Railroad Watch


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.

Date Made: 1853

Maker: Barraud & Lund

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United Kingdom: England, London

See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanisms, Clothing & Accessories, Measuring & Mapping


Exhibition Location:

Related Publication: Stephens, Carlene E.. On Time: How America Has Learned to Live by the Clock, Daybooks of William Bond and Son, Dodge, Albert O.. An Early Railroad Watch, Blackwell, Dana J.. Early Railroad Timekeeping

Credit Line: Gift of Dana Blackwell

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1999.0278.01Catalog Number: 1999.0278.01Accession Number: 1999.0278

Object Name: pocket watch

Physical Description: silver (case material)fire gilt (dial finish material)Measurements: overall: 3 in x 2 1/8 in x 5/8 in; 7.62 cm x 5.3975 cm x 1.5875 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746aa-6c99-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1204723

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