The familiar octagonal Colgate clock, facing Manhattan and visible from the Wagner Park riverside walk in Battery Park City, dates back to 1924 when it was set in motion on December 1 by Jersey City’s Mayor Frank Hague. Located on the former site of Colgate-Palmolive & Company, it is a reminder of the time when factories dominated the Jersey City’s waterfront. The clock’s design was inspired by the shape of a bar of Octagon Soap, first manufactured by Colgate as a laundry cleanser.
The Colgate‘s Soap and Perfumery Works, later Colgate-Palmolive Peet, was founded by William Colgate in 1806. He began as a manufacturer of starch, soap and candles with a shop on John and Dutch Streets in New York City. When he moved his company to Paulus Hook (Jersey City) in 1820 to produce starch, it was referred to as “Colgate’s Folly.” The company instead flourished and had a sizable complex in Jersey City by 1847. It made chemically produced soap and perfume but eventually gave up perfume production. Upon the death of William Colgate in 1857, his son Samuel reorganized the company as the Colgate Company. It took on brand products such as Cashmere Bouquet, perhaps the first milled perfumed soap, and revolutionized dental care with toothpaste sold in jars in 1873. It also packaged toothpaste in a “collapsible” tube in 1896.
Overlooking the Hudson River, the octagonal Colgate clock and signage perched on a company structure remained unaltered until 1983. The signage “Soaps-Perfumes” was removed and a toothpaste tube, advertising one of Colgate’s best selling products, took its place. Two years later and after 141 years in Jersey City, Colgate decided to leave, citing the need for improved facilities that its original manufacturing complex could not provide. The entire complex was razed, and the clock, without the toothpaste tube, was lowered to ground level as a freestanding icon on the future Goldman Sachs property, where it stood for fifteen years. The 24-acre site became part of the redevelopment of the Jersey City waterfront at Exchange Place that began in the early 1990s.
The clock was dismantled in June 2013 and refitted with LED lights, and then reinstalled on the waterfront near the Goldman-Sachs Building.