model 202 are the same clock except that the 202
substitutes a lacquered wood base with a metal
strip instead of the ball feet on the 200.
In addition to Paul Feher and George Adomatis,
another important figure in the Lawson clock story
arrived in Los Angeles around 1936. Henry
Fenenbock, the young entrepreneur who sold souvenir
turtles at the Chicago Worlds Fair also made his
way to L.A. In those days, good penmanship and a
high quality fountain pen were essential for
successful businessmen and Henry, who had always
been interested in pens, opened Swanee's Pen
Hospital (named after a favorite song). "Swanee" as
Henry would come to be known, would go on to build
a huge business, becoming the largest Parker Pen
dealer in the world, ultimately owning a part of
Parker and all of Lawson Time. (Henry also tried
his hand in real estate, purchasing a commercial
building in a newly developed area called Beverly
Hills. This investment turned out rather well also,
but that's a story for another time).
The cases for Lawson's metal clocks were crafted by
Crown City Plating in Pasadena, owned by Harold E.
Coombes. In 1940, Coombes acquired Lawson Time and
consolidated production, relocating the Los Angeles
facility to Pasadena, directly across the alley
from the plating works, at 165 South Fair Oaks
The arrival of World War II interrupted clock
production, with the Lawson/Crown City facility
turning its attention to anodizing, airplane parts
and rivets for the war effort. Records show that
shortly after the war, the business was sold again,
this time to John Beall.
Meanwhile, Henry Fenenbock's pen business continued
to grow and, always on the lookout for a for a good
opportunity, he became the fourth and final owner
of Lawson Time in 1948, relocating the business to
1109 S. Freemont, in Alhambra, California. The
factory had excess capacity so Henry set up an
operation making Onyx and black glass desk sets for
With Parker Pen's steady orders coming in, Henry
was able to continue producing beautiful Lawson
clocks. To the surprise (and some dismay) of Lawson
collectors, the Lawson Alhambra facility continued
making distinctly Art Deco clocks until sometime in
the late 1960s and and the walnut case clocks were
produced in small quantities until the mid-1970s!
With this long run, it's no surprise the majority
of Lawson clocks were made in Alhambra.
With their sleek designs, largely unchanged
throughout the years, Lawson clocks are unusual
examples of how the streamline style kept a loyal
following from post-Depression Art Deco, through
1950s aerodynamics and finally, the space
And what about the Lawson (heater) Manufacturing
Company that started it all?
It seems everyone in the Lawson clock story ended
up in Los Angeles. Lindley Lawson retired from the
Lawson Manufacturing Company and moved from
Pittsburgh to L.A., where he passed away on May 12,
1954. His son Lynn ran Lawson Manufacturing until
December 1959, when it was sold to Wilson Brothers,