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Railroad Chronometer

Railroad WatchA railroadwatch is an antique or vintage collectible timepiece that once earned officialcertification by one or more railroad companies as meeting stringentqualifications. Also known as a railroad standard, this type of timepiece hadto undergo the scrutiny of each particular railroad firm’s watch inspector togain certification. According to the National Association of Watch and ClockCollectors (NAWCC), the standards for judging railroad watches changedfrequently over the years. As timepiece technology developed and as newinspectors came on board, certification guidelines underwent many alterations.Railroad watches are popular among collectors for several reasons. A certifiedstandard timepiece exudes the popular romance of railroad history. Theirenduring quality means that many collectible railroad watches are still inservice today, offering contemporary railroad buffs the chance to enjoy theirown pocket-size pieces of bygone days. =http:>

The Origin of Railroad Watches

From the mid-19th century forward, railroad personnel inseveral countries required extremely accurate timepieces to ensure safe use ofthe rails. The standard Timetable and Train Order system, a highly detailedschedule that depended on precision timing, controlled the positioning ofmultiple trains at any given instant on North American rails. The primary goalwas to prevent collisions by trains using the same sections of tracks.Companies required their key railroad personnel, including the engineer, conductor, fireman, brakeman, switch controllers, and railroad yard managers, to carry approved, railroad standard pocket watches. The criteria for declaringa particular watch make or model railroad standard varied between firms. Eachrailroad outfit had its own time inspector who determined which watchesmeasured up to railroad standards. However, one particular inspector rose toprominence around the turn of the 20th century and became the time authorityfor approximately half of the railroads in the United States. This watchinspector, Webb C. Ball, created more standardized requirements for railroadchronometers. As a watch maker himself, Ball had a solid background for hisjob.

Prominent Railroad Watch Makers

The following U.S. watch manufacturers are among the mostwell-know railroad chronometer makers.


Dates of Operation


Ball Watch


Cleveland, Ohio

Columbus Watch


Columbus, Ohio

Elgin Watch


Chicago, Ill.

Hamilton Watch


Lancaster, Penn.

Hampden Watch


Springfield, Mass. and Canton, Ohio



Roxbury, Mass.

Howard Watch/Keystone


Waltham, Mass.

Illinois Watch


Springfield, Ill.

Rockford Watch


Rockford, Ill.

Seth Thomas


Thomaston, Conn.

Waltham Watch


The Characteristics of a Railroad Watch

Inspector Ball and his counterparts in other railroadcompanies looked for specific characteristics in the watches that theycertified for timing trains. These include the watch’s origin, design, innerworkings, accuracy, and size.

Railroad Watch Origin

One criterion for domestic railroad watch status is that thetimepiece be made in the U.S. This appears to be more of a practicalconsideration than a patriotic one. Parts to repair American-made watches wereeasier to procure than parts for Swiss watches, for instance.

Railroad Watch Design

Railroad chronometer inspectors called for pocketwatches with open-face dials so that the owner could read the timeinstantaneously. Standards required that the stem of the watch be situated atthe 12 o’clock mark, also for ease of reading. The numbers on a railroad watchhad to be bold, clear Arabic numerals on a white watch face. The watch handsshould be heavy. Also, the timepiece must have outer minute divisions as wellas a second hand. =http:>

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Princess house 24% lead crystal mini mantle shelf quartz clock
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