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Watchmaker for Seventy-Two Years

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Watchmaker for Seventy-Two Years
By ZELMA LARGE HOUSER

SEVENTY-TWO years at the watchmaking bench and still a young man at eighty-seven. In Taylorville, Illinois, Gulbrasen Anderson carries on as he did at forty-seven and thinks nothing of it. He goes to his jewelry store at six o'clock every morning, and takes his place in the front of the store ready for his watch repairing. In rugged health and taking a keen interest in all new developments along his line of work, this sturdy old gentlemen typifies the fine qualities of our pioneer fathers and grandfathers. In partnership with his son, Herman, he does much to increase the business and is ever ready to take on new work. He does not feel that his advanced age is any subject for discussion. When one of the newspapers prints an article in praise of Gulbrasen Anderson's long and useful life, he gently shakes his head in deprecation. "1 know 1 am getting old," he smilingly murmurs, "but 1 don't like to hear about it." 

His attitude toward his years is unlike that of some of the men and the women who are getting on. We have all cringed and shuddered when some of our dear ones have made remarks like this: "1 am living beyond my time. I'll soon be dead and out of the way." How refreshing it is to hear G. Anderson, as they all call him in his home town, hopefully talking about the affairs of current politics and evincing such an interest that we feel that he expects to outlive most of his hearers. He may do so.

How did this old gentleman manage to live so long and happily when he continually spent long hours at the repairing bench? Bodies give out after years of toil and strain.  To begin with, he inherited a good constitution, and he did not endanger it by silly excesses or by foolish fears and worries. Some daily habits and wholesome thinking lend a help, and he took advantage of this aid. He has always had an idea that rich food cause sickness, and he is careful not to eat butter with meat, always taking care that he stops eating before he is entirely satisfied. This is not so easy.  It is wonderful, though, not to have indigestion.

One of the trade magazines was recently trying to find the oldest active watchmaker in the country. There were several who were in their seventies and eighties, but G. Anderson seems to be the only one up to the present time of the contest who is still keeping the pace.  Does he like this contest? He does not.  He abhors the competition, and his son carries it on secretly, because he is himself very proud of his sire and of the long service to the public. When the father fell at his home a few days ago, and had to spend a few days at home because of a minor injury, he hastened to caution his son and his daughter-inlaw: "Now be sure not to let that paper get hold of this."

Gulbrasen Anderson was born in Norway. In 1869, when he was only nineteen, he was apprenticed at his present trade. His father paid two dollars a day for the training the boy was receiving, and money was pretty scarce.

At night the conscientious son worked for long hours to add a little money to the family income. His home was in Bergen, the imposing city of stark, gray hills, with the homes reposing majestically on the great slopes that looked like gigantic amphitheaters  In those days, labor was imported legally from Europe. The only requirement as far as finances were concerned, was a fifty cent piece as evidence of good faith. When Gulbrasen heard of the opportunities in America, he took immediate advantage of it. After the arduous voyage he was handed the half dollar by the Waltham Watch Company, and was put to work in the factory at Waltham, Massachusetts  He saved the most of the three dollars and seventy-five cents that he made daily, always looking toward the future.  

It was not long before he had a better job at Elgin with five dollars a day, ever with his eye on independence and a store of his own. In a few months another promotion came in the form of a managership in the newly organized Illinois Watch Company at Springfield, Illinois.  Skill and determination were gaining recognition.

In 1875, G. Anderson made a humble beginning in a business for himself. His place of activity was the postoffice at Taylorville, Illinois, about thirty miles from Springfield, and his stock was worth five dollars. His furniture consisted of a rough table and a crude bench, but he was happy and was working on and on.  Although he was reserved, his genial personality came to the force when he knew people better, and his friends increased steadily in number. The town grew fast, and prosperity came. The other merchants found sympathetic help in the time of crises, and Mr. Anderson's adopted land had a faithful patriot.

The bench and table, fixtures of the embryo jewelry store in the postoffice of early days, are 62 years old. The son brings them out on anniversaries as silent reminders of the firm resolve of the aged watchmaker. Ten year ago, he received from the Illinois Watch Company the first watch that they had put out in 1870, and which was finished by their first manager, G. Anderson. 








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