Railroad watches

Posted by ESC on December 23, 2001 at

In Reply to: Gold watch at retirement posted by Barney on December 12, 2001

: : : : What is the significance of awarding a watch at a retirment and where/how did it start?

: : : I think it's supposed to be an irony that "time" doesn't matter when retired. So a watch is sarcastically given in "roast" jest.

: : Here's what I think. Totally a guess. I think it probably started when railroad workers in the U.S. retired. That was one of the few professions where a man could earn a pension during the 1800s. (Compared with, for example, coal miners who sickened and died before retirement age.) Most men had a pocket watch. Pocket watches were an important tool for RR men because the train being on time was a major goal, then and now. Accurate watches were called "railroad watches," a collector tells me.(Wrist watches weren't used until World War I. I seem to remember reading that at a military history museum.) A gold pocket watch made a nice gift because it had a nice big space on which to engrave the person's name. How's that for a theory?

: I don't know the origin but I do know that the most logical explanation is seldom the right one.

While research "gold watch for retirement," I found this.

RAILROAD WATCH -- On April 19, 1891, a great train disaster occurred that would forever change timekeeping on the railroad. Two trains, because of an engineer's faulty timepiece, collided near Cleveland, Ohio, with 9 casualties. Following the disaster, a commission was appointed to adopt a UNIVERSAL set of timekeeping standards by ALL railroads. Precision was now needed in this enormous industry. By 1893, the GENERAL RAILROAD TIMEPIECE STANDARDS were in effect. Watches that fit this description became known as Railroad watches.

History of the Railroad Grade Watch

In 1830 the first American passenger railroad engine rolled down the line on the tracks of the Baltimore & Ohio Company. Soon thereafter, when passenger service was placed on a schedule, a reliable watch was realized as a requirement by the railroad men. In the years to follow, watch companies specialized in providing railroad watches to meet this demand.

Prior to about 1893 the definition of a railroad watch was very vague. Most of the larger railroad companies usually had specific rules (many prior to 1893), but most were not rigidly enforced.

On April 19, 1891 there was a disastrous head-on collision between two trains of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway near Kipton Ohio. It was later determined that the cause of this mishap was due to the conductor's watch stopping by 4 minutes. This incident had far reaching effects on both watch production and railroad timekeeping in the United States.

Shortly thereafter watch requirements, regulations and inspection systems were made much more stringent. In 1893 the General Railroad Timepiece Standards were adopted (by 1893 the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad has passenger trains that could travel in excess of 100 miles per hour). After that time, any watch going into railroad service must meet specific requirements and criteria.

Railroad watches are unique because they are designed to be set and inspected by a watch repairman at regular intervals, usually weekly. The railroads had a detailed set of standards, which include being lever set, precise to 30 seconds within a week, having at least a 19 jewel movement, and having an open face and Arabic numerals.