A Watch Story For The Weekend

Continuing on a theme; may I please present another interesting vintage watch inscription that tells a tale...

A Watch Story For The Weekend

For those of us with astigmatism, I am pleased to repeat the inscription in larger type A Watch Story For The Weekend

Presented to
George B. Hennessy
by the employees of the
Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey
Bayonne Plant
May 1917

What attracted my attention was the reference to Standard Oil of New Jersey during this time period.  What I found was a story of tragic-comedy proportions that far outshines even the pedigree of this ultra-fine minute repeater pocket watch.

Standard Oil began its corporate life in Ohio under the relentless leadership of the legendary John D. Rockefeller, his bother William, and a few other partners in 1870.  As was the flavor of the times, this and several other companies were soon governed by an overlord trust company, Standard Oil of New Jersey, which could be more conveniently controlled by a small number of people.

In previous posts, including Watches Do Tell Stories, some of the details were revealed which led to the Great Depression of 1929 and subsequent anti-trust legislation in the United States.  One result of all this fuss was the court-mandated break-up of Standard Oil into several smaller corporations; two of which should be familiar to us today as Exxon and Mobile.

And here we have an inscription on the back of a very valuable pocket watch from 1917; a presentation from the grateful employees of Standard Oil's Bayonne Plant to George B. Hennessy.

According to the New York Times of May 7th, 1917, in an article titled; New Regime in Standard Oil, and other references from the period, a more "crude" picture emerges from the pages of history than our watch inscription suggests.

John D. Rockefeller was not known as an advocate for the working man.  He lacked even the practical empathy of another industrial pioneer, Henry Ford, who raised his worker's wages enough so that they could afford to buy the automobiles they toiled to manufacture.  In 1915 the workers at the Bayonne Standard Oil plant asked for a 15% pay increase above the $1.75 a day they were granted.

George Hennessy was the plant superintendent and turned down this request.  He went so far as to refuse to meet any delegation of workers, which soon led to a strike at the plant.  In response, Hennessy hired a well-known company of armed guards with a proven record of strike-breaking.  During ten turbulent days, nine people were killed and fifty wounded in fights between strikers, police and company guards.  The strike was settled with a few concessions but just a year later another violent strike occured.  This time another seven were killed and scores wounded before yet another superficial settlement was reached.  Everyone braced for another strike in 1917.

Fortunately, a minor miracle occurred.  The reining president of Standard Oil died and another, more enlightened soul by the name of Albert Bedford, took his place.  One of Mr. Bedford's earliest acts was to replace George Hennessy and his key managers; an act which earned Bedford a great deal of good will among the plant workers.  In consideration of the very large profits that Standard Oil was declaring, Mr. Bedford had the good sense to be slightly more magnanimous than his predecessor.  A plant foreman was quoted as saying, "the men seem to be breathing cleaner, freer air."

But back to our watch; one wonders what group of loyal employees contributed to it's purchase.  Perhaps Mr. Bedford had it already inscribed and ready for presentation upon his arrival!
here is my story ...
04/24/2010 - 14:57
today is the perfect day in spring so far and it falls on a saturday. today, the weather is exceptionally good in hong kong, sky is clear (which is usually polluted) sunny and temperate. so it's the perfect day for driving to the outskirt, in my vintage jeans, sunroof down and with the perfect watch to match. i hope my children will remember this happy day with this watch - "may this watch bring fond memories".
with the internet all our stories will be documented :-) looking good
04/24/2010 - 15:53
that exact watch will be the first ever "vintage" VC I ever buy...
04/27/2010 - 03:45
I'd have to refer to Doc and Dean to confirm if it can qualify as "vintage" (it is, after all, a discontinued model from the past) The Jubilee is such a beauty, every time I see it I get the feeling that I need one. One day, one day... Thanks for the picture, I'll be having sweet dreams tonight.... Cheers,  Francois
thanks Dean - that's one story that would actually make the watch less
04/27/2010 - 03:49
attractive in my eyes... Still makes for a very interesting read, thanks! Francois