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Presidential Watches: The Pocket Watch of President Ulysses S. Grant


President Ulysses S. Grant was often photographed with a pocket watch chain fashionably hanging from his left vest pocket. While many presidential timepieces have been documented, not much is known about the watch Grant carried during the Civil War or throughout his residency at the White House.

Ulysses S. Grant

Visits to American Watch Factories

The watch factories operating in America intrigued Grant during his presidency. Reports indicate he toured two watch factories within a few months of each other during 1870. In August 1870, Grant visited the National Watch Company factory in Elgin, Illinois1https://www.newspapers.com/clip/55383802/president-grant-visits-the-elgin/. The experience must have been very favorable. Only a few months later, he toured the United States Watch Company in Marion, New Jersey2https://www.newspapers.com/clip/2802915/president-grant-visits-the-us-watch/.

The Christmas Watch

Before his rise to fame, Ulysses S. Grant struggled to provide for his family. According to one story, Grant pawned a gold watch for $22.00 in St. Louis to buy Christmas gifts for his family during the winter of 1857. The documentation for this pawn exchange with J.S. Freleigh was discovered in 1933. The original ticket describes Grant’s watch as “1 Gold Hunting Detached Lever & Gold Chain.” Based on this description, we can derive that the watch was of European origin.

Ulysses S. Grant's Gold "Christmas Watch" to J.S. Freligh
Original Pawn Ticket
Ulysses S. Grant’s Gold “Christmas Watch” to J.S. Freligh
The original document is archived at the Illinois Historical Society.

The fate of Grant’s pawned watch is likely to history for eternity. However, there is another Grant watch that can be documented for a short time.

The Sartoris Watch

The grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, Algernon Edward Sartoris, inherited a pocket watch once owned by his famous grandfather.

On December 19, 1920, thieves broke into the residence of the Sartoris family in New York City, securing a collection of jewelry and over 8,000 francs. Early reports indicated that the Grant heirloom watch was also stolen in the burglary. However, Mrs. Sartoris was later relieved to discover the watch was safe in England with her husband, Algernon.

The New York Times
Monday, December 20, 1920
The New York Times
Monday, December 20, 1920

This revelation did not prevent newspapers from publishing sensational stories about the stolen presidential watch. The real story only appeared as a small excerpt in an article the morning after the burglary.

Despite escaping theft in 1920, the whereabouts of the Sartoris-Grant watch today is unknown. The last known owner, Algernon Edward Sartoris, died January 17, 1928, in Paris, France. He had one child – a son named Herbert Charles Urban Grant Sartoris. Herbert passed away in 1981, but it is very plausible that the Grant watch is still in the Sartoris family.

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