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The Watchmaker & jeweller, silversmith & optician

Smithsonian Libraries
Description based on: Vol. 62, no. 7 (July 1936); title from cover.

watch

National Museum of American History

watch

National Museum of American History

watch box

National Museum of American History

watch display board

National Museum of American History

Railroad Watch

National Museum of American History
This English watch was a part of a technical fix applied to U.S. railroads following accidents in the middle of the 19th century.

Back then timetables governed train arrivals and departures, established train priorities, and ensured that trains did not collide on single-track lines. Clocks in railroad stations and watches held by conductors and engineers helped to enforce the timetables.

But in the middle of the 19th century, timepieces in use on the railroads varied wildly in quality and availability to employees of the line. There was no single standard of quality for railroad timekeepers. After a horrific fatal accident on the Providence & Worcester Railroad in August 1853, caused in part by the inaccuracy of a conductor's watch, some railroads in New England responded to public criticism of their industry by tightening up running rules and ordering top-quality clocks and watches for their employees.

This is one such high-quality railroad watch.

An official representing the Vermont Central Railroad and three other New England lines, William Raymond Lee, ordered watches and clocks in late 1853 from William Bond & Sons, Boston, the American agent for Barraud & Lund of London. The English firm delivered the first of the timepieces in January 1855. The Vermont Central purchased fifteen watches for $150 each and one clock for $300.

Barraud & Lund, founded in 1750 by Huguenot watchmaker Francis-Gabriel Barraud, had a long-standing reputation for high-quality timepieces, including marine chronometers, clocks and watches. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the firm had extensive foreign markets and added John Richard Lund, a chronometer maker, to their business.

William Bond & Son, the firm named on the watch's dust cap, was one of the principal timepiece purveyors of nineteenth-century America. Intimately connected to navigation and commercial shipping, the firm rated and repaired marine chronometers for the busy port of Boston and supplied instruments of all sorts to agencies of the federal government-specifically, the coast survey, the topographical engineers, and the navy. The firm, whose original business provided time for navigating at sea, branched out with the railroad business to perform the same service on land.

Watch movement, Waltham

National Museum of American History
This watch, made about 1870, was manufactured at what eventually became known as the Waltham Watch Company, Waltham, Mass. The movement bears the serial number 520977 and “Crescent Street,” a grade named for the firm’s address. The Crescent Street was advertised as a railroad watch, “specially recommended to railway engineers and constant travelers.” [advertisement, The Missionary Herald 67(June 1871), n.p.] In the 1850s, watchmakers at the firm began to develop the world's first mass-produced watches. They completely redesigned the watch so that its movement could be assembled from interchangeable parts made on special machines. They also developed a highly organized factory-based work system to speed production and cut costs of watches. Although it would be well into the 20th century before the watch industry achieved a very high level of interchangeability, the Waltham designers started the innovations that would eventually lead there. Launched in 1849 in a corner of the Howard & Davis clock factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the company’s early years were financially unsteady. The company name changed repeatedly as investors came and went. Operations moved from Roxbury to Waltham in 1854, where the company settled, optimistically poised for expansion, on a tract of land with nearly 100 acres. The watchmakers at Waltham helped spawn an American industry that by 1880 had ten firms making nearly three million watches a year. Details: Movement: factory identification--model 1870, spring going-barrel, full plate, gilt finish, 18 size, key wind and set from the back, bimetallic compensation balance, C.V. Woerd patent regulator (US 110614); marked: American Watch Co/Crescent Street/Patent Pinion/No 520977/WALTHAM, MASS.” Dial: white enamel, Roman numerals, blued hands (hour hand missing), separate sunk seconds at 6; marked: “American Watch Co” References: Henry G. Abbott, History of the American Waltham Watch Company (Chicago: American Jeweler Print, 1905). Charles Moore, Timing a Century: History of the Waltham Watch Company (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945). Donald Hoke, Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

Grandpa's Watch

National Museum of American History

Hamilton Model 950 Pocket Watch

National Museum of American History
The Hamilton Watch Company made this model 950 railroad conductor’s watch around 1918. The 16-size watch has 23 Jewels, Motor Barrel 1634902, and was adjustable to five positions. Good pocket watches of high accuracy became badges of office for railroaders. A railroad employee bought the finest he could afford. Among the brand names of 'Railroad Grade' watches celebrated among railroaders were Hamilton, Illinois, Elgin, Howard, and Waltham. The high-quality of a railroad standard watch was critical in the safe operations of trains.

The conductor was the chief officer in charge of any train. At initial departure and station stops the engineer had to await clearance from the conductor before starting. It was always important that the conductor and engineer kept the same time throughout a run. All train operating crew (conductor, engineer, trainmen, fireman) set their watches to a 'standard clock' maintained to accurate standard time by the railroad at the office where employees signed-in each day. Railroads issued standards in their operating-rule books that specified the degree of accuracy or the number of jewels in the mechanism (17 jewels was usually the minimum). At specified intervals, watches were to be submitted to a railroad-company designated 'watch inspector,' normally an independent jeweler on contract. The employee kept his watch inspection record current.

In 1883, railroads brought standardized 'Railroad Time' and the four time zones we know today to the U.S. Before then, cities kept their own local time; noon was set to the sun's passage at zenith. The plethora of times made things extremely difficult for long-distance travelers when there were several intermediate trains to catch. And for railroads by the early 1880s, the safe coordination of interstate trains had become impossible; there were several crashes each involving two trains keeping different times. It took Congress another quarter-century to codify 'Standard Time' and the four zones as national standards.

Chronodrometer or Horse Timing Watch

National Museum of American History
This is a watch designed as a timer for horses. A horseracing craze in the 1850s influenced product designers at the American Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts, to add the chronodrometer (from the Greek roots: chrono - time, drom - running/race, meter - measure) to their line of conventional watches. The chronodrometer was the first mass-produced stopwatch.

The chronodrometer's dial could mark quarter seconds, but it was unlike any other stopwatch in use then or now. A sweep hand in the center of the dial revolved once every four minutes; at the bottom of the dial, a small hand revolved once every four seconds. At the top was a conventional dial with numerals 1 through 12 and hour and minute hands for indicating the correct time of day. When the watch was used as a timer, the time train inconveniently stopped.

Between 1858 and 1861, the American Watch Company made about four hundred chronodrometers-not a huge number by mass-production standards. The stopwatch sold for $50, compared to $150 to $250 for a high-grade import. At that time, stopwatches of any kind were still rare.

The American Watch Company had been launched in 1849 in a corner of the Howard & Davis clock factory in Roxbury, near Boston, where Edward Howard and Aaron Dennison experimented with completely new designs for watches and the machines to make them. Howard, a clockmaker, had absorbed techniques for the mass production of firearms with interchangeable parts during a visit to the Springfield Armory. Why not, he thought, try it with watches? With expert help from a cadre of experienced mechanicians and funding from Howard's father-in-law, the Boston mirror maker Samuel Curtis, the enterprise got under way.

From shaky beginnings as America's first watch business, the Waltham firm would go on to pioneer mass-production techniques and teach the rest of the world how to make watches by machine. Waltham remained an important innovative force in both watch and machinery design for the rest of the century. The firm's success spawned a raft of competitors, and the American watch industry began to turn out movements and watches by the millions.

American Watch Company Prototype

National Museum of American History
The first firm to mass-produce watches by machine was the American Watch Company of Massachusetts. Oliver B. Marsh, one of the firm's earliest watchmakers, designed and made this watch as a prototype.

The appetite for watches in the United States in the early part of the 19th century was huge; about $46 million worth were imported between 1825 and 1858, especially from England Switzerland. To tap into this market, a few Americans attempted to develop watches domestically, but probably no more than two thousand watches were made in the United States before the 1850s.

In that decade, watchmakers at what would become the American Watch Company of Waltham, Massachusetts, developed the world's first machine-made watches. They completely redesigned the watch so that its movement could be assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines they invented just for that purpose. They also developed a highly organized factory-based work system to speed production and cut costs.

The firm was launched in 1849 in a corner of the Howard & Davis clock factory in Roxbury, near Boston, where Edward Howard and Aaron Dennison experimented with completely new designs for watches and the machines to make them. With expert help from a cadre of experienced mechanicians and funding from Howard's father-in-law, the Boston mirror maker Samuel Curtis, the enterprise got under way.

Dennison had absorbed techniques for the mass production of firearms with interchangeable parts during a visit at the Springfield Armory. The primary measures the new firm adopted from arms making were a tight organization, a critically important machine shop, and a manufacturing system that relied on models. Waltham designers made a model watch and a master set of gauges to fit it, and every watch part made thereafter was measured against the corresponding model part.

In its first decade, the firm's work was largely experimental, but by late in 1852, Howard and Dennison finally had products-seventeen watches, made mostly by hand by brothers Oliver and David Marsh. One of these prototypes, a watch made by Oliver Marsh, survives in the collections of the museum.

O. B. Marsh's watch was large compared to other pocket watches of the time. The white- enamel dial indicated minutes around the rim and featured four smaller dials indicating hours (at 6:00) seconds (at 12:00), days of the week (at 9:00) and date (at 3:00).

The design of these first watches, eight-day movements with two mainsprings, gave way to a simpler one, a watch that ran on one mainspring for a little more than a day. Although superficially similar to English watches of the time, the new American watch featured a mainspring in a "going barrel." This meant a watch without the traditional fusee and chain to equalize the force of the unwinding spring. This was a watch with fewer parts to make.

The next hundred Waltham watches, built on the new model, took until the fall of 1853. The third batch of nine hundred sold for just $40 each, cased. An imported movement of the same quality cost twice as much.

Delkin Pocket Watch

National Museum of American History
The first mechanized watch developed in the 17th century from earlier types of spring-powered clocks. Prior to the 1920s, pocket watches were not only a utilitarian accessory but they also conveyed an owner’s social status, wealth, and education.

Anton Louis Delkin, the jeweler who made this watch, was born in Atlanta in 1861 to a Dutch father and a German mother. By the time he was just seventeen years old, Delkin was the foreman of one of the largest watch factories in the southern United States. In 1900 he decided to try his luck, and hopefully find his fortune, as part of the Nome Gold Rush (around 1899—1909). Delkin accompanied his wife’s uncle, J. H. Ladd, from the Southeast to Alaska in search of gold.

Six years after arriving in Alaska, Delkin created this impressive man’s pocket watch out of eighteen-karat yellow and rose gold. Encrusted on the watch are gold nuggets. This rugged design recalls the finds that were made in Nome during this, Alaska’s largest Gold Rush period. This substantial timepiece was donated by members of Delkin’s family. It recounts the adventure and fortune sought by so many in Alaska at the turn of the 20th century.

Superior Watch Oil

National Museum of American History

A Wagon-Spring Clock

National Museum of American History
From its invention in the fifteenth century, the coiled steel spring became the preferred power source of European clockmakers. The spring permitted clocks to be small and portable, so most small European clocks and watches employed it. But the steel spring was an expensive import to America. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, and the introduction of the Bessemer process for mass-producing steel however, coiled steel springs were not produced in the United States. American clockmakers circumvented this limitation with ingenious weight-driven shelf clocks that were accurate, reliable, and compact. These they mass-produced and offered to ever-widening markets.

Joseph Ives, a Bristol clockmaker notable for his inventiveness but lack of business success, had first introduced wagon-spring clocks in the 1820s. They had conventional weight-driven brass movements, except for one feature: The strings that ordinarily would have held the weights were connected, through intermediary pulleys, to the free ends of what looked like a wagon-spring on the bottom of the case. This mechanism exerted a downward pull like the two weights.

When American clockmakers began to compete abroad with European clockmakers in the 1830s and 1840s, they were reminded of the advantages of spring-driven clocks. They vigorously explored various schemes for producing spring-driven clock movements without relying on imported steel springs. When one manufacturer in Bristol, Connecticut—Brewster and Ingraham—had considerable success with coiled springs made of brass, a local competitor, Birge and Fuller, resurrected Ives's "wagon-spring" design.

Birge and Fuller manufactured wagon-spring clocks from 1844 until 1847, when locally produced coiled-steel springs finally became available.

Factory Wall Clock

National Museum of American History
Benjamin Hanks and his son Truman (1782-1846) designed this wall clock for use in a mill. Within the clock’s white dial are five subsidiary indicators for both time of day and mill machinery operations.

Made sometime between 1808 and 1824, perhaps as an experimental timepiece, the clock is a very early example of factory time control. At the time this clock was made, keeping track of workers’ hours was mainly the job of clerks. By the late 1880s, though, time accounting was mechanized in factories. Then the time clock, introduced to record automatically the times a worker entered and left the workplace, came to symbolize industrialization itself.

Benjamin Hanks (1755-1824) worked in Mansfield, Conn., as a clock- and watchmaker and in 1785 established a foundry there for casting bells and cannons. About 1808 he moved to the area near Troy, N.Y., and set up an iron foundry. His brother Rodney established the first water-powered silk mill in the United States in 1810.

Reference: David Todd and Richard Perlman, “An Early Factory Clock by Benjamin & Truman Hanks,” Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (February 1997): 21-29.

Watch movement, Waltham

National Museum of American History
This is one of the earliest watch movements manufactured in the United States. Made at what eventually became the Waltham Watch Company, it is part of the firm’s third run of watches in Roxbury, Massachusetts, about 1853. The movement bears the serial number 531 and the name Samuel Curtis, one of the firm’s first investors. In the 1850s, watchmakers at the firm began to develop the world's first mass-produced watches. They completely redesigned the watch so that its movement could be assembled from interchangeable parts made on special machines. They also developed a highly organized factory-based work system to speed production and cut costs of watches. Although it would be well into the 20th century before the watch industry achieved a very high level of interchangeability, the Waltham designers started the innovations that would eventually lead there. Launched in 1849 in a corner of the Howard & Davis clock factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the company’s early years were financially unsteady. The company name changed repeatedly as investors came and went. Operations moved from Roxbury to Waltham in 1854, where the company settled, optimistically poised for expansion, on a tract of land with nearly 100 acres. The watchmakers at Waltham helped spawn an American industry that by 1880 had ten firms making nearly three million watches a year. Details: Movement: spring going-barrel, full plate, gilt finish, 18 size, 15 jewels, key wound at back and key set at front, steel three-armed balance, lever escapement, regulator with index on back plate; marked: “Roxbury/ No. 531/ Samuel Curtis” Dial: White enamel dial, Roman numerals, black hands (minute hand is replacement), separate seconds at 6 References: Henry G. Abbott, History of the American Waltham Watch Company (Chicago: American Jeweler Print, 1905). Charles Moore, Timing a Century: History of the Waltham Watch Company (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945). Donald Hoke, Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

Watch, Waterbury Long Wind

National Museum of American History
This watch, made about 1880, featured a radical new design from the gifted watchmaker D. Azro A. Buck. Buck had filed for a patent (US204000) for his design in the fall of 1877. With the new kind of watch, Buck and his backers aimed to lower production costs and, consequently, the final sale price while still maintaining a reasonable accuracy. With fewer than 60 parts, half as many as conventional watches, the Long Wind took its name from its nine-foot-long mainspring and the effort to keep it wound. In addition to these novelties, the watch’s movement rotated in the case once in twenty-four hours. The Long Wind was the first product of the Waterbury Watch Co., a new corporation founded about 1880 by Connecticut brass manufacturers Benedict and Burnham. It sold for about $3.50, in contrast to the cheapest American-made watches at that time that would sell, cased, for between $8 and $20. At first the company had great success, but interest dropped considerably when middlemen devised a scheme to give away the Long Wind with the purchase of a suit of clothes. The firm tried to revive sales with new watch designs, a lively advertising campaign and in 1898 a new name--the New England Watch Company. The pioneering enterprise failed in 1912, but other firms would take up the manufacture of cheap reliable watches, which came to be known as “dollar” watches. Details: Movement: long-wind mainspring, rotary duplex escapement, stem wound, two-wheel train Dial: printed paper chapter ring with Roman numerals, skeletonized center with view into movement, blued steel hour and minute hand; marked: “PATENTED/MAY 21, 1878” Case: open face, nickel-plated metal, snap-on back missing; pierced dust cap marked: “WATERBURY WATCH/PATENTED/IN THE UNITED STATES,/GREAT BRITAIN,/CANADA, FRANCE,/GERMANY, AUSTRIA,/RUSSIA, SPAIN,/SWEDEN, DENMARK,/BELGIUM/BENEDICT 7 BURNHAM MFG’ Co./MANUFACTURERS/WATERBURY CONN. U.S.A.” References: Edwin Battison, “The Auburndale Watch Company: First American Attempt Toward the Dollar Watch,” Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, United States National Museum Bulletin 218 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1959). Harry Chase Brearley, Time Telling Through the Ages (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1919). William Dunn, “The Waterbury Rotary Watch,” National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Bulletin, October 2010, 542-553. William J. Pape, History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut (Chicago, New York: S. J. Clarke Publishing, 1918).

Watch movement, E. Howard & Co.

National Museum of American History
Edward Howard established E. Howard & Co. in Boston in 1842. Originally the business was limited to building clocks, but soon expanded to watches and, later, street and tower clocks. Details: Movement: spring going barrel, factory identification Series III, half plate, gilt finish, N size (45 mm), 15 jewels, key wind and set at back, bimetallic compensation balance, regulator on back plate; marked on back plate: “E. Howard & Co.,/N/10974 Boston”; marked on balance bridge: “MERSHONS PATENT [regulator] APRIL 26, 1859”; marked around winding arbor: “Reed’s Patent…” [for safety barrel to protect movement from spring] Dial: white enamel with Roman numerals, blued steel hands (second hand missing), sunk seconds at 6; marked: “E. HOWARD & CO. BOSTON” References: Gerit A. Nijssen, "George P. Reed & Hiram W. Smith, Two of Greater Boston's Individual Watchmakers," pp. 3-24, NAWCC BULLETIN Vol. 47/1, No. 354, February 2005. Clint Geller, A Study of E. Howard & Co. Watchmaking Innovations 1858-1875 (NAWCC Special Order Supplement No. 6, 2005).

Voigt Transit and Equal Altitude Instrument

National Museum of American History
The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, paying $15 million for some 828,000 square miles. This Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country, and has often been called the greatest real estate deal ever made. Several months before the treaty was signed, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Isaac Briggs Surveyor General of what was then referred to as the Mississippi Territory. In preparation for this task, Briggs asked Andrew Ellicott for his transit and equal altitude instrument. When Ellicott refused to sell, Briggs turned to Henry Voigt (1738–1814), a German immigrant trained as a clock and watch maker. Briggs used this Voight instrument in 1804 to establish a prime meridian for the United States, running through Washington, D.C. He then took it to the new Territory and, since it had been purchased with federal funds, he left it there when he retired in 1807. The transit was transferred to the Surveyor General of Florida in the 1820s, placed in storage, and forgotten. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1891. The transit is marked "Henry Voigt Philadelphia." Ref: Silvio Bedini, "The Case of the 'Worthless' Instruments," Professional Surveyor (October 1995): 49 50, and (November/December 1995): 61–62.

Dry Card Compass

National Museum of American History
This compass has a wooden bowl gimbal mounted in a wooden box. The paper card has an ornate American eagle with a ribband in its mouth reading "E PLURIBUS UNUM" at north. The inscriptions read "Wm Helffricht. Philadelphia" and "W. H. C. RIGGS, Front near Dock St." This card was probably made for William Davenport. It was used by his successor, William Helffricht. The overlaid signature is that of W. H. C. Riggs, a clock and watch maker in Philadelphia whose firm became W. H. C. Riggs & Son in 1863. On the side of the box is a trade card of Riggs & Brother, who were in business from 1865 to 1901.

Joseph Ives Wagon-Spring Shelf Clock

National Museum of American History
Joseph Ives—a Bristol, Connecticut clockmaker notable for his inventiveness but lack of business success—first introduced wagon-spring clocks in the 1820s. This example dates from about 1825, when he was working in Brooklyn, N.Y. Ives’ wagon-spring clocks had conventional brass movements, except for one feature: the strings that ordinarily would have held the weights were connected, through intermediary pulleys, to the free ends of what looked like a leafed wagon-spring on the bottom of the case. Ives resorted to his wagon spring because coiled steel springs—common on European clocks—were not produced in the United States until the middle of the nineteenth century and the introduction of the Bessemer process for mass-producing steel. Reference: Kenneth Roberts, The Contributions of Joseph Ives to Connecticut Clock Technology 1810-1862 (Bristol, Conn.: American Clock and Watch Museum, 1970).
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