The Cincinnati Union Terminal Clock

The Cincinnati Union Terminal Clock

There are many great people and resources who have done a terrific job gathering resources, facts, and images of the Union terminal over the decades. It is not our intention to recreate the story of the Cincinnati Union Terminal, or assemble the vast resources onto one blog; instead, we aim to acknowledge and share the resources by linking to them while discussing in our blog what we find tremendously important. The links will open in a new tab for you to visit these great resources that Cincinnatians and others have done on their own, so be sure to see the embedded links throughout this article for the great resources directly and their historical assets.

James Billiter Illustration of Cincinnati Union Terminal

Who Designed The Union Terminal Clock?

The clock was built by the Seth Thomas Company. But who designed the clock?

The first question I and others had about the CUT clock is "Who Designed It"? We know that the clock was part of the design of the building and that Paul Cret was hired on by the New York architectural firm to add a new emerging design concept, art deco', to the design of the train station. But was it Paul Cret who drew the design of the clock? Was it a team inside of the architectural firm? Or even one of the other renowned architects? No one seems to mention precisely who drew the design for the Union Terminal Clock. Safe to say it was the Seth Thomas Company who designed the Union Terminal Clock. 

Union Terminal Co. hired French-born Philadelphia architect Paul Cret to advise on aesthetics. A leading architect of the time, he’s believed to have influenced the move away from neoclassical to Art Deco. - 
Working with Roland Wank of the New York firm of Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, Philadelphia-based architect Paul Philippe Cret conceived the modern design of the terminal building.

The Union Terminal Art Deco Clock Part of Original Blueprints

Union Terminal Clock Blueprints of clock and half-dome

Union Terminal Cincinnati Ohio Blueprints of Clock



Blueprints Tell The Tale

The art deco clock on the exterior front face of the Cincinnati Union Terminal was part of the original art deco design by the New York architecture firm Fellheimer and Wagner, who specialized in train stations. Fellheimer and Wagner had a team of architects on the design and brought on Paul Cret specifically to add the art deco exterior design to a previously established traditional gothic design. It is believed that Paul Cret is responsible for the exterior art deco design and he, in our opinion, is the most likely person to be responsible for the design of the Union Terminal Clock.

Architect: Alfred T. Fellheimer of Fellheimer and Wagner.

Architectural Project Manager: Roland Anthony Wank of Fellheimer and Wagner;

Architectural Critic and Adviser on the exterior appearance of the building: Paul Cret;

Mural Designers: Winold Reiss and Pierre Bourdelle;

Exterior pilaster relief designs: Maxfield Keck

Designer of the Rookwood Tea Room: William Hentschel


The Union Terminal Clock Specifications

  • Clock face measures 18 feet across
  • Minute hand – 7 feet, 4 inches
  • Hour hand – 6 feet, 4 inches
  • The clock face is composed of 28 amber glass panels of various sizes and 24 red glass panels to demarcate the twelve-hour positions (Indices)
  • The clock face is backlit while the hands are lit by neon tubes outlining them
  • The hands are made out of Aluminum
  • The Clock weighs roughly 5 Tons or 10,000 Pounds! 

The Clock was connected to IBM's brilliant time synchronizing mechanism first revealed at the opening of the Union Terminal. That is, no matter who you are or where you were in the Union Terminal, you knew exactly what the station time was for everyone. Imagine the chaos otherwise, the office clocks minutes behind the trainman's clock? All of the clocks in the Union Terminal were synced in a brilliant machine looked at in more details here.

In 1933 The Clock Hands Are "Skeletonized"

Below is an image from 1933 of The Union Terminal Clock showing that the hands are see-through, aka "skeletonized". Only the frame of the hands comprises the hands. We have been told in unconfirmed reports that the clock after the restoration will again have Skeletonized hands in 2018. We shall see! (UPDATE! Yes, the Union Terminal clock now has skeletonized hands, a return to their original form. Prior to 2018 (CONFIRM DATE), they had a white background between the steel that helped project the light from the neon tubes on the minute and hour hands. 

Union Terminal Clock in 1933 with skeleton hands

The 2018 Restoration of the Clock.

The Verdin Clock Co was trusted with the restoration of the Union Terminal Clock. Verdin has been operating our of Cincinnati since 1842. The 52 glass panels and the large iconic aluminum hands were taken down and replaced with white material to support the metal frame of the clock dial while the glass, and metal dial framework, are being cleaned.

"Why is the Union Terminal Clock Missing?" Article on WVXU.

Union Terminal Clock Restoration in 2018


Below is a picture of The Union Terminal Clock Hands At Verdin in Cincinnati being cleaned during the 2018 restoration.

Union Clock Tower Hands During Renovation by Verdin in Cincinnati, Ohio

Union Clock Tower Hands During Renovation by Verdin in Cincinnati, Ohio



In the May 2018 update of the Union Terminal restoration the video shares a brief close-up of the clock with the clock face removed, a worker for scale, and the internal gear mechanism being reinstalled. 


The "New" Verdin Company factory on Eastern Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Look through the windows the next time you are passing by, you never know what you'll see standing up in there!

Verdin Factory on Eastern Ave Cincinnati

Below you see the Cincinnati Union Terminal's clock hands after NeonWorks Of Cincinnati installed the signature neon outline on the hour and minute hands during the July 2018 restoration.

The hands will now go back to Cincinnati's Verdin company where they will be balanced and finished. Neonworks of Cincinnati used The American Sign Museum's workshop for the repair of the hands.

A Change To The Look of The Clock is Coming.

We have been told by Neonworks Of Cincinnati that the hands are to be returned to their original "skeletonized" version, or see through.

If this is correct then the hands will not have white in the middle of the hands but instead will be see-through, only the aluminum frame of the hands outlined in neon light will be part of the hands. (Update. Indeed the clock was released with the skeletonized hands. Will they one day be updated?)

At some point in the history of the clock white, possibly aluminum?, plates were added to the center sections of the hands giving them a fun modern feel. Neon tubes were added to the perimeter of the hands; together they gave the impression from afar that the clock hands were red-orange.


Neonworks Of Cincinnati working on replacing the neon tubes on the clock's hands. Picture was taken at the American Sign Museum's workshop.


The Union Terminal Watch

When Cincinnatian Rick Bell designed The Union Terminal Watch, he made great efforts to ensure the hands were the correct color, look, and shape of the hands of the CUT clock.  He made a great effort to ensure to include the white circle second-hand cap.

Two variations of the Cincinnati Watch dial were presented to the Union Terminal President, Elizabeth Pierce, and the watch you see is the version selected. There is only one of the version not chosen, Rick has it.

The Union Terminal holds special meaning to all Cincinnatians, especially with Mark Stegman, one of the co-owners of Cincinnati Watch Co. His Grandfather, Joe Haworth, and his Great Grandfather "Timer", worked at the Union Terminal essentially from it's opening till 1955. 

Joe Haworth said that the best seat in the house for Cincinnati Reds Opening Day at Crosley Field was from "Sitting on top of the Union Terminal clock".

Cincinnati Watch Company is honored to give to the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal with every purchase of a Union Terminal Watch. 

How the Union Terminal clock works:

Essentially: the clock uses weight and gears to keep time. Originally, tower clocks were hand wound, today, electricity is used to engage a motor every thirty (30) minutes to pull a heavy-weight up. The weight is pulled down by the force of gravity, which is the force turning the gears. A ticking escapement keeps the weight from unwinding in nearly perfect time. The clock's minute hand ticks a half minute once every 30 seconds, Two "clicks" a minute. Seeing the Union Terminal clock's movement kick on is amazing. This video is the one we took. There is a great GIF of a Cincinnatian Photographer that captures the movement's action wonderfully. 



A cool video of the clock by the CMC



Cincinnati Union Terminal Clock Resources

Historical photos of the Union Terminal exterior

Below are links to a two-part blog post detailing a tour of above the rotunda, the Clock and going behind the scenes at CUT.

2013 Blog Focused on Art Deco design of the CUT.

Questions We Still Have:

Seth Thomas Company built the Clock. Did they work on the design of the clock? We would love to pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the CUT Clocks design.

Who was the 1989 donor who got the clock going again with their own private time and money?

What year did the hands on the clock get fixed with neon and have the space between the hands filled in with white?

What will the clock look like when Verdin completes the restoration? Stay tuned because The Cincinnati Watch Company has just been invited to tour the Verdin clock company and see firsthand what the Union Terminal Clock is going to look like! See VERDIN TOUR BLOG HERE.

- Update: Verdin Tour

WOW. Update 2022

To Tour Verdin is to tour Wonka Factory 
- Union Terminal Clock Tour

- Final Clock Look and Perspective