And The Rest Is History

I read an interesting story the other day about, of all things, pocket watches.  Although they have been around in some form or fashion since the 16th century, they didn’t really become popular in the Americas until after WW1.  This was largely due to improvements in their shape, size, weight, and accuracy.  Mens watches, although women wore them too as fashion accessories, became a must have item, much as the wrist watch would become in later years.

Given their popularity, it would seem logical that you would seek them out at a watchmakers establishment or in a jewelry store.  However,  in the 1880’s, many men searching for a reasonably priced, dependable watch purchased them at train stations.  Since it was important to the railroads to run on time, station agents and telegraph operators, often one and the same person relied on their watches to communicate arrival and departure times up and down their system.  It was in fact the telegraph operators, not the railroads, that were selling the watches.

It all started with Richard, a telegraph operator in North Redwood, Minnesota.  It seems that a large crate of pocket watches was delivered to his station.  However, no one ever came to claim them.  It was common practice back then for manufacturers to send shipments of product (often at inflated prices) to merchants that had not ordered them.  When the merchant would contact them, the manufacturer would drop the price of the product to entice the merchant to keep them. However, in this case, the merchant chose not to even acknowledge the shipment at all, leaving it at the railroad station. Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer and inquired as to what they wanted to do with them.  Not wanting to pay the freight back to their source, the manufacturer asked Richard if he thought he could sell them. And he did.  He contacted every agent on his line and asked if they would like to buy a cheap, but good pocket watch.  He was able to sell the entire case within two days and realized a substantial profit.

Seizing on his success, Richard ordered more watches from the company and helped other agents set up display cases in their respective stations, offering the watches at reasonable prices to travelers. It wasn’t long before people other then travelers began to come to the railroad stations to buy their watches. In fact, Richards business grew so rapidly that he hired a watchmaker named Alvah to assist him with the orders.

Soon thereafter, Richard started to offer other lines of dry goods with similar success, making it impossible for him to operate out of the train station and still maintain his status as station agent and telegraph operator.  So he and Alvah left the railroad and moved to Chicago where they opened their own store.  It is still there today.  

Oh, did I mention that Richard was Richard Sears and Alvah was Alvah Roebuck?  

About oldmainer

I am a retired manager living in Southern Maine and a would be writer of poetry, narratives, short stories, and random opinions, and that's how Oldmainer was born. Recently, I decided to try an experiment. I added photography to the mix, using only a cheap cell phone with a limited camera and the editing software that came with it, and added the blog site Inklings at to showcase the results. So, feel free to use whatever you find interesting or worthy, but please honor the terms of my copyright when and if you do. They may not be much, but they are still a piece of me. I appreciate your checking me out and hope that you find something that will encourage a return visit. Thanks for stopping by.
This entry was posted in History, Insight, Life, Narrative, Short Story, Tribute, Vision and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to And The Rest Is History

  1. I’ll be darned–never heard that story before. I used to carry an ordinary wristwatch in my pocket, without a wristband, much like a pocket watch. Very convenient, I must say.


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