Welcome!

Classic watches, watchmaking, antique tools, history, vintage ephemera and more!

Learn about mechanical timepieces and how they work, the history of the American watch industry and especially all about the Elgin National Watch Company! Check back for new content daily.

Although this is technically a blog, the content is not generally in a time-based sequence. You can find interesting items throughout. Down the page some is an alphabetical word cloud of keywords used here. A great way to dig in is to look through those topics and click anything you find interesting. You'll see all the relevant content.

Here are a few of my favorites!

There are some large images on some posts, so that might impact your load times, bit I think you will find it worth the wait. Thanks for visiting!

How And Why Did I Become a Watchmaker?

From American Horologist magazine, March, 1945

How And Why Did I Become a Watchmaker?

Well I'll tell you and in the telling it will sound a good deal like a tale of fiction.

During summer vacation while going to high school I did various odd jobs because of the necessity of adding to the meager wages earned by father, which were hardly ample to supply the daily needs.

One summer I worked in a toy factory, making those little red wagons of which the kiddies are so fond. Another summer I worked in a pulp mill where they turned out pulp to make paper. Then there was that summer I ran an elevator in a department store.


There did not seem to be any future in any of these things and I was always on the lookout for something I thought I would like to make my life's work.

The opportunity came at last. The Remington Watch Company had been purchased by a Mr. Bell, who was looking for a suitable site and town to build a factory and set up machinery to start producing watches. Mr. Bell put it up to the Chamber of Commerce and other civic leaders of the little town where I was raised and attended school.

They liked the idea of having a watch factory, so they donated land for the building and a number of acres around the site which was to be sold by the company to raise money to build the building.

This was late in 1901. In September 1902 I decided I would like to work there, so I went out to the factory and applied for a job. The man in the office whom I talked to was another Mr. Bell, a brother to the president. I talked to him a long time and he finally said if I would be willing to start as an errand boy and work for nothing at first I could have the job. I was 17 years old at the time, rather old for an errand boy especially when there was no salary attached. 

This Mr. Bell made it clear that if I took the job I would have the opportunity . to learn to be a watchmaker and that I would receive pay as soon as I was worth it. I went home and sold the idea to my father and mother. and started to work the following morning. Hours from seven in the morning to six at night.

My duties were to see that the alcohol, cyanide and benzine jars were filled each morning and that the bench which had two lathes for use of the superintendent and the foremen were kept clean and the lathes oiled and polished. Also I had to run errands to all departments for the bosses and the watchmakers. This proved to be a wonderful thing for me. It took me to every part of the factory. It got me acquainted with the men and foreman in every part of the factory, and being anxious to learn as much as I could I kept my ears and eyes open, asked a lot of questions and made a host of friends.

I did not know it at the time but after I got to know what it was all about, I learned that this little factory had some of the finest watchmakers in the country. Men from Elgin, Waltham, Hamilton, Rockford, Springfield and other places. These were the men who were my first teachers.

As my duties as errand boy did not take up my full time I was started on learning things about watches. My first job was winding mainsprings in the barrels. Then I was taught to put in the arbor, put on the head and give the arbor the proper freedom. The next step was assembling the winding parts. These watches were the yoke style type and were lever set.

My job was to put them on the plate and see that they were free and that the spring tension was just right.

Needless to say I was now drawing a small salary.

One day I had little to do so I decided to make some brass jewel pushers and punches like I had seen on some of the watchmakers benches. These looked like little fancy table legs; you know what I mean; little beveled grooves turned all bright and shiny. I borrowed a turning graver, got a piece of brass wire and sat down at the superintendent's lathe and proceeded to turn several. The super was in his little private office so I did not expect to be bothered by him. I had been turning for about an hour and my attention was centered on what I was doing, so I did hot notice what was going on around me.

I do not know what made we look up but I did and there was the superintendent looking over my shoulder watching what I was doing. I turned red and started to unchuck the wire but he stopped me, saying, "go right ahead and finish your job; I'm in no hurry." I was scared and nervous and I took my punches and went back to my own bench. About an hour later the office girl came and told me the super wanted to see me in his office.

I had visions of looking for a new job. This looked like the end of my career as a watchmaker. Well, I went into the office to meet my fate.

There were two benches there. The super was sitting at the one on the right. When I came in he looked up and told me to sit down beside him on the stool at the bench on the left.

His first question was, "Johnny, did you finish your job?" I said yes I did as much as I wanted to. Much to my surprise instead of getting fired he said to me, "Johnny, I like to see a young man do things on his own.

That's the way to get ahead; that's the best way to learn; that's the way I did when I was young. I want you to move in here with me; you can have that bench; I think you and me are going to get along fine." And we did. He had a son the same age as myself and he looked enough like me to be my twin. He and I palled around together as long as we were there.

The superintendent's name was Owen and he was in charge for many years of the Columbus watch factory.

It is not difficult to see how one opportunity after another opened up for me. 

I could write at length about many interesting things that followed these first years, but this is how and why I became a watchmaker.

John Meyer

Post a Comment

Click "Older Posts" just above for more, or use the archive links right here.

Blog Archive