This article examines and contextualizes a National Watch Co. B.W. Raymond Model 1 pocket watch.
“… If talent, experience, and utmost care can ever produce infallible chronometers, that desirable end will be achieved by the “National Watch Company”, and we may expect ere long their time-pieces will be indispensable to every man and family in the country to whom “time is an object”, who know that “time tries all”, or who have learned to “watch as well as pray”.”From the Chicago Tribune, 16th November, 1866, via https://www.elgin.watch/.
The Development Of A New Era
The United States was emerging from its costly and bloody civil war not without hardship and difficulty. The major economic engine of the time was the expanding railroad, which served to power an entire industry that was growing in parallel with its development and also to unify a nation that was being forged with its westward expansion. Although the center of gravity of the railroad industry was in the NE of the continent, the colonization of new territories was absolutely necessary in order to provide the raw materials needed from these new lands rich in minerals and very fertile. The “opportunities” they provided had a great impact on the country’s own immigration, with the so-called “call effect” spreading throughout the old world. Thousands of Europeans and Asians migrated to the United States in search of new opportunities, looking to improve their lives, although for neither was it an easy task. The railroad became the basic pillar of communication and transportation for the new colonies, cities and towns that were created during this stage of development.
It may seem a truism, but the creation of standardized time and time control became imperative for the entire railroad to function properly. This phenomenon, which is still very complex to this day, was a considerable logistical effort at the time.
The use of watches that were as accurate as possible by train drivers, engineers, mechanics, and other train operators became essential, so as to avoid accidents like the one that occurred in August 1853 when two trains of the Providence and Worcester Railroad collided in a catastrophic way after one of them occupied the track of a crossing with a two-minute delay. This accident (the first to be photographed on a daguerreotype) cost the lives of 14 people in addition to causing a good list of injuries. Below we can see the scene alongside a contemporaneous press article featured in the NY Times.
Regulating The Time
This accident caused the railroad companies, together with a national commission, to begin to legislate, establishing requirements for the railroads to operate on strict time schedules regulated by accurate, reliable watches. One of the oldest known regulations drafted in the same year of the accident comes from the Boston & Providence Railroad, where it was dictated that:
- A record will be made by the Ticket Clerk, or in his absence, by the Baggage Master, of the comparisons required by Art. 5 to which they will certify by their signature or initials.
- Conductors will submit their watches to Bond & Sons, 17 Congress Street, Boston, for examination, and procure from them a certificate of reliability which will be handed to the Superintendent.
- Conductors will report to Messrs. Bond any irregularity in the movements of their watches, and they will clean, repair and regulate them, at the expense of the Corporation, furnishing conductors with reliable watches in the interim.
As we can see, these initial regulations did not yet refer to how the watches should be and what characteristics they should have to perform well, but they documented the purchase by the Vermont Railroad of 15 watches of the English brand Barraud & Lunds through the jeweller Bonds & Sons, which as we have seen above was also responsible for ensuring the watches worked properly. Fortunately, one of these specimens is preserved in the Smithsonian and can give us a clear idea of the type of clocks that began to be used by the major railroad corporations. Anyone wishing to learn more about this event, should definitely check out the magnificent research carried out by Mr. Macintyre.
The First American-Made Railroad Watches
During the 1850s and the next decade, the American watch industry boomed and began to develop watches that were considered “suitable” for railroad use. New techniques emerged enabling the automation of mass watch production, resulting in many units being manufactured at cheaper prices than it cost to import English watches.
Thus, in 1866, it is documented that the American Watch Co. (AWC) supplied 300 Model 1857 watches to the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Only a year later, a new company, the National Watch Co. later known as Elgin, supplied grade B.W. Raymond model 1 watches to the same Pennsylvania Railroad, including a timepiece that is also preserved in the Smithsonian.
From this same period, we also need to mention the watches made by the Roxbury Factory, although these were generally destined for the luxury market.
In 1870 the model developed by AWC was launched on the market. I have already written about this watch here. It is said to be the first American watch to be designated as exclusively for use by railroad workers. It is quite possible that this is true, but a thorough examination reveals that it shares many technical characteristics with the protagonist of this article.
A New Watch Company Appears
But before presenting the watch, let us summarize how the National Watch Co. (NWC) came about. For this purpose, I will refer to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on 16th November, 1866. Fortunately, there is a scanned transcript of this available here. This online version, however, inevitably includes some transcript errors due to the OCR of such an old article, so whenever necessary I have referred to the latter for clarity.
In this article (which may be the first source of information available about the NWC), the writer provides in the first paragraphs a brief description of how the company was founded, citing the capital that was required to start the venture and adding an exhaustive list of its main directors. These first paragraphs particularly caught my attention as a reader, and I would like to highlight some of the most noteworthy points; I quote literally:
“A number of enterprising capitalists in this city, stimulated by the unqualified success which has attended the only watch manufacturers in this country, at Waltham and Roxbury, Massachusetts, determined to transplant this lucrative branch of industry to this vicinity.”
This sentence mentioning the Waltham and Roxbury (Howard) factories sums up perfectly the flourishing and successful watch manufacturing business at the time. Indeed, as we have explained on prior occasions, the American watch industry grew in parallel with the railroad industry, the great economic driving force of the era.
“A company was formed with a capital of $250,000, and, to secure the success of the enterprise by the employment of able and experienced men to run it, inducements of sufficient magnitude were offered to some of the most talented and able employees of the old Waltham company, to bring them here.”
And many of you know, a factory does not make itself. Therefore, this business group offered higher salaries and incentives to a group of gifted Waltham mechanics and watch and tool designers (including some who gave their name to some of the most recognized watches manufactured by Waltham, the best-known being Mr. P.S. Bartlett).
The article also makes special reference to one of the most important engineers of the time, Mr. Moseley, who is credited with the design of housing for the future workers, the construction of machinery to automate the production of watches and even the physical organization of the factory. His patents relating to watchmaking are numerous.
“There were eight or ten of these gentlemen: but the principal one, he on whom almost entirely depended the success of the undertaking, was Mr Chas. S. Moseley, a Massachusetts man, who has spent about fourteen years in watchmaking and the various processes connected with it, and who, in his conduct of the arduous and responsible duties confided to him, has developed talents of a high order, more than realizing the high expectations of his ability entertained by the company.”
The author of the article praised the superiority of American watches over European ones alluding to two reasons: their construction by automated machinery and their simplicity and functionality.
“Before sketching our visit to the factory. It may not be amiss to insert here some remarks relative to the quality of watch which it is proposed to manufacture here.”
“The American watches have already gained the realm of superiority over all others, as time keepers, from the two facts, that they are greatly simplified and consequently less liable to get out of repair than the other English or Swiss watches; and, also that they are manufactured entirely by machinery, thus securing a greater degree of accuracy than could ever be attained by hand-work. English watchmakers are surprised when they come here and see to what extent we carry the application of machinery in this delicate and difficult business.”
These two innovations made American watches more reliable, more accurate and easier to repair at a much lower cost. Many of the parts manufactured for the movements could be interchanged and these same parts when manufactured industrially could be stocked until final assembly, with the watches produced later, in line with sales. Anyone wishing to find out more about the evolution of American watchmaking should not miss this fantastic book by Mr. Watkins.
A New American Watch Icon
This paragraph has also created some controversy among fans and experts on the subject:
“The next watch which the company will make, will be the “Raymond” watch, named after the President of the National Watch Company, and the model for this is now in hand. As fast as new styles are demanded they will be got up, and as it is calculated that they will be able to make fifty watches per day when they get in successful operation, we may expect to see their stock are long filling the market.”
The term “the next watch” led to some confusion, indicating as it does something “new”. Yet it must have referred to the “first watch” out of the factory, as there is no catalogue, or any other type of document whatsoever, to indicate the existence of another watch prior to the Model 1.
But I’ll leave the hermeneutics for the moment so we can see our “Raymond”.
“In a little room connected with this department we are shown the model watch for the style now being made here, a ‘full plate’ and we learn that the system on which the manufacture is carried on is to make by hand a perfect watch for a model and then to duplicate, as nearly as possible, all its parts for the thousands of its fellows which may be required.”
We see that it is a size 18 watch with a full plate equipped with 15 jewels.
The article “attributes” the authorship of the design to Mr. P.S. Bartlett.
“From here, where the machinery and tools are made, let us move on to where they are used in the actual manufacture of watches. The first room we visit in this quest is the “movement” department, and, as one of the harmless eccentricities of the business, it may here be remarked that the “movement” is that part of a watch which does not move. It is screwed fast, therefore they call it the movement. It consists of the two “plates”, “bridges”, “potents” and “pillars”. Mr P.S. Bartlett, an original Walthamite, is in charge here. Here one begins to admire the peculiar delicacy of the business.“
The watch takes the name of the company’s president “B.W. Raymond”. Mr. Raymond had to his credit a long history of great positions such as having been Mayor of Chicago and president of the Fox Railroad. At the time, he was the most important equity partner in the new watch company.
In that early period of the National Watch Co., the enterprise did not yet name the different models that it produced by numbers. Rather, it used the names of the most relevant men of the company, and it seems a statement of intent that the first watch that came out of its factory was named after its president. The designation by grades began in approximately 1875.
I would like to point out, this just being a personal appreciation, that the Model 1 was conceived as a high-grade watch and that it offered quite “modern” intrinsic characteristics. Among them I would like to mention that the watch was “quick train”, beating at 18,000 bph (it was the first American-made watch to introduce this advance in 1867) and that it was equipped with a Swiss counterweighted lever escapement. It also had a compensated bimetallic balance and adjustable banking pins. The first movements were temperature adjusted but were later factory-set to two positions.
This addition is very important, as it provided a good base for a new movement to achieve better accuracy. Following on with the Tribune article, the “train” department was under the supervision of J.K. Bigelow; another from the long list of engineers who defected from the ranks of Waltham.
“From this we will pass to the “wheels and pinions” or “train” department, over the machine shop, which is under the superintendence of Mr J.K. Bigelow another original Walthamite in whom there is much skill. One scarcely knows what to begin on here, what to look at or describe first. Quite a number of good looking girls are at work in the various processes of this department, but ours is strictly a business visit, so we make no note of them.”
Another very important feature is that it incorporated a very compact plate design, housing the barrel and the movement and protected by a Moseley-patented dust ring. The following image shows the ring with the patent engraved on it.
Soon after its market launch, the B.W. Raymond was a sales success, and its name soon became associated with that of the railway market. Indeed, a watch that was successfully associated with the railroad in terms of advertising was a powerful guarantee of quality in relation to future customers.
As far as I know, the starting price of the Raymond was $115.
“… If talent, experience, and utmost care can ever produce infallible chronometers, that desirable end will be achieved by the “National Watch Company”, and we may expect ere long their time-pieces will be indispensable to every man and family in the country to whom “time is an object”, who know that “time tries all”, or who have learned to “watch as well as pray”.
Let us take a chronological look at some examples of this type of advertising.
The first example is from circa 1869.
This second exhibit, also from 1869, appeared in Harper’s. It is noteworthy that the watch is directly “associated” with the railroad segment.
Finally, this third example is from Elgin’s 1871 Almanac. (In relation to the Elgin almanacs, I must mention the great work done on this source of information by Mr. Luis Casillas.)
Another important detail of our movement is that it is equipped with a micrometric regulator, being a very early example of this. This regulator was patented by Moseley in 1874 but only began to be incorporated a few years after his patent became effective. Perhaps the early incorporation of this regulator (circa 1872) responded to the need to “match” its rival in the market, the AWC model 1870 KWKS that we cited above.
Some Dating Problems
There are certain elements that can make it difficult to date accurately a watch from this period. This case is no exception, as I found discrepancies between the best-known Elgin databases.
Through the serial number of the watch (#184209) I was able to verify that it was produced in a block of 5,000 units comprising serial numbers #180001 to #185000. However, while Mr. Jeff Sexton’s database suggests that the watch was made in 1871, in Mr. Nathan Moore’s Pocket Watch Database it is dated as being from 1873. The same year (1873) was also identified by elginwatches.org (which unfortunately is no longer available online).
Other remarkable discrepancies that we can find in these early NWC watches relate to differences in the cuts of the plates, their markings, and other elements of the watch such as their dials or the inclusion of the micrometric regulator. It is not unusual to see a watch with a lower serial number that includes more modern elements than one with a higher serial number. Very clear examples of this are watches made after 1874 (when the company adopted the name Elgin National Watch Co.) with dials marked as National Watch Co. A very plausible theory is that the components of each watch were made in batches at a certain date (these components were mostly serialized) but were in fact assembled and sold years later.
Let us examine our protagonist:
We see that it includes a micrometric regulator. This did not appear graphically in the company’s almanacs until 1872. Thus, the 1871 manufacture date looks somewhat suspect. Moreover, it should be remembered that Moseley only took out a patent on this type of regulator in 1874. Is it possible that the watch was assembled in 1873 with stock components but with this new upgrade?
What seems very clear is that these watches were not finished in the order of their corresponding serial number.
The dial also bears the later ENWC markings, which obviously would suggest that it is a post-1874 watch. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the dial on this watch is a later replacement.
Let us learn a little more about the dials looking back at the article in the Chicago Tribune.
“… so we have only one place more to see about the works. That is the “enamelling and painting” department, one where we can admire without being puzzled. Mr. John Webb, an Englishman, who used to be employed in the Waltham Manufactory, is the presiding genius here. In this country there are several men who understand “enamelling”, others who know how to “paint”, and some who possess the art of “sinking”, but they have all been taught by Mr. Webb, and he is probably the only one in the United States who practices and is a master in all the several branches of art connected with the production of a finished watch dial.”
In the image below we can see the two types of dials that were made in the factory.
In May 1874, the company changed its name to Elgin National Watch Co. and was well established in the financial markets.
It is important to recall that the engineers at the NWC had worked alongside the Waltham ones for many years and therefore knew from the outset the specifications required for a watch to fulfil the expectations of a railroad worker, a fact that the watch companies skilfully exploited in the face of the substantial market opportunity that was opening up on their doorstep.
The B.W. Raymond, which was in production until 1881, was one of the brand’s flagship products. The Model 1 is, in my opinion, an icon of American watchmaking and it was a meaningful rival to the watches produced at the Waltham factory.
“…We have thus endeavored as briefly and at the same time as clearly as possible to sketch the rise, progress and present condition of one of the most interesting and noteworthy of the many great manufacturing enterprises in this vicinity. We have nothing further to offer in connection with it than an expression of our own hope and confidence that the company will meet with the complete success for which they have striven and which they so well deserve.”From the Chicago Tribune, 16th November, 1866, via https://www.elgin.watch/.