In December 1807, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to restrict the importing of goods from Britain. Known as the Embargo Act, it was President Jefferson’s response to interference with U.S. shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. For New England merchants however, it was an unpopular decision as they relied heavily on goods imported from Europe. One of the imported goods impacted by the embargo that spurred American manufacturing was clocks and watches.
Born in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts on February 28, 1762, Luther Goddard started an apprenticeship in 1773 under clockmaker Simon Willard.
Completing his apprenticeship in 1778, Luther worked as a farmer during the spring, summer and fall, and repaired clocks during the winter months. In 1784, he married Elizabeth Dakin and in 1790 he started making watches part-time. His son Parley, trained in his father’s workshop starting in 1800.
Shortly after the trade embargo of 1807, Luther took advantage of the restrictions and converted his clock shop into a watch factory. He hired additional workmen, several of them former British soldiers who had served in the war. It was here that he began to manufacture better quality verge-fusee pocket watches with the first Goddard watch produced in 1809. (1)
Verge-Fusee Pocket Watches
Used in antique spring-powered mechanical watches and clocks, a fusee is a cone-shaped pulley with a helical groove around it, wound with a cord or chain which is attached to the mainspring barrel.
Fusees were used from the 15th century to the early 20th century to improve timekeeping by equalizing the uneven pull of the mainspring as it ran down. The verge (or crown wheel) escapement is the earliest known type of mechanical escapement, the mechanism in a mechanical clock that controls its rate by allowing the gear train to advance at regular intervals or 'ticks'. Verge escapements were used from the late 13th century until the mid 19th century in clocks and pocket watches. (2)
A fusee is a cone-shaped pulley with a helical groove.
A cord or chain is attached to the mainspring barrel.
Luther’s son Daniel started his apprenticeship in 1809 and over the next eight years the business produced 530 pocket watches. In 1814, The Treaty of Ghent was signed, which ended the War of 1812 and lifted all trade restrictions with Europe. Soon lower-cost watches imported from Europe dominated the American market and the Goddard Company found itself fighting the competition. In 1817, Luther and his son Daniel moved to Worcester, Massachusetts and started a business repairing clocks and watches. Parley Goddard stayed at the factory in Shrewsbury producing another 70 watches over the next few years.
(1) Percy Livingston Small, Luther Goddard and His Watches (Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, New York, 1955)
(2) Thomas Minchin Goodeve, The Elements of Mechanism (Longmans, Green and Company, New York and Bombay, 1897)