I found the article in an old e-mail and decided that it might be of interest to OGR members.  From the looks of the original message the attached was a cut and paste from another article and I cannot vouch for tis accuracy.

If you were in the market for a watch in 1880, would you know where to get one? You would go to a store, right? Well, of course you could do that, but if you wanted one that was cheaper and a bit better than most of the store watches, you went to the train station! Sound a bit funny?  Well, for about 500 towns across the northern United States , that's where the best watches were found.


Why were the best watches found at the train station?


The railroad company wasn't selling the watches, not at all.  The telegraph operator was. Most of the time the telegraph operator was located in the railroad station because the telegraph lines followed the railroad tracks from town to town. It was usually the shortest distance and the right-of-ways had already been secured for the rail line.


Most of the station agents were also skilled telegraph operators and that was the primary way that they communicated with the railroad. They would know when trains left the previous station and when they were due at their next station. And it was the telegraph operator who had the watches.


As a matter of fact, they sold more of them than almost all the stores combined for a period of about 9 years.


This was all arranged by "Richard", who was a telegraph operator himself. He was on duty in the North Redwood,Minnesota train station one day when a load of watches arrived from the East. It was a huge crate of pocket watches. No one ever came to claim them.




So Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer and asked them what they wanted to do with the watches. The manufacturer didn't want to pay the freight back, so they wired Richard to see if he could sell them. So Richard did. He sent a wire to every agent in the system asking them if they wanted a cheap, but good, pocket watch. He sold the entire case in less than two days and at a handsome profit.


That started it all. He ordered more watches from the watch company and encouraged the telegraph operators to set up a display case in the station offering high quality watches for a cheap price to all the travelers. It worked! It didn't take long for the word to spread and, before long, people other than travelers came to the train station to buy watches.


Richard became so busy that he had to hire a professional watch maker to help him with the orders. That was Alvah. And the rest is history as they say.


The business took off and soon expanded to many other lines of dry goods.


Richard and Alvah left the train station and moved their company to Chicago -- and it's still there.


YES, IT'S A LITTLE KNOWN FACT that for a while in the 1880's, the biggest watch retailer in the country was at the train station. It all started with a telegraph operator: Richard Sears and his partner Alvah Roebuck!





Bet You Didn't Know That!!!


Now that's History!!!!!



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Original Post


Thank you for passing on this story. I have always liked pocket watches since I was a kid and now have a few railroad grade watches like Hamilton and Illinois. The craftsmanship of these watches is amazing.  I think I found the article you were referring to here. Sad to see stores we grew up with like Montgomery Wards and Sears go away.

Thank again


Years ago, the NRHS had a very good article in their newsletter titled "The Interesting Story of Railroad Watches and Time Service". If any of you are interested, drop me a line.

Thank you.  I am interested.  

Years ago my grandfather's (he worked on the Wabash) Illinois watch with his name painted in gothic letters on the front disappeared during my return the the U.S. after a two-year assignment in the Philippines with the U.S. government.  One of my model train club members suggested that I try a search to see if it still exists.  I have decided to start the search on the near future.

Thanks again,



Hope you have success in finding your grandfather's watch. Something like that would be priceless to have.  Years ago an old pocket watch repair guy told me that any pocket watch with a railroad name on the face would be valuable. The swiss are very good craftsmen but I think the American Railroad Pocket Watch makers (Hamilton, Illinois, Elgin, etc) had them beat back then.


When I had a part time job with Sears back in 1971, we were shown a film about the history and origin of the company during orientation. Then, as now, I found that account very interesting.

I have a reprint of the Sears catalog shown. There's language in it that basically says, if you can't find what you're looking for in this catalog, then you're just not trying hard enough. And that's pretty much the case.

They were the Amazon of their day.

Last edited by smd4

My father gave me his father's pocket watch before dad passed on years ago it did not work as it sat for a very long time but its appearance very nice. Few years ago i found Elgin pocket watch date codes online by serial # its an Elgin Father Time 16 size 21j porcelain dial with a gold engraved movement made 1923. Its listed as a railroad watch.

Recently had the pocket watch fully serviced and its currently running very well.

It will stay in the family as i will eventually pass it on to my son.



Last edited by Dieseler

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