You know the clock, even if you don't know the name. That black-and-white cat with oversized white eyes perched in kitchens and kitsch dens. The eyes tick-tock back and forth, counting the seconds; the tail swings along in sync. Its infectious grin is second only to the Cheshire Cat.
Earl Arnault invented the Kit-Cat Clock during the Great Depression in a small town in Oregon in 1932. Known for its big, happy grin (originally just a simple U-shape), the cat clock was the "Keep On Truckin'" logo of its day. (Serious question: You think a clock can quell the crippling anxiety we feel as today's American middle class disappears? I have more faith in a novelty clock than our Treasury Department goons. Just sayin'.)
The Allied Clock Co. in Portland originally manufactured the clocks, which were made of metal and plugged into the wall. Production soon switched to Bakelite, an early plastic that is absolutely one of the sexiest man-made materials ever. The cat came in a small variety of colors: pink, baby blue, red, yellow. Glow-in-the-dark eyes were added until government regulations declared the material used to be radioactive.
It was in the post-war era, though, that Kit-Cat became the top cat. The Baby Boom and the great American suburban sprawl meant lots of new families and lots of new houses—ergo, lots of new spaces to decorate. The clock became synonymous with mid-century kitchens and kitsch, though the design is technically from the Art Deco era. His simple color scheme and clean lines fit nicely in both aesthetics—the hallmark of a timeless design.
Kit-Cat is often mistaken as a Felix the Cat clock, and while they bear a striking resemblance, there's no official affiliation. In fact, Felix was quite passé by the time Kit-Cat hit the scene in 1932—more of a relic of the silent-film era at the time. Like many silent-film stars, Felix didn't quite transition well into the "talkies" of the '30s. Betty Boop sends her regards.
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But Felix did enjoy a resurgence in the 1950s, as did Kit-Cat—and it's probably not a coincidence. During that time, Allied added paws at the top of the clock face for a new total of four, plus a bow tie for good measure. Save for the addition of the Kit-Cat logo and the switch from a plug-in model to batteries, the clock hasn't changed much since then.
In 1962, production moved to Southern California and Allied became the California Clock Co. Exactly 20 years later, Fountain Valley resident and entrepreneur Woody Young purchased the company, then located in San Juan Capistrano, and moved its headquarters to Fountain Valley. The California Clock Co. had a stint in Torrance and three in Santa Ana, while production currently takes place in Ontario. But the official Kit-Cat Fan Club, headed by Young, is still based in Fountain Valley. The company strives to keep Kit-Cat American made, just as it was from the start.
At 85 years old, the clock keeps on ticking: It's estimated a Kit-Cat Clock has been sold every three minutes for the past 50 years.