Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9548
Waltham Clock Company
Waltham Clock Company Videohistory Collection, 1989
The Waltham Clock Company of Waltham, Massachusetts, the modern successor to the first American watch manufacturer, Waltham Watch Company, was founded in 1850. Waltham employees pioneered the machines and techniques necessary for the mass-production of pocket watches that made the company the dominant American watchmaking manufacturer in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The electronics revolution, beginning in the early 1970s, made mechanical watches and watchmakers nearly obsolete. At the time of the video recording, Waltham Clock was the last firm in the U.S. still producing mechanical watches. Employees made government-specified aircraft "clocks" (actually large eight-day mechanical watches), similar to ones originally designed during World War II, for installation in extremely high-technology cockpits. These mechanical timekeepers served as back-up in case of failure of the electronic timekeeping and navigation instruments in the cockpit.
The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.
Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.
Carlene E. Stephens, curator of mechanisms in the Division of Engineering and Industry at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH), conducted a videotaped tour of the Waltham Clock factory to document operating machinery, and to record the process of making and testing mechanical watches. During the sessions, which took place on June 27 and 28, 1989, Stephens spoke with employees who represented a range of factory operations.
In Session One, Stephens interviewed Joseph "Chuck" Martin and Marie Bastarache in Secondary Operations about jewel setting and balance screw insertion; David Buccheri, Charlie Paradis, and Vincent Rhoad, in the machine shop, about making screws on three generations of machines; and Richard Halstead and Edward Pitts, in the heat-treating room, about making hairspring coils.
In Session Two Stanford James spoke about quality testing of the watches; John Valmas demonstrated subassembly and final assembly operations; and Bruce LeDoyt discussed the need for engineering and maintenance within the factory. Edward Murphy, Tam Thi Le, Richard Welch, and Savay Xayavong assisted with demonstrations in the assembly process.
This collection consists of two interview sessions, totaling approximately 5:40 hours of recordings and 170 pages of transcript
Artifacts and documents from the Waltham Watch Company are located in the Division of Work and Industry, NMAH, accession number 225.117. For more information, please contact the Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Martin, Joseph
- Bastarache, Marie
- Buccheri, David
- Paradis, Charlie
- Rhoad, Vincent
- Halstead, Richard
- Pitts, Edward
- James, Stanford
- Valmas, John
- LeDoyt, Bruce
- Murphy, Edward
- Welch, Richard
- Xayavong, Savay
- Stephens, Carlene E., 1949- , interviewer
- Thi Le, Tam
- Waltham Clock Company
- Waltham Watch Company
- Science -- History
- Oral history
- Pocket watches
- Clock and watch making
- Technology -- History
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9548, Waltham Clock Company Videohistory Collection