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The Life and Work of America's First Watch Manufacturer Presented at Museum of Time

-Aidan Hickey (PA) 8/17/17

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

My internship at the National Watch and Clock Museum is winding down, but thankfully I had the opportunity to attend a TimeTalk before I leave. TimeTalks are free informative hour-long sessions that cover a variety of horological topics offered by the National Watch and Clock Museum every other month. Presented by Museum Director, Noel Poirier, the topic of the last TimeTalk featured the Hamilton Watch Co. donation of watchmaking machine blueprints. This month’s topic, again presented by Poirier, featured Luther Goddard, who is thought to be the first American watchmaker to produce timepieces.

Poirier presenting a portrait of Luther Goddard. Keith Lehman.

In 1809 Luther Goddard opened his clock shop with his sons and called it Goddard and Sons. Between roughly 1809 and 1817 Goddard and his shop can be accredited with making 530 pocket watches. Much of Goddard’s success as a watchmaker came because of the trading tensions between the British and the United States after the Revolutionary War, which resulted in an embargo act. This embargo act was signed in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to economically harm Great Britain and France. Jefferson supported this act in an effort to revert to a less aggressive method that would earn the U.S. trading system respect and neutrality from the nations that harassed and stole from its ships. Now when people needed to buy or repair watches, instead of looking overseas, they could look to Goddard and Sons, who were more expensive but also legal. Later in his horological career, Goddard became a pastor and offered watch repairing during his tenure of caring for his parishioners.

American motif decoration on  balance cock. Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.

Goddard is considered very different and mysterious because he is thought to be the original American watchmaker and he carved an eagle emblem into some of his pocket watches. He may have made some pocket watches for influential figures in the Revolutionary War. As hopefully more Goddard pocket watches are found, speculation can be backed by more evidence. In pocket watch No. 462 you can see a popular design he used: the eagle and snake flanked by two flags. In the next picture you see an imprint of a sword in a hand, implying this pocket watch was made for a soldier. In the following picture you see the mysterious eagle emblem that was engraved into the watch. Are there more of these eagle emblem Goddard pieces out there? What do they mean exactly? Who could they have been made for?

Saber and wave engraving that was most likely for a client with a naval background.  Courtesy of National Watch & Clock Museum.

Before I started this internship, I was not interested in horology or watch collecting. But the one thing I did have was an interest and appreciation for history, so my horology appreciation grew over time. Working in marketing for a museum allowed me to hone my craft while learning unique and minute details about history, such as the Goddard watch company.

Poirier gives a hands-on session of two Luther Goddard watches and a silver spoon created by Goddard's son Daniel. Keith Lehman.


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