The Bulova Corporation was founded in 1875 by a Czech immigrant named Joseph Bulova, at a small premises in Maiden Lane, New York City. Little did anyone know at the time that this tiny fledgling enterprise was to grow into an empire that would irrevocably change the world of time and one day help put a man on the moon.
At that time, accurate clocks had already been built for many years. Said to have been the original idea of Galileo Galilei in 1582, but first built in practice by Christiaan Huygens, in 1656, pendulum clocks could already keep time to within a tenth of a second a day. With the advent of the mainspring, to replace the weights that had traditionally powered these early pendulum clocks, Huygens also invented the spiral balance spring, still found in mechanical clocks and watches to this day. Like the swing of a pendulum, the coiling and uncoiling of this spiral balance spring had a natural periodicity that regulated the unwinding of the mainspring. This new mechanism was able to replace the pendulum and make the clock more compact and portable. By 1761, John Harrison, a self-taught clock maker, had produced a self-contained spring and balance wheel marine chronometer, fully portable and accurate to within a fifth of a second per day.
By 1911, Joseph Bulova had set up a manufacturing business to build and sell high quality boudoir clocks, table clocks and pocket watches. The business expanded rapidly as news of these fine timepieces spread across the American marketplace. By the following year, Joseph Bulova was able to establish his first dedicated watch manufacturing and assembly plant in Bienne, Switzerland, building only quality fully jeweled movements.
At about the time of the First World War, there were many European watch manufacturers that said that the wearing of a watch on the wrist would never be a popular alternative to the pocket watch. Joseph Bulova, creating a pioneering spirit that was to become the 'culture' of Bulova, started to experiment with compact spring and balance wheel timepieces that could withstand the impacts and shocks of being worn on the wrist. Out of only a handful of manufacturers of the day, Bulova introduced its first line of fully jeweled men's wristwatches in 1919; the company started to grow, exponentially.
The link between horology, the study of time, and astronomy, the scientific study of the universe, has always been inseparable. From the first calendars, designed to track the phases of the moon, to the early clocks, designed to measure periods of daylight, astronomers and horologists have been working together to try to define the universe. In 1920 the first quartz clock was invented by J W Horton and W A Marrison and built at the Bell Laboratories. It took up a whole room, unlike the watches we know today, but it kept time to within one second every ten years; it was the most accurate clock of its time.
Our watches today keep time in relation to a 'solar'day. A solar day is the time it takes for the earth to rotate once about its axis and to return to the same position relative to the rising of the sun. Because the earth has continued on its journey around the sun during those 24 hours, it takes an extra four minutes of rotation for the earth to exactly reposition itself with respect to the sun. A 'sidereal' day is the time it takes for the earth to rotate once about its own axis, without reference to the sun. If our watches ran on sidereal time, about four minutes less than the solar day, we would soon find ourselves going to work during the night. But in 1920, a second was defined as being 1/86,400th of a solar day.
In 1920, Bulova moved to 580 Fifth Avenue, where it engaged in the ambitious project of building the first observatory to ever be constructed on the top of a skyscraper. Ambitious because, although it was now high above the heat radiation levels of the ground which disturb optical clarity in telescopes, it would be subject to the movement of the building. This oscillation in tall buildings is necessary to maintain the integrity of the structure against the forces of nature. Much technical evaluation had to be done to mitigate the natural movement of the building but eventually the observatory was taking highly precise readings of the speed of rotation of the earth, the measurement of sidereal time. In conjunction with the quartz clock at the Bell Laboratories, it was eventually determined that the earth did not rotate at a uniform speed; the definition of the second was fatally flawed, it meant nothing. We now needed a new definition for the fundamental unit of time. It would be another forty years before the world accepted that new definition.
In the early days of watch making, for Bulova as with other manufacturers, the individual components of a watch movement were all made by hand. Each watch was built individually with many adjustments and corrections being made to the components as they were being assembled and tested. The process was time consuming and costly, not only during the manufacturing phase but also afterwards, for maintenance and repair. If a watch needed a new part, it had to be hand crafted and refined to fit the individual watch under repair. This not only added to the cost of manufacture but also made the after sales servicing of watches very expensive and time consuming.
Following on with the company's pioneering and innovative spirit, which was to become its culture, in 1923, Bulova perfected a new technique in watch manufacturing, the standardization of all parts. Because each part was now built to an exacting specification of within one ten thousandth of an inch, the parts could be freely interchanged with any other Bulova watch of the same model. Bulova had driven a revolution in the watch industry, the rapid and low cost manufacturing, servicing and repair of watches. Other watch making companies quickly tried to change their manufacturing processes in competition with Bulova, but they were too late, Bulova was already ahead and now unstoppable.
In 1924, the President of the United States, President Calvin Coolidge, awarded a watch to Stanley "Bucky" Harris, player-manager of the World Series, it was a Bulova watch and to commemorate the occasion, Bulova created the 'President' watch. It was in this same year that Bulova introduced the first full line of ladies' watches, including diamond-accented pieces. The age of 'jewelry in watches' had just begun.
In the 1920s, radio was a new phenomenon, much like the internet today, no one really understood the power of this new advertising medium. No one other than Bulova that was, who, continuing in their rich culture as pioneers and innovators, created the very first radio commercial in 1926, "At the tone, it's 8 P.M., B-U-L-O-V-A, Bulova watch time".
Bulova have always been a company, driven towards scientific and technical advances, helping mankind to achieve new limits with the aid of their inventions. So it was no surprise to the nation when, in 1926, Ard Bulova, son of the founder, Joseph Bulova, offered a prize of $1,000 for the first pilot to successfully make a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh's epic flight from New York to Paris, won the prize. Bulova, already convinced of his likely success, were able to distribute 5,000 Lone Eagle watches, complete with pictures of Lindberg, the very next day in Paris. Over the next three years they sold nearly 50,000 of these commemorative watches. It was also in 1927 that Bulova Watch Corporation went public on the American Stock Exchange, giving all Americans an opportunity to share in its success.
In 1928, Bulova introduced the first clock radios to the world. Now America could wake up to their favorite radio station and set their watches to Bulova watch time.
Up until 1929, the clocks found in automobiles and recreational powered watercraft had all been spring driven mechanical clocks, requiring the owner to constantly remember to manually wind these clocks to keep them running on time. There had been some experimentation with the use of miniature electric motors to replace these mechanical spring mechanisms but the generally humid conditions were unfavorable for these early electric clocks. Bulova found the solution by replacing the manually wound mainspring with a solenoid driven short duration spring. The short duration spring would take about one and one half minutes to wind down at which point an electrical contact would be made which would energize the solenoid and rewind the spring. This rhythmic characteristic 'click' every one and one half minutes kept the clock continually running without the unreliability of the earlier electric motors. Soon, this new design of clock was to find its way into many of the automobiles manufactured in America and numerous runabouts, the powered watercrafts that were rapidly taking over the inland waterways of the affluent Midwest.
1931, saw Bulova begin to produce the first electric clocks. With the expansion of the power grid, electrical power was now commonplace in many of America's homes. These clocks not only included mantle clocks and wall clocks for the home but electric clocks for use in store windows, offices, train stations and airports. All across America, Bulova electric clocks could be found, keeping time for the nation. During this same period, Bulova became the first watch and clock manufacturer to start spending more than $1 million a year on advertising. As America entered the depression years, Bulova responded by supporting its retailers and customers in providing payment terms for many of its best selling products.
Bulova continued to pioneer new techniques in the marketing and distribution of its brands throughout the 30s and 40s. In 1932 it ran a competition to challenge its customers to name the latest timepiece in its collection, one of the best quality products of the day. It retailed for $24.75, the equivalent of about $300 today, and the top prize was $1000.
1935 was the year in which Joseph Bulova, the founder and chief innovator of Bulova Watch Company, died, but the legend lived on. The corporate culture he had strived hard to instill was more alive than ever, working towards new heights of technological advancement and achievement that not even Joseph Bulova himself had dreamt possible.
Bulova continued to pioneer the use of radio in the promotion if its products well into the 40s. Bulova were sponsors of all of the top twenty radio shows of the time. When in 1941, the opportunity was presented for television advertising, again it was Bulova that produced the first ever TV commercial. This early commercial was simply a television screen image of a clock and a map of the United States with the voice "America runs on Bulova time".
America was now in the 'war years' and in the same year of the very first television commercial, Ard Bulova, now chairman of the board of Bulova, announced that the board of directors had passed a resolution to enable the company to sell products, vital for national defense, at cost. Already being a leader in precision time technology, Bulova worked with the US government throughout the Second World War to manufacture, at cost, military watches, specialized timepieces, aircraft instruments, critical torpedo timing mechanisms and mechanical timer fuses.
By 1944, a quarter of all radio advertising was being used to encourage Americans to invest in War Bonds and Stamps and so the familiar Bulova radio commercial was adapted to the statement "B-U-L-O-V-A, Bulova Watch Time, Time to Buy United States War Bonds and Stamps."
After America won the war in 1945, Ard Bulova, in memory of his father, founded the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking. The school was established in order to help teach disabled veterans the skills of watch making. The graduates of this school were assured employment through over 1,500 positions being made available by jewelers all across America. The school was entirely funded by the Bulova Foundation.
In 1948, Bulova began researching and developing a new generation of commercial timing devises combining, for the first time, a photo-finish camera with a precision electronic timer. These were to become the standard instruments of competitive track sports.
Bulova research scientists and engineers had continued to experiment in alternative, more accurate timekeeping technology. Since the days of the quartz clock with Bell Laboratories, Bulova engineers were convinced that a stable constant source of vibration would be the answer to a replacement for the mechanical spring and balance wheel of a conventional watch. The problem was how to make it small enough to fit into a wristwatch. The existing quartz clock was the size of a room and the ability to produce microelectronics, capable of reducing the high vibration speed of a quartz crystal to a regular pulse suitable for controlling a watch, was still many years away.
In 1953, Bulova research scientist, Max Hetzel, working in the Bulova laboratory in Bienne, Switzerland, came up with the solution. Accurate to within two seconds a day, this first true revolution in the watch making industry since Christiaan Huygens' pendulum clock of 1656, didn't tick anymore, it hummed. A tiny battery caused a micro tuning fork to vibrate at exactly 360 cycles a second. The challenge was to bring this invention from the research laboratory to the production line as a commercially viable product, suitable for mass-production.
While work progressed on Max Hetzel's humming watch, Bulova continued to recognize the new trends of the industry by introducing move versions of its popular self-winding watch. In 1953, Bulova introduced the 'Wrist-Alarm', an entirely new concept in wristwatches.
In 1954, Omar Bradley agreed to join Bulova as Chairman of the Board of the Bulova Research and Development Laboratories. Bradley was a Second World War general and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was well know to the board of Bulova from the days of research and development in the war effort and widely acknowledged for his clear thinking in strategic matters. In the same year, Bulova released the now famous, Bulova 23, the self-winding, waterproof, 23-jewel watch with the unbreakable mainspring. Someday, all watches will be built this way.
In 1955, an independent survey by A.C. Neilson Company showed that Americans saw more national advertising for Bulova products than for any other products, in any other industry, in the world. Bulova continued to step up their advertising and sponsorship campaigns and in 1956 they co-sponsored the "Jackie Gleason Show", the largest sponsorship commitment of any watch or jewelry-related business in history.
In 1958, Omar Bradley, having already made a substantial contribution to guiding the development of Max Hetzel's revolutionary new timekeeper, and assigning William Bennett, Bulova's chief engineer in New York, to spearhead the commercialization of the design, became the chairman of Bulova Watch Company. He remained in this position, driving the company to ever new heights of achievement, until he retired in 1973 at the age of 80.
In 1960, the Bulova Accutron, as it was now called, the revolutionary timekeeping breakthrough invention of Max Hetzel, was ready for commercial sales in the US. The Bulova Accutron watch was to set in motion an unstoppable revolution in the watch making industry. Never before had a watch been available that was so accurate, not at any price. This new watch had truly done away with the spiral balance spring and escapement mechanism that ticked, having replaced it with a miniature tuning fork which hummed, keeping time to an accuracy of within one minute per month.
It was with this timekeeping mechanism that Bulova, the same year, entered the space race, having been invited by NASA. to incorporate this new ultra accurate electronic clock, into NASA's space program computers. The Bulova Accutron was used on a total of 46 missions of the US Space Program and went on to become the White House's official Gift of State, as announced by President Lyndon B Johnson.
But Bulova never rested on any one invention, and continued to perfect and redevelop its Phototimer clock for track and field events. By now, the technology existed for infrared sensing devises that could automatically detect the flare of the starting pistol and set in motion the event timer. All this could happen at the same instant that the competing athletes left their marks.
Throughout the history of time, the search for standard time and the development of time zones across America, was never more important than is was for the early railroads. It was in 1883, that the railroads first introduced the idea of having a standard time with time zones, but it took until 1918, and the introduction of the Standard Time Act, for their recommendations to become law. The railroad personnel always needed to carry the most accurate timepieces of the day and were still using pocket watches in the early sixties. It was in 1962 that the Railroad Commission certified the Bulovar Accutron watch as the first wristwatch to ever be approved for use by the railroad, thus documenting the great achievement of the Bulova company.
It was also in 1962, that Bulova introduced the Caravelle line of jeweled watches, priced to compete with existing non-jeweled watches in the same market. By 1968, the Caravelle was the largest selling jeweled watch in America.
Bulovar continued to promote the expanding sales if its Bulova Accutron watches with commercials on many popular prime time television shows in the mid sixties. In 1967, the Accutron clocks were the only clocks to be found onboard Air Force One.
In 1967, forty years after the standard measurement of time was proved to be inadequate, a new standard was finally agreed. The second was redefined as being exactly 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the cesium atom's resonant frequency. With the acceptance of the cesium atomic clocks, a new era of time signal generation developed.
In 1968, the Bulova Satellite Clock, the world's first public clock regulated by satellite time signals, was inaugurated by Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, the President of Mexico. The clock was installed on the top of Mexico's tallest building, the Torre Latino Americana.
When Apollo 11, landed on the moon in the Sea of Tranquility, in 1969, it carried with it an Accutron watch movement. This Bulova timer was left behind to control the transmission of vital data that was to form the basis of further experiments over the years ahead. One of the experiments in which the moon-based Bulova Accutron was critical was the precise measurement of the distance of the moon from the earth and the changes in that distance over time.
In 1969, Bulova introduced the first quartz-based clock, the Accuquartz. The vital electronic components required to count the thousands of oscillations per second produced by the vibrating piezoelectric quartz crystal, could now be contain within the case of a clock. But the miniaturization process continued at Bulova until, the following year, it announced the arrival of the Bulova Accuquartz men's calendar wristwatch. This watch, with an 18K gold case, retailed for $1,325 and was the first quartz crystal watch available commercially in the United States.
Continuing with Bulova's commitment to the NASA space program, in 1973, three specially designed Accutron portable alarm clocks were placed on board the Skylab. The Skylab was the world's first space laboratory and was launched from Cape Kennedy.
During that year, Bulova won the world's first design competition for solid-state digital watches at the Prix de la Ville de Geneve watch-styling competition, the world's most prestigious international watch-styling competition. Bulova also won two of the three honorable mentions awarded at the competition.
In 1976, Bulova was ready to introduce a complete line of Bulova Accutron Quartz movement watches for men. The National Air and Space Museum was opened by the Smithsonian Institute the same year, and in one of its main features, a replica of the NASA Skylab, was an Accutron "space alarm" clock identical to the ones mounted onboard the actual Skylab. The following year, Bulova released its full line of Accutron Quartz movement watches for ladies.
Bulova became a full subsidiary of the Loews Corporation in 1979, assuring it the support and capital required to compete in the ever more demanding world of time technology and development. The company continued to record firsts in innovation when it unveiled the world's thinnest wall clock, the Bulova Dimension, in 1983. The depth of the clock measured just 5/8th of an inch. In 1986, Bulova began to create another new category in timepieces when it released the first miniature clock. The popularity and collect ability of these clocks has grown rapidly with Bulova again leading the market with entire classifications of themed groupings and limited edition pieces.
Bulova becomes the official supplier to the U.S. Olympic team in 1987, providing watches for both the winter games in Calgary and the summer games in Seoul.
Bulova watch Company, Inc. changed its name in 1988 to Bulova Corporation to better reflect the company's growth into new and different timekeeping products. During the nineties it expanded its distribution licenses into South America, the Far East and Europe while reestablishing the Accutron as the premier brand of the Bulova Corporation.
Bulova is one of the most recognized brand names in watches.
Bulova, keeping America's time for generations.
To learn all about the invention of the clock, from the sundial to the atomic, or the history of calendars, the origin of America's Time zones, why daylight savings, and much more, visit www.allamericanwatches.com, the only site on the web which features all Bulova's products.