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Ball Railroad Watches

In this episode of “Under The Radar” Tyler talks about one of the most historically and horologically significant watches to have come from the 18th century.

In 1891 the Ball Watch Company was founded by Webb C. Ball in Cleveland, Ohio. This company is intrinsically tied to the history of the American railroad system.

Before the development of railroads across the US, there was no urgent need for a standardization of time. Most towns and regions kept their own approximate time based on the position of the sun in the sky. But when trains began to connect travelers to other cities, the lack of accuracy and a shared standardization in timekeeping became immediately problematic and was impossible to keep a schedule and avoid collisions when trains switched to different tracks. Train conductors did not have accurate timepieces on which to rely…this disaster in the making became glaringly obvious.

On April 19, 1891, when a conductors’ watch had stopped for several minutes, a head-on collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio killed numerous people due to trains using the same lines in opposite directions and crossing paths without the assistance of accurate and reliable timepieces.

In order to make the train system safer for travelers and employees, Webb C. Ball was designated “Chief Time Inspector” and created tests and standards for all watches used on the trains. Ball’s criteria for accuracy and reliability were extremely strict and inspired others like the Swiss Official Testing Institute (COSC). Webb C. Ball also set up “RR Standard” (“RR” for Rail Road) to ensure accuracy and safety to all railroad employees.

Head of operations at C+T, Tyler Vanes is an avid watch collector and the host of ‘Under the Radar’ focusing on some of the more obscure and unknown – yet still collectable vintage timepieces.

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