On Time National Museum of American History

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  1700–1820
Marking Time
 
  1820–1880
Synchronizing Time
  Alarm Clock Blues
  Time Discipline
Rise and Shine
Time at a Glance
Internalizing Time
Presentation Watches

Railroad Watches
More Watches
  Time Zones
  Time Machines
 
 

Time Discipline




Rise and Shine
Work! School! Meals! Appointments! Modern life demanded that everyone be on time! Because people were much less likely to live within earshot of factory, school, or church bells, they became responsible for their own punctuality. In the late 1870s, mass-produced spring-driven alarm clocks first became available for as little as $1.50. By the 1920s, inexpensive electric versions appeared. Alarm clocks became a fixture in bedrooms across the country—many people shared what one wag called "those perturbin' sleep disturbin', Alarm clock blues."

Big Ben De Luxe
Keyless Alarm
Automatic Eight Day Long Alarm
Big Ben De Luxe, 1927–1932; a mechanical alarm clock by Western Clock Co., La Salle, Illinois
Gift of Betty Meggers
  Keyless Alarm, 1930s; a mechanical alarm clock by New Haven Clock Co., New Haven, Connecticut
Gift of New Haven Clock Company
  Automatic Eight Day Long Alarm, about 1913; a mechanical alarm clock by Seth Thomas Clock Co., Thomaston, Connecticut
Gift of Robert G. Rolfe
         
Advertisement
       
Advertisement, late 19th century, for Peep O' Day alarm clock
Courtesy of NMAH Archives Center, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana
       
Time at a Glance
In the 1880s, women in England and Europe wore the first modern wristwatches—small watches set in leather bands—while playing outdoor sports. Women in the United States adopted them, too, along with more refined bracelet watches. Men considered wristwatches feminine, but began to change their minds when the U.S. military issued them to select units just before and during World War I. Wristwatches grew in popularity—first as a sporty alternative to dress pocket watches, and later as a quick-to-use timepiece for modern people on the go.
Lady Hamilton wristwatch
Wristwatch
Wristwatch
Lady Hamilton wristwatch, about 1911; by Hamilton Watch Co., Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
  Wristwatch, about 1915; by Longines   Wristwatch, about 1915; Swiss movement, American case, marked "Cretets"
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
Internalizing Time
In an increasingly urban and industrial world, people became responsible for knowing the time and being on time. Affordable watches now sold by the tens of millions. "The man is nothing but a botch, who tries to live without a watch" warned an ad for men's pocket watches in the 1880s. Women, too, wore watches: newfangled ones on their wrists or, in the older style, on neck chains, chatelaines, and brooches. Watches were portable mechanical assistants for maintaining an internal time discipline, and, like clocks, came to be seen as models for regulated personal behavior.

Gold watch with chatelaine
Watch and chain with slider
Gold watch with chatelaine, late 19th century; French
Gift of Mary Maxwell
  Watch and chain with slider, about 1890; watch by Elgin Watch Co., Elgin, Illinois
Gift of Marcia S. Baty
Presentation Watches
Watches were popular gifts for Christmas, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. They were also awarded for meritorious service.
Watch
Watch
Watch, late 19th century
Watch, by American Waltham Watch Co., Waltham, Massachusetts; inscribed: "From the President of the United States, to John R. McFaull Master of the Honduran Steamship Omoa, in recognition of his humane services in effecting the rescue at sea, on November 10, 1919, of the master and crew of the American Steamship Thos. L. Wand."
Gift of Patrick McFaull
  Watch, 1906; by American Waltham Watch Co., Waltham, Massachusetts; photo of Philip Cadmus on dial; a gift from Cadmus, a watchmaker, to his fiancée Augusta Stipp
Gift of Mrs. Marion E. Hardwick
  Watch, late 19th century; Swiss; with a case studded with pins and a revolving indicator that permitted its blind owner, Helen Keller, to tell time by touch
Gift of Phillips Brooks and Mrs. Gordon Erwin
Railroad Watches
Until about 1875, any good watch would do as a railroad watch. But as rail traffic increased, railroad managers sought out American watch manufacturers to build custom precision watches.
Pennsylvania Special
Railway
Studebaker
Pennsylvania Special, about 1905; by Illinois Watch Co., Springfield, Illinois
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt Estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
  Railway, about 1907; by Hampden Watch Co., Canton, Ohio
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt Estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
  Studebaker, about 1910; by South Bend Watch Co., South Bend, Indiana
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt Estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
         
Watch
Grade 940
Watch, about 1914; by E. Howard Watch Co., Boston
Gift of W. Carl Wyatt Estate, through Mary Wyatt Tupman
  Grade 940, about 1910; by Hamilton Watch Co., Lancaster, Pennsylvania; used by engineer "Doc" Wells in Southern Railway engine No. 1401, on exhibit in "America on the Move"
Gift of J. R. Wells in memory of Henry Gilbert "Doc" Wells
   
More Watches
The main feature distinguishing one type of watch movement from another was jewelling. Industrial-grade jewels—rubies, sapphires, garnets, or aquamarines—were used as bearings at points of wear. The most common jeweled watch contained fifteen, the most basic had seven. In the late 1870s, inexpensive watches without jewels became available, and by 1890 their price had dropped to about $1.00.
Watch movement
Watch movement
Watch movement, about 1889; by Trenton Watch Co., Trenton, New Jersey
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
  Watch movement, about 1885; marked "New York Chronograph Watch Co." by Manhattan Watch Co., New York, New York
Gift of Joseph Dean
     
Watch movement
Watch
Watch movement, early 20th century; sold by Knickerbocker Watch Co., New York, New York
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
  Watch, about 1900; by
New England Watch Co., Waterbury, Connecticut
Gift of New York University, James Arthur Collection
     
Watch
 
Watch, about 1887; by
New Haven Clock Co.,
New Haven, Connecticut
Gift of New Haven Clock Company
   
 
Smithsonian National Museum of American History