Watches by Machinery
This is an article we found in the spring
issue of Harpers 1869.
It tells the story of the new
factory at Elgin Illinois. I have placed the pictures in place where
they appeared in the text, but I made them a link so you don't have
to wait for them to load if you are interested in the text only.
the odium of first introducing them, he would doubtless have been put to death as a sorcerer.
For several hundred years they were exceedingly rude and irregular. But not long after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Galileo, while noticing the vibrations of a hanging lamp, discovered the great principle of the pendulum that when a suspended body is swinging, any increase or decrease of its speed will not change the number of vibrations it makes in a given time, but only the length of the arc it describes. The pendulum was soon applied to the clock, and added greatly to its accuracy. Public clocks nevertheless have always been tempting marks for the shafts of satire. The proverb, "As untrustworthy as a town clock," still continues in vogue; and there is a witty saying in Peterborough, England, that if the clock of the cathedral and that of the parish church ever strike simultaneously there will be a death in the minster yard.
Until after the Revolution the American colonies had few clocks of any kind. Sun-dials and hour-glasses sufficed for those leisurely days. Why is it that the more we multiply inventions for saving time and labor, the more we are pressed for minutes, and the harder we have to work?
Thirty years ago " The varnished clock that clicked behind the door" was the great domestic time-keeper. Who has forgotten its monotonous "click-clack, "or its quaint, upright case, taller than a man ? What true Yankee boy ever failed, sooner or later, to take it to pieces, and see how it was made? Or the kitchen bellows, cut open to learn what was inside, was very disappointing; but the old family clock, surreptitiously dissected, proved its own exceeding great reward. Until within the last two or three generations all our time-keepers were made in Europe. Now, Connecticut clocks tell the hour at Jerusalem, at Calcutta, at Pekin, and at Irkoutsk. At our factories a fair little clock., neatly eased, can be afforded for eighty cents gold. American inventiveness has done it!
Town clocks and chronometers are reguIated from the nearest observatories. But the electrical clock will do away with that. One at some central point will serve for a city as large as New York. Wires connecting with dials on all the church towers, and, indeed, in all the dwellings, may regulate the hands of every clock in the metropolis to perfect uniformity. When the telegraph nerves run into every house we shall all get the time of day from a common source, as we do gas and water.
The ship chronometer-for determining longitude at sea was invented in 1675. One costs about four hundred dollars. The most are of English manufacture, though there are half a dozen makers in the United States. A few years ago the Greenwich Observatory paid a premium of three hundred pounds for a chronometer which had varied only about one second in twelve months. It makes no difference whether one is fast or slow; all the shipmaster requires is that it shall run with regularity. No other invention since the mariner's compass has so diminished the perils and uncertainties of navigation.
Watch is from a Saxon word signifying "to wake." At first the watch was as large as a saucer; it had weights, and was called " the pocket clock." The earliest known use of the modern name occurs in a record of 1542, which mentions that Edward VI. had " onne larurm or watch of iron, the case being likewise of iron gilt, with two plumettes of lead." The first great improvement, the substitution of the spring for weights, was made about 1550. The earliest springs were not coiled, but only straight pieces of steel. Early watches had only one hand and required winding twice a day. The dials were of silver or brass; the case; had no crystals, but opened at back and front, and were four or five inches in diameter. A plain watch cost the equivalent of $1.500 in our currency, and after one was ordered it took a year to make it.
There is a watch in a Swiss museum only three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, inserted in the top of a pencil-case. Its little dial indicates not only hours, minutes, and seconds, but also days of the month. It is a relic of the old times, when watches were inserted in saddles, snuffboxes, shirt-studs, breast-pins, bracelets, and finger-rings. Many were fantastic oval, octangular, cruciform, or in the shape of pears, melons, tulips, or coffins.
Mary Queen of Scots had a large one in the form of a skull, which is still preserved by a gentleman near Edinburgh. The case is opened by dropping the under jaw, which turns upon a hinge, while the works occupy the place of the brain. Old Verge Watch
Old watches are common in English museums. There are comparatively few in the United States; and I know of none of American manufacture much over fifty years old. F. W. Chamberlain, of No. 233 Hanover Street, Boston, has upward of two hundred-much the largest and rarest collection on our continent. One of the most curious is an old English verge, two inches thick. If it were only half as large it would be a perfect specimen of the ancient bull's-eye.
Another of Chamberlain's treasures-also an English verge-is over two centuries old. One would like to see a photograph of the man it was made for, Knee breeches, horsehair wig,and all. It keeps excellent time, not varying two minutes a week, though its little heart has throbbed on while six generations of owners have wound it, and carried it, and left it at the jeweler's for cleaning have been born by it, and lived by it, and died by it. A third is a French striking watch two hundred years old, with elaborate ornamentation, and allegorical male and female figures on the dial. When the works within strike the hours these figures pound with hammers upon little counterfeit gold bells, as if they produced the sound.
The ticking of a watch-the beating of its heart-is the playing of the two arms of the pallet in between the teeth of the escape wheel, at the point where the rotary motion of the wheels or "train" changes -to the vibratory motion of the balance. In nine cases out of ten a skilled watch-maker can tell whether there is any thing wrong with a watch, and if so, what, by putting it to his ear" as a skilled physician learns the condition of the human timekeeper by feeling its pulse or~ bearing its heart.
The mainspring is the locomotive, the wheels are the train, and the balance and hair-spring the brakes. When the mainspring is first wound up its force is much greater than when it is nearly run down. The old barrel and fusee watch equalized this by making the fusee spiral. When the mainspring was fully coiled, and pulled hardest, it acted upon the small end of the fusee, where the most power was needed. As the spring grew weaker the chain descended to where the fusee was larger, and required less force to turn it.
The English yet retain the spiral fusee, on their national theory that whatever is old ought to continue. The American watch dispenses with the fusee altogether, perhaps on our national theory that whatever is old ought to be abolished. Its mainspring instead communicates motion directly to the train, and its nice adjustment of hair-spring and balance-wheel insures equal time through the twenty-four hours. When a watch is first wound up the balance may make one revolution and a half at each impulse from the escape-wheel, and when it is nearly run down, only half a revolution; but the former will consume no more time than the latter, and so the watch goes uniformly through the twenty-four hours. How shall it be made to go uniformly through summer and winter? A steel rod maybe fitted into a hollow steel cylinder so perfectly that it will not drop out of its own weight, and yet it can be turned or pulled out by the thumb and finger, and it moves with the softness of velvet rolling on velvet. Hold the same rod in the shut hand for five minutes and the warmth of the flesh will expand it so that one can not drive it in with a sledge-hammer. Then put it in a refrigerator and it will contract till it rattles in the cylinder. If the metal is brass, temperature affects it still more. Winter will so contract the balance-wheel of a watch that it may gain two minutes in a day; or it may be thrown out of time by a few hours' sleigh-riding, or by hanging all night against a cold wall. Uneven temperature is the deadly foe of uniform time-keeping.
In 1767 John Harrison was awarded a premium of L20,000, under an offer of the British Parliament- which had been standing fifty three years-for any invention which should so far overcome this difficulty as to enable shipmasters at sea to determine longitude within thirty miles of accuracy. He gained it by applying to ship chronometers the principle of the compensation-balance, now used in all fine watches. It is simply a balance-wheel with outer rim or tire of brass, and inner rim and cross arm of steel. The cold, which would Contract steel alone and make the circumference of the wheel less, equalizes that by contracting the brass still more, the brass being so confined that its contraction enlarges the wheel. Under the influence of heat the steel's expansion would enlarge the wheel, but then the greater expansion of the brass contracts it. When these two influences are so nicely adjusted that the one exactly counterbalances the other, the watch will keep equal time whether in Alaska or Havana.