Railroad Antique Pocket Watches

Railroad antique pocket watches represent a fascinating chapter in the history of American ‍watchmaking, embodying both ⁢technological innovation and historical significance. These timepieces were born out⁤ of necessity, as the railroads demanded unparalleled accuracy and reliability to ensure safety ⁤and ‍efficiency in ⁤train operations. The American‌ watchmakers rose to the challenge, creating watches that were‌ not ‌only precise but also durable enough to withstand‌ the rigors​ of constant use in varying conditions. By the early 20th century, these watches ⁢had⁤ achieved‌ remarkable standards, losing⁢ no more than 30 seconds ‌per week ‍and maintaining accuracy regardless of position or temperature. As the railroads’ standards‍ evolved ⁢between 1890 and 1910,⁢ the requirements for these watches became more stringent, leading to the production of both 18 and ​later 16 size watches that met these ⁣exacting criteria. By the 1930s, only size 16 watches with at least 19 jewels, lever set⁤ mechanisms, ⁢open faces, and ​adjustments for five positions, temperature, and ‍isochronism were approved for use. Despite these ⁤rigorous standards,⁣ not all ⁣watches‍ built ⁣to meet them were accepted by every railroad, as individual⁢ railroads often had their own ⁣lists of approved watches. This led to the intriguing situation where a watch‍ could be considered railroad “grade” but ⁤not necessarily railroad “approved,”‍ adding another layer of⁤ complexity‍ and interest for collectors and historians alike.

Many ⁢collectors feel that ‍American watchmaking reached its pinnacle ⁢with the invention ⁤of the railroad watch. ​In ⁣an effort to ⁣meet the ‍stringent and rigorous demands of ⁢the railroads, where‌ the incorrect time could and did prove disastrous, American watchmakers were⁤ called upon to make⁣ a watch that was incredibly reliable and incredibly accurate — far more ⁢so than any watch previously ‌being manufactured. ‍And they met the challenge! Following‍ years‍ of development, by the turn of the ‌20th century American watch⁢ factories were producing pocket ‍watches of unsurpassed quality.⁣ Watches that would lose no more than 30 seconds per week. Watches that⁤ were specially⁣ adjusted‍ to keep accurate time⁣ no matter what position in which ‌they‍ were held, and in ⁣both cold weather and hot. Watches⁣ where all the major wheels were jeweled in order to prevent wear from long‌ hours, days, years and decades of constant use.

The main ⁣requirement for a railroad watch was, of course, that it be accurate. Throughout the twenty⁣ years from 1890‍ to​ 1910, the⁢ various railroads’⁢ watch⁢ standards ‍evolved, ‌demanding ⁣more stringent adherence to safety and good timekeeping ⁣principles.‍ Although minor local differences remained, these standards ‍eventually⁣ became well enough established and⁤ accepted so ‍that watch companies could build, at reasonable cost, both 18 size, and later 16 size, watches‌ that would be accepted ⁤on any railroad. ‌The standards continued to evolve, and by the 1930’s, only size 16 watches were approved, and these watches had⁣ to also ⁤have at least 19 jewels, ⁢be lever set, open face ‌and adjusted to⁤ five positions, temperature and isochronism.⁣ Some railroads, however, continued ⁤to accept watches that were currently in use and which ⁢had previously been ‌approved under earlier standards.

20170716 001 Railroad Antique Pocket Watches : Watch Museum June 2024

Remember, just because a watch has a picture of a locomotive on the dial or the case doesn’t mean it is actually a “railroad” watch. The same is true with watches that are just marked “railroad special” or the like. A true railroad grade watch MUST meet the specifications set out for railroad watches, and a true railroad approved watch MUST have been either listed by one or more railroads as approved for railroad service or else specifically accepted by a railroad inspector. Some of the more commonly found railroad grade and approved watches include the Hamilton “992,” the Illinois “Bunn Special” and the Waltham “Vanguard,” although there are quite a few more out there. If you are considering paying a lot for a “railroad” watch, though, just be sure you’re getting what you are paying for.

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