Time and Great Grandpa’s Pocketwatch

We know that time is an artificial measurement and a concept whose raison d’etreis to provide a way for humans to synchronize all that we do and perform a sophisticated measurement function. As our planet has accelerated toward an increasingly internet-connected, synchronous symphony of communications between we humans, time has quickly become a gating factor in the way we work together…and when we are able to do so.

In the U.S., the advent of the railroad — and the need to efficiently synchronize its schedule with all those who increasingly depended on it — caused a ripple effect throughout our country in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Watches became more than a rich man’s fashion accessory. They became a necessity to do business and watch companies proliferated. The telegraph was used to send out time synching notifications so that railroad personnel could sync and set their watches to Greenwich Mean Time and thus could keep this primary economic engine moving the country forward.

All of these thoughts about time came flooding back to me when I came into possession today of my great Grandfather’s pocketwatch. This beautifully crafted gold Hamilton watch was manufactured in 1902 and I wound it, set the time, and have been observing its timekeeping all day and comparing it to my computer clock (which connects to the atomic clock in Colorado via the internet).

This more than 100 year old watch has been keeping perfect time.

My great Grandfather, John Borsch, had a store in Delano, Minnesota next to the railroad line. As it turns out, I popped the back off of this watch and it stated, “Made Expressly for A. L. Mealey by Hamilton Watch Co.“.  Mr. Mealey was also a merchant in Delano and my great Grandfather obviously purchased this watch from him as Mealey was a Hamilton reseller…though I have several other cheap railroad watches that John must’ve traded for when railroad men couldn’t pay their bills and he certainly could’ve just used one of those.

What strikes me as I hold this watch — which makes me think of him holding it, checking the time and has been a stunningly powerful experience today — is how RADICALLY things have changed in what is really a remarkably short time in human history.

John owned the store below and would travel to other cities, buy up distressed merchants goods, and liquidate as much as possible in Minneapolis before packing up the rest and selling it off in the store pictured below. It took DAYS to travel to these other cities and it was a big deal to just head from Delano to Minneapolis…what is now a 15-20 minute drive (non-rush hour).

This pocketwatch was manufactured in 1902 or 1903…just a hair over 100 years ago. What was John’s reality then? Was he thinking about cars, phones and other “new technology” that was making he and his family’s life better? Maybe streamlining his business? 

He and my great Grandmother, Clara, ended up retiring in their mid-Forties and traveled extensively (nuts…guess I missed THAT milestone!). It makes me stop and think about my technoweenie 11 year old son (to whom I’ll one day hand down this same watch) and what life will be like for he and his children in 2106. Will this watch still run? Will everything be synchronized via GPS and wireless connectivity so timekeeping devices will be irrelevant? What will life be like?

Just now I popped open the back of the watch and am simply sitting and staring at the movement spinning back-n-forth, clicking and keeping nearly perfect time. The engineering and craftsmanship is magnificent. Compare that with my nearly $200 Jabra X10 Bluetooth headset whose ear holder just snapped off, my $200 Shure iPod headphones whose rubber ear pieces pop off and I lose ’em, my Treo 700p that seems to “hang” often and just not work, and all the other gadgets I own whose complexity and breadth can’t seem to achieve the elegance and singularity of purpose delivered by this old timepiece.

I’m just going to sit here and look at this watch for awhile…


  1. Lars Plougmann on August 16, 2006 at 3:10 am

    An enjoyable look back in time, thinking about time past and future, prompted by an old timepiece that keeps time.

  2. Steve Borsch on February 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Mary Jo,

    It’s Steve…my great-grandpa was John and the store was originally in one spot two blocks back from Bridge Street but then he moved it directly on to Bridge (don’t know the address).


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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.