Ball Watch Company
Webb C. Ball was born in Fredericktown, Ohio on October 6, 1847 and grew up the son of a farmer. Early in life he became a jeweler & watchmaker.
After a two-year apprenticeship to a jeweler, Ball settled in Cleveland, Ohio to join a jewelry store. In 1874 Ball became the vice president of the Hamilton Watch Company and focused his efforts on developing watches for the railroads.
On February 10, 1907, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers honored his efforts by appointing Ball as an honorary member.When Standard Time was first adopted in 1883, he was the first jeweler to use time signals, bringing accurate time to Cleveland, Ohio.
The Need for Acturate Time Keeping
On April 19, 1891, a head-on collision between two trains of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company occurred at the Kipton depot.
Eight people lost their lives, and the depot was heavily damaged. The crash occurred when a fast mail train heading east near Kipton and a
passenger train going west from Elyria collided. The passenger train was supposed to let the mail train go by, but the conductor had not
realized that his watch had stopped for four minutes and then restarted. As a result the passenger train was late getting to the stopping
point. Looking into the matter, the railway company enlisted Webb C. Ball, a well-known Cleveland jeweler, to investigate time and watch
conditions throughout its lines. Ball instituted the current railroad industry's timekeeping program, which specified watches trainmen could use.
His attention to accuracy and promptness led to the well-known saying, "Get on the Ball."
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Ball Watch Company
The Ball Watch Company did not manufacture watches directly. His original jewelry business in Cleveland grew into the Ball Watch Company,
The company helped develop the specifications for watches used in railroad which used other watch companies' movements, perfecting them
and then reselling them. Ball Watch Company also ordered watches from other watch companies and put the company name on the face and
watch movements. Webb Ball established strict guidelines for the manufacturing of sturdy, reliable precision timepieces, including resistance to magnetism,
reliability of time keeping in 5 positions, isochronism, power reserve, accompanied with record keeping of the reliability of the watch
on each regular inspection.
The Waltham Watch Company complied immediately with the requirements of Ball's guidelines, later followed by Elgin Watch Company and most of the other American manufacturers, later on joined by some Swiss Watch Manufacturers. The Ball Watch Company branded and distributed watches
made by Hamilton, Waltham, Illinois, Elgin, E. Howard, and Hampden. Watches marked "BALL & Co." are much more difficult to find than those
marked "BALL WATCH Co." Ball watches are today some of the most collectible of the American railroad pocket watches.
Today's criteria for the certification of each COSC Officially Certified Chronometer are still based upon Webb C. Ball's standards.
Webb C. Ball's Biography
Webb C. Ball was born in Knox County, Ohio, and educated in the public schools of the county. His father being a farmer, the boy learned to handle the somewhat crude farm implements of that day, but this machinery did not satisfy his inclinations for mechanics of a higher grade and finer type. His was undoubtedly the natural genius which has given America some of the greatest of the world's experts in the field of mechanical invention.
The result was the Webb C. Ball was soon apprenticed to a watch maker and jeweler for a term of four years. The schedule fixed his wages at $1 a week for the first two years, while during the third and fourth years he was to receive $7 a week. Thus he was put to work in handling the tools and repairing the delicate machinery of watch and clock mechanism. Mr. Ball has been in the jewelry business since May 13, 1869. From 1875 to 1879 he was business manager of the Dueber Watch Case manufacturing Company, whose plant was then located in Cincinnati. This is now a part of the great Dueber-Hampton
Watch Company of Canton, Ohio.
On March 19, 1879, Mr. Ball established himself in business at Cleveland. The site of his first shop was Superior Street, corner of Seneca. He was in that location thirty-two years. The Webb C. Ball
Company, of which he is president, is now located in the Ball Building on Euclid Avenue. Beginning business in Cleveland with a very limited capital, his shop consisted of two show cases and a work bench on one side of the room. There was a steady increase in the business both in quality and volume. In 1891a stock company was formed. Prior to that Mr. Ball had been sole owner and manager of the business. The Webb C. Ball company was incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio with a paid up capital of a $100,000. For several years Mr. Ball was manager and treasurer of the company, after which he
became president. During 1894-95-96 he was associated with the Hamilton Watch Company at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as vice president, director and mechanical expert. As a jewelry house the Webb C. Ball Company is one of the largest in the Middle West, but as the home of railroad standard watches it
is without doubt the greatest watch business in America.
Mr. Ball has devoted practically his entire life to originating and improving watch mechanism, adapting it to every test and requirement of railroad service. He has improved railroad watch movements and many invented appliances used in their construction. His business is both a wholesale and retail jewelry house, and the fame of the firm is by no means confined to the United States but extends throughout Canada and Mexico.
The occasion which prompted him to the development of that great service which is his chief contribution to American railroad life was a tragedy. On April 19, 1891, there occurred a collision on the
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad between a government fast mail train and an accommodation train. The engineers and firemen of both engines and nine United States Postal Clerks lost their lives. Investigations and trials followed by the public authorities. In these trails (sic) Mr. Ball was frequently called upon for expert testimony. It was finally proved that the accident was due to defective watches in the hands of the trainmen in charge of the accommodation train. Mr. Ball, as a recognized expert on watch construction, was soon afterward authorized to prepare a plan of inspection
and investigate conditions on the Lake Shore lines.
Those who are in any way familiar with the efficient system of watch and clock time regulation now in use on practically all railroads of the country will be interested at the results of Mr. Ball's personal
investigations. He discovered that no uniformity existed or was supposed to be essential in trainmen's watches. Watches were of any make which the owner wished to use. The clocks in roundhouses and dispatcher's offices were seldom regulated to any uniform schedule. After this careful study and investigation Mr. Ball evolved a plan of inspection and time comparison for the watches used by railway employees and for the standard clocks as well. This plan provides that watches of standard grades must be carried by men in charge of trains. No discrimination is permitted against any watch factory provided
its products meet the requirements. There are now seven leading watch factories whose watches are accepted under the uniform standard inspection rule.
Thus Mr. Ball was responsible for the establishment of the first watch inspection service on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in 1891, and since then that service has been extended to include the New York Central and all other Vanderbilt lines, the Illinois Central, the Rock Island and Frisco systems, the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific Oregon Short Line, the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City and Texas, El Paso and Southwestern, Sun Set Central lines, Western Pacific Railway, Lehigh Valley Railway, Boston and Albany, New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Fully seventy-five per cent of the railroads throughout the country employ the system of inspection instituted by Mr. Ball. As a result of that system thousand s of lives have been saved, the general efficiency of railroad operation has been promoted, and a vast volume of railroad property has been conserved.
The main office of this extensive inspection service is located at Cleveland and local inspectors are appointed at division points along the various railway lines. To these local inspectors trainmen must
report every two weeks for time comparison. They are furnished with a clearance card certificate which must record any variation in their watches, the limit being thirty seconds per week. If anything is found amiss the trainman must secure a standard loaner watch and leave his own for adjustment. These loaned watches are furnished without expense to the trainmen. By this card system a perfect record is kept and the trainmen cheerfully comply, as it safeguards the service and themselves as well. The Ball inspection service requires a large office force in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Winnipeg, with a number of traveling assistants. The railroad lines in eastern and central districts are administered from the Cleveland offices while the railroads in the Chicago, middle western and southern districts are
administered from the Chicago office, the Pacific lines from the San Francisco office, and from the Winnipeg office the Canadian Railroad lines are handled. Correct records of all the watches carried by the employees of the different railroads are on file in one or other of these offices.
Today the name "Ball" is a synonym for accuracy in construction of railroad watches throughout the entire country. In this field Mr. Ball's ingenuity and mechanical skill have a free play. He made a
special study of the requirement of railroad men in the matter of timepieces and has been able to keep abreast of the marvelous strides of recent years in railroad speed and equipment. His genius as an inventor has produced several distinct watch movements, covered by his own patents and trade marks, and
each adapted to fulfill the requirements of their users. Many times Mr. Ball has been referred to in recent years as "the man who holds a watch on one hundred seventy-five thousand miles of railroad" and also as "the time and watch expert."
Besides his noteworthy place among Cleveland citizens as a business man Mr. Ball is a charter member of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Union Club and Advertising Club, a director of the Cleveland Convention Board five years and its president in 1902. In politics he is a
republican. Mr. Ball was married in 1879 to Miss Florence I. Young, of Kenton, Ohio. They have one son and three daughters. In August, 1913 Mr. Ball established a wholesale watch and jewelry business in Chicago, known as the Norris-Alister-Ball Company, with his son Sidney Y. Ball as president. Branches have since been opened in San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Birmingham, Alabama; Cleveland, Ohio; and Syracuse, New York.
File Contributed for use in the Ohio Biographies Project by:
Susan Marsh Carr
January 16, 2001