California Clockmaker Animates Time

Americana, Made in America, Traditions
on March 9, 2008
John Hayes Woody Young, owner of California Clock Co., mimics the rolling eyes of the whimsical, timeless timepieces.

When the Kit-Cat Klock debuted in 1932, its wide grin, rolling eyes and wagging tail brought a moment of joy to Depression-weary Americans. Today, the nostalgic timepiece continues to amuse clock-watchers of all ages.

Kit-Cat brings out the smile in you. Thats what its all about, says Woody Young, owner of the California Clock Co., which manufactures the animated clocks in Torrance, Calif.

From its first ticks after Earl Arnault designed the clock for Allied Manufacturing Co. in Portland, Ore., Kit-Cat has delighted children and adults alike. By the 1950s, it was the clock that everyone had. Absolutely millions of them were sold, says Young, 63, who bought the rights and equipment to build the clock in 1982.

Through the generations, Kit-Cats merry mug and body havent changed much, though a bow tie and top paws were added to the friendly feline in 1952. Originally, the clocks were windups, then progressed to electrical in the 1940s and to battery-operated in 1990. Early Kit-Cats were made of Bakelite, a forerunner of plastic, and sold for $3.95. Todays models start at $39.95 and are among the few clocks made in America.

Im adamant about keeping this all-American, Young says. Were the caretakers of a precious part of Americana.

Each of the clocks piecesbody, tail, eyes, clock hands and the part that connects the eyes and tailis made separately by machines that press plastic pellets into steel molds at the factory in Torrance. The cats faces are painted by hand and every clock is tested to ensure that its tail and eyes move in sync with the seconds.

Twenty employees manufacture the tens of thousands of Kit-Cats that are sold each year either directly by the company or in specialty stores, such as furniture and home decor shops and gift boutiques. The company also sells parts for vintage and modern models as well as refurbished electrical Kit-Cats.

Each year, California Clock Co., headquartered in Fountain Valley (pop. 54,978), produces Kit-Cat and his partner, Lady Kit-Cat, in a different color, which is limited to that years production. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the company also made animated poodle-, owl- and bear-shaped clocks, but only the Kit-Cat survives.

Its not just another clock, Young says. To many women in the 50s, this was a companion. They would cook meals and talk to Kit-Cat. Over and over I hear stories of the memories of these clocks.

Todays customers include collectors like Pat Rebenschied, 75, who has been enchanted by the whimsical clocks since childhood. The clocks were always behind the counter at truck stops, says Rebenschied, who recalls seeing Kit-Cats smiling face on family vacations.

I was a little girl and they looked gigantic to me. Now she keeps eight Kit-Cats wagging in her kitchen in Collinsville, Ill. (pop. 24,707), because they bring back good memories.

Rebenschied is among thousands of fans smitten by the time-keeping kittens. Some 15,000 fans belong to the Kit-Cat Fan Club and receive the company newsletter in which they share memories and stories about the beloved clocks.

People say, I saw this clock when I was a child at my grandmas house or my aunts house and I always remembered it, says David Black, 66, who has worked as a California Clock Co. customer service representative for 10 years. We have second- and third-generation customers.

For 76 years, Kit-Cats purposeto provide a lighthearted moment along with the correct timehas endured, and the Kit-Cat Fan Club creed that Young wrote in 1984 is as timely as ever:

Put a smile on everyones face,
Love in everyones heart,
Energy in everyones body,
And be a positive force in everyones life!