The Kit-Cat Clock: The History of an American Icon

The 1930s: Something to Smile About

The story of this cheerful clock begins in the bleak 1930s, the height of the Great Depression. With no TV, no video games, and no simple distractions, folks were left with little smile about.

In a small Oregon town in 1932, designer Earl Arnault came up with the design for the Kit-Cat Clock. The signature elements of the wagging tail pendulum, curious eyes, and a contagious, permanent smile brought a simple joy to people going through some of the hardest times ever known.

The Allied Clock Company was founded in Portland, Oregon to begin manufacturing these unique clocks. The original Kit-Cat Clocks were welded from metal before moving to plastic molding, and Allied soon moved to Seattle, Washington.

1940s–1950s: Americana

These decades gave us Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Norman Rockwell, and other cornerstones of Americana—including a clock with a wagging tail.

These years marked a booming growth for the Kit-Cat Clock’s popularity, as well as the only design changes the Kit-Cat Clock has seen in over 80 years: The forepaws were added to playfully hold the dial, the whiskers made thicker, and the tail swishier and curvier. The Kit-Cat clock—ever the gentleman—also got a neat little bowtie.

Along with these design changes, the boom in popularity made the Kit-Cat Clock an American icon, firmly establishing its pedigree as a member of the “Greatest Generation,” having weathered not only the Great Depression, but another a terrible war.

At home, his infectious smile still reminded people that there were reasons to be happy.

The 1960s: California Dreaming

The Sixties were as swingin’ as the Kit-Cat’s pendulum tail, and it was during the Swingin’ Sixties that the history of the Kit-Cat Clock took another swing. Allied Clock Company moved to California, changed its name to the California Clock Company, and along the way brought in entrepreneur Woody Young to take over as Owner & President—an owner and president who continues to keep the Kit-Cat icon going strong into the new millennium.

The 1980s: The Tomcat Loses his Leash

The American legacy of the Kit-Cat Clock was nearly lost. Even as Americans gained a newfound sense of self, American electric motor manufacturers were quietly shuttering their doors and shipping production of electric motors overseas to Asia, leaving California Clock Company and the Kit-Cat clock without an American-made electric motor powerful enough to move the Kit-Cat’s patented parts.

With no domestic battery-powered motor that could do the trick either, Woody Young and the California Clock Company did what Americans always do when faced with adversity: Adapted and overcame. It wasn’t long before the California Clock Company developed a new battery technology able to drive the mechanisms of the Kit-Cat Clock, giving way to the first battery-powered Kit-Cat Clock.

The 1990s–2000s: Colours, Kittens, and a Girlfriend

For 60 years, the Kit-Cat Clock shared the philosophy of Henry Ford: You could have any colour, so long as it was black.

The first of the Limited Colour Edition Kit-Cats were manufactured in the 1990s, starting a new tradition. Vivid colours were introduced, like “Game Day Orange” and “Game Day Blue” to celebrate collegiate sports and the “The Spirit of 76” series in red, white, and blue for the patriotic. Other colours ran from Hunter Green to Sapphire, as well as millennial clocks jeweled with Swarovski crystals.

In 1996, the Kitty-Cat Clock (a space-saving ¾-sized clock) was introduced.

In 2001, we got the answer to where those kittens came from with the introduction of the Lady Kit-Cat Clock, sporting pearls in place of a bowtie and eyelashes to frame those happy, curious eyes.

The 2010s: Past, Present, and Future

2012 marked many milestones for the Kit-Cat Clock: 80 years of Kit-Cat Clocks, 50 years in California, and 30 years with Woody Young as president. To celebrate these anniversaries, Kit-Cat sponsored the only 100% American-grown commercial float in the 2012 Pasadena Rose Parade, complete with a larger-than-life Kit-Cat Clock over another symbol of Americana, the jukebox, all brought to life with swing dancers.

In 2013, the Canadian Clock Company began importing the Kit-Cat, Kitty-Cat, and Lady Kit-Cat Clocks to Canada. Proudly Canadian, it made perfect sense to bring this American icon north, and help keep the tradition of domestically manufactured North American clocks alive.