It's no secret that Alexander Hamilton was one of the most productive men of his age (or any other, for that matter.) In his short life, he wrote letters by thousand, juggled complicated matters of government policy, handled precedent-setting legal cases, and created most of the basis for the American financial system. It's not surprising that during the Revolution, he became General George Washington's favorite aide-de-camp on his personal staff. Hamilton got things DONE.
As the country's first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton oversaw the largest single office in the federal government at the time, and he expected his clerks and other employees to share his ferocious work ethic. Even during the onslaught of Philadelphia's Yellow Fever epidemic in 1793 - a terrifying disease that claimed hundreds of people, rich and poor - many of Hamilton's clerks continued to report for work until the office was officially closed.
All of which increases the significance of this tall case clock. From my photograph, it's difficult to tell just how large the clock actually is - except, of course, that it was too big for my phone to capture in its entirety. The word "tall" in its description is something of an understatement: according to the New-York Historical Society (which owns it), the clock stands 124", or over ten feet in height. Made of gleaming mahogany, the case of the clock is inlaid with sixteen stars, representing the sixteen states in the union at the time the clock was made in 1796.
Traditionally the clock is said to have been commissioned by Hamilton for the Bank of New York, which he had established in 1784. He had a similar one made by the same New York clockmaker, Robert Joyce, for the First Bank in Philadelphia. These banks were grand, imposing buildings, and the towering clocks would have been designed to fit the space. Clocks represented efficiency, an admirable quality in a bank, and a clock of this size with its expensive cabinetry case would also have suggested prosperity and permanence.
Still, I can't help but imagine the effect that such a clock's size and relentless ticking must have had on the clerks who toiled nearby. Each click of the hand must have been an unending reminder of Hamilton's own determination to squeeze as much as he could into every minute - a daunting expectation in any workplace.
Tall case clock, by Robert Joyce, c1796, New-York Historical Society. Photograph ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.
I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott will be published September 26, 2017, by Kensington Books. Pre-order now.