Brief History: Luther Goddard & Son Watch Company
1809 - 1825
Jefferson's Embargo Sets the Stage for American Watch Manufacturing
In late 1807, Britain and France were at war, and US President Thomas Jefferson, in his second term, was trying to keep America neutral and protect American interests. Following Jefferson's guidance, Congress enacted a trade embargo which cut off most trade with England and France. The Embargo Act of 1807, a response to the harassment and impressment of U.S. merchant ships by the British and French, banned U.S. merchant ships from sailing for foreign ports. Jefferson hoped to use the economic leverage of a trade embargo to keep America out of the war and at the same time punish Britain economically. But the embargo had little impact in Europe, and instead did great damage to the American economy, especially shipping interests and businesses which depended on goods imported from Europe. The Embargo Act was highly unpopular and was repealed as Jefferson left office in 1809, though the Non-intercourse Act, which also imposed restrictions on trade with Britain and France, lived on for several more years.
America's First Watch Factory
One of the industry's impacted by Jefferson's trade embargo was the importing of clocks and watches from Europe. With watch imports essentially cut-off, there was a market opportunity for American-made watches and clocks. These events set the stage for Luther Goddard, who had been trained as a clockmaker and had started making watches on a part-time basis in about 1790, to begin producing watches in his Shrewsbury, Massachusetts workshop in 1809. His shop in Shrewsbury was approximately 18' square with a hip roof, and a lean-to addition in the back where metal-casting was done. It was here that he began to manufacturer better-quality verge-fusee pocket watches. Goddard's efforts are considered by many historians to be the first serious attempt at American watch manufacturing, and Goddard is thought to have been the first American watchmaker to produce serialized timepieces. The first Goddard watch was produced in 1809.
Most of Goddard's watches were cased in silver, and sold for around $60; a princely sum at the time and about the the same price as a tall-case clock! Today, original Luther Goddard watches are extremely rare and are highly prized as historically important timepieces... they are an important part of early American history..
Luther Goddard Family Connections
Luther Goddard was born on February 28, 1762 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Luther was a cousin of clockmaker Simon Willard and apprenticed under him (in 1778) at the age of 16. After an indenture of five years (1783), he began working in Shrewsbury as a clockmaker, watchmaker and silversmith. He was also a homesteader and farmer... farming in the summer and repairing clocks and watches in the winter months. In 1784, Luther married Elizabeth Dakin, and at least two of the Goddard children grew up to work in the clock, watch and silver trades. Parley Goddard, born in 1787, began training in his father's workshop in 1800 at age 13. His brother Daniel, born in 1796, also began his training when he turned 13. Luther Goddard may have also trained his second cousin Nicholas Goddard, who was born in 1773 and died in 1823. Nicholas Goddard was to become one of Vermont’s most outstanding early clockmakers.
Goddard's son, Parley, joined the family business, which continued to prosper until the Treaty of Peace was signed in 1814. The treaty lifted all war-time embargos and trade restrictions, and the American market was soon flooded with lower-cost European watches and clocks. Goddard had focused on producing high-quality watches which were more expensive than the imports, and by 1817 the company had fallen on financial hard times. After production of approximately 530 watches, Luther Goddard and his son, Daniel, moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where they established a business repairing watches and clocks and silversmithing. Luther Goddard also served as a Baptist minister. Parley Goddard continued to produce watches at the Shrewsbury shop for a few more years, producing approximately 70 additional watches before he closed-up shop and returned to farming. Thus, the total known production of Goddard watches is around 600 pieces.
Luther Goddard continued to make and repair watches until his death on May 24, 1842.
Repair and Conservation of Luther Goddard Watches
An original Luther Goddard watch is a museum-piece, and should be treated as such. Watchmaking was one of America's first industries, and there are few surviving examples from one of America's first watchmakers. There are a couple of Goddard watches in the Smithsonian, and the NAWCC Museum recently acquired a beautiful example. Any repair or restoration of an original Luther Goddard watch must be approached with great care, and with an eye toward historical preservation and conservation. Such work should only be entrusted to individuals with extensive expertise with early American watches.
Luther Goddard Watch Company
Luther Goddard Serial Numbers and Dates
Total Production: Approx. 600 Watches
No known factory serial number records exist for L. Goddard watches.