BUYING WATCHES in the 1880’s

If you were in the market for a pocket watch in 1880 where would you go to buy it. You would go to a store. Right?

Of course you could do that, but if you wanted one that was cheaper and a bit better than the store models, you went to the train station.

Why were the best pocket watches found at a train station? The railroad company was not selling the watches, the telegraph operator was. Most of the time the telegraph operator was located in a train station because the telegraph lines followed the railroad tracks from town to town. Telegraph operators sold more watches than almost all the stores combined for the period of about 9 years.

This was arranged by “Richard”, who was a telegraph operator himself. He was on duty in the North Redwood, Minnesota train station one day when a load of watches arrived from the  East. It was a huge crate of pocket watches.No one e came to claim them.  So Richard sent a telegraph to the manufacturer and asked them what they wanted to do with watches. The manufacturer didn’t want to pay the freight back, so they wired Richard to see if he would sell them. So Richard did. He sold the case in less than two days and made a handsome profit. That started it all. He ordered more watches and encouraged other telegraph operators to set up  a display case in the stations offering high quality watches for a cheap price to all travelers. It worked.

It didn’t take long for the word to spread and, before long, people other than travelers came to the train stations to buy watches. He hired a professional watch maker to help him with orders. That was Alvah. And the rest was history as they say. The business took off and soon expanded to many other lines of dry goods.

Richard and Alvah left the train station and moved their company to Chicago – and it’s still there.


It’s a little known fact that for a while in the 1880’s, the biggest watch retailer in the country was at the train stations. It all started with a telegraph operator: Richard Sears and his partner Alvah Roebuck.

Thanks for our guest blogger – The Watch Guy. Check our his watches –

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