Simplex Time History
In 1894, a young engineer named E. G. Watkins patented an invention created at the request of his employer. Little did Watkins know that his time recorder would become the cornerstone of an inter-national business that, 110 years later, would still be setting standards for the industry.
Looking back on the history that has created the Simplex of today, it is clear the basic values that contributed to the company’s start continue to fuel its success. The ingenuity of Edward Goodrich Watkins has been carried forth to new levels with a variety of products that now bear the Simplex name. And the sense of family in-stilled in the company by its original founder has been success-fully preserved by the three generations of Watkins who have headed the ever-changing business. First “Simplex” Is Patented
E. G. Watkins patented his first time clock in 1894. The achievement came after eight years of research, trials and modifications to one of his first project assignments in his engineering career. After his graduation from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts in 1886, Watkins was employed in the engineering department of Heywood Brothers & Co. (later Heywood-Wakefield Co. ) There, he was asked to research and recommend a time recorder for use in the furniture manufacturer’s plants.
The young engineer was not satisfied with any of the options available on the market, however, and decided to build his own time recorder. Watkins’ first time recorder was put into operation in his own department: That early clock was difficult to use and was limited in the number of employees it could service. Un-daunted, Watkins continued to research and modify the device. Finally, in 1894, he met with true success. It was this year that Watkins created the first “Simplex,” so named because it was easy to use. And this clock, with its long cylinder interior allowing several employees to clock in on one unit, began the legacy of innovative products that has been carried through the past 110 years.
The first Simplex clock captured the interest of a growing industrial nation. It featured a bell which rang when a button was pushed and a clock face so workers could check the time. Another unique feature was the clock’s movement, which relied on a 100-beat Seth-Thomas marine movement clock rather than the traditional 60-beat clock. Heywood Brothers & Co. embraced Watkins ideas, funding a Time Recorder Division to begin manufacturing the devices under the Simplex name during the same year-1894. Originally, there were three models: Number 0 could accommodate 30 people and sold for $35; Number 1 clocked 50 people and sold for $50; and Number 2, which accommodated 100 people, sold for $75.
While Simplex was not yet a totally separate entity, the ground-work was set. It was only a matter of time before the growing company was ready to support itself. The time recorder market was a popular one in the late 1800s. Several companies were manufacturing the new devices that had quickly become a necessity in workplaces everywhere. Watkins proposed to Heywood Brothers & Co. that the patents and machinery be sold to him, so he could focus completely on that business. With the furniture manufacturer’s agreement came the independence of Simplex and complete freedom to run it as the Watkins’ family business.
A Home of Its Own In order to raise capital, E.G. Watkins sold the patents and machinery to his new company, incorporating it under Massachusetts law on January 15, 1902 as Simplex Time Recorder Co. Offices and a factory were set up in Gardner to proceed with the manufacturing of time recorders. Within just a few months, it was determined that an office and distribution point were necessary in Chicago to serve the industrialized middle west.
For the next several years, Simplex’s sales and assets steadily grew and were periodically boosted by more inventions. One such surge came in 1912 when E.G. Watkins revolutionized the time-recording industry with the development of a card-model time recorder. Workers used this new device to record work time by inserting individual “time-cards” into the recorders. The cards were then stored in an adjacent card rack.
In August of 1993, E. G. Watkins II further reinforced Simplex Time Recorder Co.’s commitment to future growth. He signed a purchase and sales agreement for the former Digital building, a 650,000 square foot facility located just minutes from Simplex’s Gardner headquarters.
This commitment clearly illustrates to Simplex employees, the Gardner community and the world that this company’s first 100 years are just the beginning. Mastering the concept of centrally controlled building management systems. To keep pace with the company’s growth, Curt continually expanded the Gardner facility and opened branch offices around the globe. In 1963, to further strengthen Simplex’s world market position, wholly owned subsidiaries were opened in Canada and Australia.
Original Simplex factory – 1902
In 1916, new directors were elected to the board, including Dr. Robert Watkins, E.G. Watkins’ brother from New York City, who became Simplex’s sales manger. With new funding, Simplex acquired WH. Bundy Time Recorder Company of Binghamton, New York and Syracuse Time Card of Syracuse, New York. Both operations were moved to Gardner, giving Simplex a complete line of time clocks and cards, including card recorders, watchman’s clocks and payroll recorders. While the Bundy line added little to manufacturing, it did enhance the customer base and sales staff. Simplex was growing.
Curtis G. Watkins
At the same time, E. G. Watkins’ family was growing. Married to Blanche Wetherell in 1899, the couple had five children. Two of the children, twins Paul and Pauline died in infancy. Helen, Jessica and Curtis, however, grew up in Gardner where Curtis was a familiar presence at his father’s company. After working summers in virtually every department at Simplex during the years that he attended Columbia University, the younger Watkins joined the company full-time in 1928. He initially served as branch sales manager in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago. He then traveled throughout the United States and abroad opening factory branch offices and establishing new overseas agencies. Curtis Watkins earned the position of general sales manager in Gardner in 1938, the same year he was named a vice president of the company.
It was 1958 that marked what is without a doubt Curt’s most important achievement for the company-the purchase of the IBM Time Recorder Division.
By 1942, though still relatively small with about 150 workers in the factory, Simplex had continued steady growth. In December of that year, however, Simplex experienced a major change-the death of E.G. Watkins. Curtis Watkins, well-prepared with more than a decade of experience, stepped into the leadership role. Unlike the engineering path followed by his father, Curt chose to focus on marketing and sales expansion, his primary business interest during his early years with the company. The new president and chief executive officer saw opportunities for Simplex in the world market, which led to the opening of factories in Trinidad, England and West Germany.
By 1950, Simplex had also entered a new field, manufacturing and marketing centrally-controlled time systems for educational facilities, hospitals and public buildings, as well as for business and industry. It was 1958, however, that marked what is without a doubt Curt’s most important achievement for the company-the purchase of the IBM Time Recorder Division. Considering that this division of International Business Machines recorded almost four times the total sales volume of the entire Simplex company, Curt’s orchestration of this acquisition was no small achievement.
Not only did the IBM purchase boost Simplex’s time recorder and master clock sales but it also diversified the product line. With the IBM Time Equipment Division came new fire alarm system technology, which opened a whole new era in Simplex history. The company rapidly achieved a position of leadership in the industry,
E. G. Watkins II
When Curt died in 1967, he left a strong, diversified organization with world wide sales and manufacturing, a company that Curt’s son, E.G. Watkins II, has carried into a progressively high-tech world. Named for his grandfather, the young E. G. Watkins, known as Chris, had been working full-time at Simplex for nearly a decade before he took over the reins of the presidency. With experience in all aspects of the Simplex operation, from customer engineering, service and sales, to the position of vice president, E.G. Watkins II was ready to meet the challenges of the 1970s, through to the ’90s and beyond. To prepare for Simplex’s growth, the company’s third president dramatically enlarged business headquarters in Gardner. In the mid-’70s the former Thayer Company complex was taken over and converted to further expand headquarters and increase the size of the manufacturing plant. Throughout the rapid growth of the ’80s, Simplex set the pace for the industry with the addition of multi-function multiplex systems.