Luther Goddard: America’s First Watch Manufacturer
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Luther Goddard: America’s First Watch Manufacturer

- Keith Lehman (PA) 1/11/17

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English-style fusee with verge escapement and full plate with American patriotic symbolism. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.

Although WatchNews is a website dedicated to “All things wristwatch,” I want to share occasionally other horological happenings that we have here at the NAWCC headquarters. Recently, I did a graphic design for the newly acquired Luther Goddard pocket watch displayed at the National Watch and Clock Museum.

The Massachusetts Shrewsbury Historical Society supplied an image of a painting of Luther Goddard. Goddard’s story is one of opportunity, global trade, ingenuity and setback—a microcosm of the greater forces of the past and present world. After many hours of research, piles of sketches, and notes from thoughts and discussions with Museum Curator Kim Jovinelli and Museum Director Noel Poirier, a powerful and relevant message came to the fore. The image below is the final panel that currently is displayed at the Museum.

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Luther Goddard panel at National Watch & Clock Museum.

The information that follows tells of Luther Goddard and why he lost his business to foreign competition:

Opportunism and American ingenuity sparked watchmaking in America. In response to Britain impressment of American sailors the US Congress passed and President Thomas Jefferson signed the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited all trade with other countries. Its intent was to harm France and Britain who were at war; however, the Embargo Act proved to be ineffective, hurt the American economy, and led the United States into another war with Britain in 1812.

The absence of French and English imports created an opportunity for Americans to manufacture goods that they normally could not compete with. Luther Goddard (1762-1842) of Shrewsbury, MA, was an entrepreneur who took advantage of the embargo. He is considered to be one of the earliest American watchmakers and the first watchmaker to create serialized, or numbered, timepieces.

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Minute hand and dial. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.

Goddard began his career in 1778 when he apprenticed as a clockmaker under his cousin Simon Willard. He later settled his own homestead where he farmed during the summer months and repaired clocks in the winter. Seeing his opportunity, Goddard, along with his sons and a handful of apprentices, converted his clock workshop into a watch factory and opened up a storefront in Shrewsbury, MA.

When trade resumed after the War of 1812, Goddard could not compete with less-expensive imported watches and in 1817 ceased production. Goddard and his son, Daniel, moved to Worcester, MA, and established a watch repair business. He also served as an itinerant Baptist minister and often received watch commissions while visiting his flock.

Before he died in May 1842, Luther Goddard had created nearly 600 serialized pocket watches. His efforts are widely considered to be the first major push for the watch trade America.

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Luther Goddard's signature engraved on top plate. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.
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American motif decoration on balance cock. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.
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Serial number “462” and "Shrewsbury" engraved on top plate. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.
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Eagle hallmark stamp on back of watchcase. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.

• The Goddard panel at the National Watch & Clock Museum, 2016.
• Harrold, Michael C. “American Watchmaking: A Technical History of the American Watch Industry 1850-1930. NAWCC Bulletin Supplement 14 (Spring 1984): 9-12.
• Renaissance Watch Repair. “Brief History: Luther Goddard & Son Watch Company.” Accessed January 10, 2016.

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