I always assumed The National Debt Clock was created by the federal government (your tax dollars at work) and served as some type of PR campaign (the more you know) to keep us lowly citizens informed. I should have known better. The government doesn't want you to know how much of your money it is spending, now or in the future.
Back when I was a student at NYU, I would take the train to Manhattan's Penn Station and walk over to the midtown (5th Ave) campus on 42nd St. And every day I would pass the National Debt Clock at least twice. An ominous 11x26 ft sign, it hovered several stories above. I remember thinking it seemed very reverse-Orwellian if you ask me. Maybe National debt was personal riches, or something?
The National Debt clock is actually a gift from one man, Seymour Durst, a famous and extremely successful New York City real estate developer. He was solely responsible for it's creation and until he passed away in 1995, it's maintenance. The clock is now maintained by his descendants through The Durst Foundation.
Erected in 1989, the original clock that I frequently passed, was located on Sixth Avenue, facing 42nd St. So yes, it was right on my path as I hustled to class. If you want to visit the clock the next time you're in Manhattan don't go to this location, it is no longer there. Instead you'll have to head over to it's new location since it was moved in 2004 at 1133 Avenue of Americas (Sixth Ave), facing W 44th st.
The new debt clock was updated to include two extra digits. Which is particularly sad since it had just been taken offline from 2000-2002 due to a fiscal surplus. The debt was decreasing and the previous clock was not equipped to run backward. (A pretty sad statement of pessimism on Durst's part.) Unfortunately adding those additional digit slots proved to be a prolific move. Our national debt actually exceeded the new place settings, on September 30, 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis.
On the bright side the new clock does have the ability to run backwards, you know, in case we ever have a surplus again...ever. On the downside, plans are in the works to add two additional digit spaces.
Ladies and Gentleman, your national debt!