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National Watch Company “Pennsylvania Railroad Co.” Dial

Closeup. Double-Sunk “Pennsylvania Railroad” Dial by the National Watch Company, c.1872. [Elgin B.W. Raymond Movement #180892]
Pictured: Closeup. Double-Sunk “Pennsylvania Railroad” Dial by the National Watch Company, c.1872. [Elgin B.W. Raymond Movement #180892]

While stringent specifications eventually dictated the type of dial that was approved for railroad service, no such requirements were enforced during the rise of the railroad watch in the 1870s.

Around 1870, the American Watch Company introduced their new Crescent Street model, the first watch advertised specifically for railroad service.

The National Watch Company was also eager to capitalize on this new market, heavily advertising the B.W. Raymond as an ideal solution for railroad men, even referring to it as “the famous railroad watch.”

In the early 1870s, the company was the first to furnish private label dials marked for a specific railroad. These watches feature a B.W. Raymond key-wind movement fitted with a hand-painted Roman Numeral dial signed “Pennsylvania Railroad Co.”

 The 1873 Elgin Almanac draws attention to the popularity of this watch on the Pennsylvania Railroad:

“To railroad men, who may be considering as to the watch most reliable for their us, we would say the Elgin Watches are purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad Co., and placed in the hands of their Engineers as a part of their engine equipment. Nearly one hundred Raymond movements have been furnished them during the present year for this purpose.”1873 Elgin Almanac


Movements Cuts from the 1873 Elgin Almanac Advertising the B.W. Raymond Movement
Movements Cuts from the 1873 Elgin Almanac Advertising the B.W. Raymond Movement

There was a particular patriotic pride that sprang from the use of American watches on the new railroads connecting the most distant parts of the country. An article by Albert D. Richardson around 1870 eloquently lauds the Elgin watch for railroad service:

“The railroad is the great critic. Nowhere else is a watch so severely tested; nowhere else is accuracy so absolutely essential. After careful trial, solely upon their own merits, the Elgin watches have been adopted as the standard upon several of our leading trunk lines. On the Pennsylvania Road alone more than a hundred locomotives are run by them, and they are in use among conductors and engineers upon every railway in the Northwest, and upon the great trans-continental line from Omaha to San Francisco. That is as it should be – the Pacific Railway trains run by American watches.”Albert D. Richardson in Ancient and Modern Timekeepers, c.1870


Albert D. Richardson in Ancient and Modern Timekeepers, c.1870
Albert D. Richardson in Ancient and Modern Timekeepers, c.1870

These early railroad watches marked the birth of a market that would fuel the watch industry in American for the next century and continuously drive competitors to push the boundaries of mechanical technology.


Elgin B.W. Raymond Movement #180892 with "Pennsylvania Railroad" Double-Sunk Dial
Elgin B.W. Raymond Movement #180892 with “Pennsylvania Railroad” Double-Sunk Dial

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