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John C. Dueber

Canton - Vretman - Liquidation

Dueber the man.

John Carl Dueber was born in Öbernetphen, Prussia in 1841 and emigrated to the United States at the age of 12, together with his parents Johannes & Katharina (nee Schmitt) and his sister Pauline. The Duebers arrived on October 20th 1853 aboard the steamer 'SS Herder', having sailed from the city state of Bremen. John was listed on the ships records as Johannes Dueber, the same name as his father. According to John Dueber's grandson Robert Joliet, in an article in the Akron Beacon journal dated Dec 1976, the Dueber family became stranded in Cincinnati upon the death of Johannes Dueber (Snr.)


After leaving school John Dueber took up a five year apprenticeship with Francis Doll the Cincinnati watch case maker who was active between 1857 and 1872. Sometime in the 1860's, according to a NAWCC report, Dueber set up his own case making company in association with Doll. However, Frank Doll left the partnership after about one year. By 1874 Dueber had raised enough capital, with help from his father-in-law John Daller, to enabled him to establish a substantial watch case factory across the Ohio river to Newport Kentucky.


John had become a naturalized US citizen on the 21st of July 1871. He was a battler noted for pugnacity and tenacity. His demina was said by his Great Grandson as being typically 'Prussian'. Indeed, Canton and in particular North Canton (known as New Berlin until WWI) was predominantly a German community and the Dueber household spoke German right up to WWI, some 10 years after John's death.

When in his 60’s he described himself, in his passport application, as 5' 10½" tall, with a high and round forehead, greenish brown eyes, a slightly aquiline nose, round face, medium sized mouth.

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Left to right: John C. Dueber and his sons Joseph C. Dueber and Albert M. Dueber (the latter facilitated by Richard Haldi)

Throughout his business life Dueber would remain in sole charge of company policy. Whilst at times there may have been other partners, they would be sleeping ones. His closest advisor was Col. W. A. Moore, who was Secretary, Treasurer and General Manager of the Dueber company for about 22 years. Indeed, Col. Moore was one of the original incorporators in 1886. By the end of his life Dueber had secured all the stock in both the Hampden and Dueber companies, a state of affairs unique in American watchmaking. 


When, in 1885, he bought a controlling interest in the Hampden Watch Company, of Springfield Mass., Charles D. Rood was President but after the move to Canton he was replaced by W. W. Clark who became President and Treasurer. Clark served in those positions until 1895 when Dueber took over the roles himself. 


Other notable officers of the company were H.A Wadsworth, an English born case maker, who moved with the company from Newport to Canton and was the Watch Case Works Superintendent, later to be replaced by H. W. Detmering. V. S. Corey, was Superintendent of the Hampden Watch Co., all three men had worked for him for 20 years or more. 


There was a ruthless side to John Dueber. Whilst still in Newport he became embroiled in underhand dealings involving a competitor. The following extract has been compiled from a report published in “The Trader & Canadian Jeweler” March 1883...

The Keystone Watch Case company of Philadelphia utilised their Jas. Boss patent* to manufacture gold watch cases in one piece, a technique they were later able to apply to silver cases. Their cases had many advantages over Dueber’s and began to hurt his sales to such an extent that he sent spies to either find out what was behind the process, or poach away some key workers. Dueber chose Dick Clarke for the job and authorised him to spend as much money on wining and dining Keystone staff as was necessary. However, Clarke encountered a loyal workforce who ate and drank with him and then reported the situation back to Hagstoz & Thorpe, the Keystone owners. The matter was brought to a head when Dueber and Clarke travelled to Philadelphia and tried to entice key apprentices to come and work for him, with the offer of higher wages. This practice contravened State Law and gave Hagstoz & Thorpe the opportunity to have John Dueber & Dick Clarke arrested and charged. The men were apprehended at the Wall Street Theatre (which the report insinuated was a venue for the enjoyment of “Forbidden Fruits”) and later bailed in the amount of $8,000 per man. Hagstoz & Thorpe claimed $85,000 in compensation for lost business.

The report does not say what the outcome of the legal procedure was but does reproduce a damming letter (that was in Keystone’s possession) sent from the Dueber company’s office instructing Dick Clarke upon his spying missions, not only with regard to Keystone but other companies such as Waltham.


I should also point out a discrepancy between the report and the history of the Keystone company according to NAWCC. "Between 1883 and 1885 T. B Hagstoz withdrew from the company which became C. N. Thorpe Co. and shortly thereafter it was reorganised as the Keystone Watch Case Co."


I will now include the following technical note as it shows why the Boss patent created such a dilemma for John Dueber and his prospects.

*NAWCC: "James (Jas.) Boss received a patent for 'spinning up' cases made of 'gold-filled' type material. That is, material made of a sheet of composition metal (usually brass) sandwiched between two thin sheets of gold. Boss formed cases by rolling sheet metal as opposed to the traditional method involving soldering and cutting. Rolling increased the molecule density of the metal. His patent, No. 23,820 of May 3,

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© Courtesy R. F. Vail

1859, revolutionised the watch case industry by enabling the production of not only less expensive, but considerably stronger cases. Unlike gold washed cases, which were made using electroplating, cases produced by means of rolling had much harder gold surfaces and were thus less apt to wear."

NAWCC: Further evidence in an excerpt from a letter written by Mr. John J. Bowman (one of the earliest members of NAWCC and long term proprietor of the Bowman School of Watchmaking in Lancaster, Pennsylvania) on May 13. 1954., describes still another dark side of Mr. Dueber. "At the time of the Dueber Keystone war, Keystone used in some of their hunting cases, a patented lid lifting spring; the base of this was made of lead, for the definite purpose of 'pressing' it to a tight trim fit in its seat in the case centre. Dueber used the opportunity to publish and circulate, in ads, circulars, etc., an accusation of the 'Tombstone Watch Case Co.' of 'stuffing gold cases with lead,' claiming outright that this was to swindle buyers of their product by selling lead for gold."

NAWCC: Another John J. Bowman letter undated also refers to the Dueber Keystone fight and gives a personal impression of Dueber. 

"When I was a boy, John Dueber visited my father and stayed at our house in Lancaster  [Pennsylvania]. I have a very clear recollection of him; I remember his forceful personality; it made a strong impression on me. I can still 'see' him, in my mind's eye. As nearly as I can figure it out, this visit of his was about 65 years ago. Mr. Dueber was dressed in the fashion of that day for an industrial 'big-shot', his suit was of black cloth, with a very low-cut vest with an expanse of 'boiled shirt' bosom and a very fine diamond stud in the centre of it. Mr. Dueber at dinner, made quite a fuss about mother's 'huckle pie' and asked for a second serving of it and I recall how we children, when we got together after dinner, were amused that he said 'huckle pie' in praising and asking for some more of that deliciousness! At the time of Dueber's visit, father had a large business wholesaling watches, tools, and materials and no doubt Dueber's visit was in connection with Dueber-Hampden watches. I remember, in father's office, seeing in the trade journals of that day, some of Dueber's advertisements during his war with the 'watch case trust' and his picturesque language, even referring in his publications to the Keystone Watch Case Company as the: 'Tombstone Watch Case Company.' Those were the days!"

Dueber’s workers were classed as skilled and he expected them to dress and act accordingly. Factory photos show the men in collar and tie, and ladies in fine dresses. A confirmed story has it that upon leaving the Canton factories after work John's private carriage, complete with fine matching horses, passed by an employee who shouted "Goodnight John". Dueber regarded this as disrespectful and improper, he promptly rose to his feet, pointed at the employee and said in return, "You're fired".


John and his family were devout catholics and the clergy were regular visitors to the Dueber household. He was, however, not austere and lived well when his companies prospered. Whilst still living in Newport he kept a "party boat" on the Ohio river, called the "Olivet". He used this to take up to a hundred employees at a time out for excursions, once as far as the Upper Ohio. Built as a low water packet by George Strecker and Rodick Bros., in 1882 at Knox Yard, Harmar, Ohio, its engines were refitted from the steamer "Science". The Olivet spent most of her first five years running various trades on the Muskingum River out of Zanesville. Shortly thereafter it was sold to John Dueber, who eventually sold the Olivet to Biddle Bros., of Parkersburg, West Virginia.

On May 23, 1865 John married Mary A. Daller. She was the daughter of John and Teresa Daller and their wedding took place at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Cincinnati. The couple would have four surviving children, Joseph, Albert, Estella and Pauline.


In later life Mary Dueber became an austere women who dressed in black and did not endure herself to her wider family. This probably had its roots in the Dueber’s move to Canton from their home in her beloved Cincinnati. She resisted the move to Canton, which she saw as backwards and unsophisticated, she said Canton had pigs running through the streets. She pledged that if she was forced to live there she would never leave the house, and she pretty much kept her word. Whatever she needed she ordered from Cincinnati and had it delivered.


One of the families most enduring stories tells of the day Mary answered the door to a man asking to see Mr Dueber, she nonchalantly turned and shouted back into the house "John there's a man at the door for you". That man was another prominent Cantonian, and personal friend of Dueber, President William McKinley.

In Richard Haldi's book about Cornelius Aultman, another Canton Industrialist, he writes about the "sanity trial" of Cornelius's widow Katherine. During this sensational event it was reported in the Canton newspapers that "Positive testimony was also given", on her behalf, "by such esteemed locals as Mr John Dueber and his wife. Mrs. Aultman's North Market Street neighbors". So it seems she had made a special effort to go out to help Katherine. 

Bizarrely, not long after John's death Mary came across cases of Madeira wine he had had specially shipped from Spain. According to her great grandson the family recollection is that she destroyed them with an axe.

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The Dueber & Hampden businesses.

According to James W. Gibbs in “Dixie Clockmakers” 1885/6 were pivotal years for Dueber. By this time sales had reached $1.5million and he had just incorporated the concern as the Dueber Watch Case & Manufacturing Company, with capital of $2million, amongst other named incorporators were John Daller, his father-in-law, and Col. W. A. Moore. 


His operation was rapidly outgrowing the factories in Newport but due to a dispute between Dueber and the city administrators they did not allow him land on which to expand. The falling out occurred after Dueber had built a gas works to supply his factory. He later sold excess gas to adjoining companies and homes. Demand grew but the infrastructures requirment to pipe the gas led to claims over taxes. Instead of seeing this as progress for their city, the administration became intransigent. Dueber typically refused to bow down to pressure and instead decided to pull-up stakes and move. 

John Dueber got embroiled in yet a another dispute, this time with three of his largest watch making customers Elgin, Waltham and Illinois. This resulted in them, and the Watch Case Trust, boycotting his products. 

In the early years of American watch making the then small number of companies made both cases and movements. As the industry developed separate companies were formed to make either cases or movements exclusively. The case factories used mass production techniques and multiplied faster than the movements manufacturers and soon there was overproduction of cases. The watch case manufacturers banded together and formed the infamous ‘Watch Case Trust’. Trusts were agreements between business competitors, selling the same product or service, regarding pricing, market allocation and agreement not to compete within each others geographic territories etc. John Dueber was opposed to trusts and refused to join. As a consequence he was subjected to a boycott which made trading very difficult.

Dueber was faced with two alternatives: Buy a watch company, to enable him to sell his cases as finished watches, or submit to the trust. True to his character, in 1885 he bought a controlling interest in another of his customers, the Hampden Watch Company of Springfield Mass.


So by 1886 with no opportunity to buy land to expand in Newport, or accommodate the newly acquired Hampden company, which continued to operate from Springfield. Dueber let it be known around the North Kentucky, South Ohio area that if a city or town could raise $100,000 in 'gift money' he would move the combined Dueber-Hampden companies, with some 1,500 to 2,000 employees. Which with added families members would mean a 7,500 to 10,000 increase in population. 


When the city’s leaders of Canton heard about John Dueber's offer they wasted no-time in promoting their city.

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Maps of Canton (not matching scale) showing before and after the factories were built.

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The prospect of the arrival of the Dueber & Hampden companies came at a providential time. In the 1880's, the city's largest employer, C. Aultman & Co. faced an uncertain future having cut its workers' wages by 10 percent, claiming they were paid considerably more than competitors' employees. The firm also began closing down its factory from November to January each year, leaving workers unpaid for that period. Both actions placed a great hardship on the workers, their families and the city of Canton, where there was little alternative employment. The situation was made worse by the death of Aultman in 1884, the financial and social figurehead of Canton.


Canton is the county seat of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, approximately 60 miles south of Cleveland and 24 miles south of Akron. It was founded in 1805 on the West and Middle Branches of the Nimishillen Creek. Incorporated as a village in 1815, as a town in 1834 and as a city in 1854.

The Canton Board of Trade had recently been organized by Louis Shaefer and Charles Dougherty (below) and they now set out to raise the $100,000 needed to secure the factory. In just three months the full amount was in place. Twenty prominent leaders had guaranteed $5,000 each and the banks advanced the cash against their guarantees.

John C. Dueber was invited together with his eldest son, Joseph C. Dueber and a party of 40 associates and assistants, to a large meeting in Canton. The meeting was held at the Opera House in June 1886, with 1,500 attending. The Dueber’s were told that in addition to the gift of $100,000 by the citizens of Canton, 20 acres of farm land would be donated on which to site the factory buildings (later Secretary Shaefer bought five acres from Thomas Patton along the creek, to be donated for additional parkland to surround the factory). A congratulatory telegram was received from local Congressman William McKinley, later to become a personal friend of John Dueber and more importantly the 25th US President. The city council also agreed to a railroad spur running into the factory grounds from the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Work started on the new factories on October 14th, 1886. The plans called for two buildings for the two separate companies - the Hampden Watch Works to the south - the Dueber Watch Case Works to the north. The buildings had a combined frontage of 1,140 feet, almost twice as long as the large factory of their great rivals Waltham. The buildings were the last word in watch making architecture and were drawn up by Akron architects George W. Kramer and F. O. Weary. The park grounds surrounding the buildings brought a new note of impressive distinction and beauty to Canton's buildings, skyline and landscape. The central parts of each building served as offices and rose to 142 feet in height, the equivalent of 12 story skyscrapers. The turrets on the wings were 100 feet high and the steam-engine stack rose 150 feet. The most majestic landmark was the tower with the great E. Howard clock, with its four faces, which kept time for the next 60 plus years.

An article in the Evening Repository of July 12th 1886 declared the winning city as Canton, Stark County, second; Sidney, Shelby County and third; Mansfield, Richland County


Between 1886 and 1888, whilst John Dueber erected his factory, Canton busily built houses to provide homes for the hundreds of workers and their families, who were to come from Springfield and Newport.

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Canton Repository newspaper article © Canton Repository


The Hampden building to the left, the Dueber building on the right nearest Tuscarawas Street. Circa 1902.

The factory building operation got a set-back on the May 27th, 1888, when a terrific rainstorm and cyclone hit the south wing of the Hampden building (see photo right) and levelled it into a mass of ruins. The just completed wing, was 230 feet long, 30 feet wide and 3 stories high. Nobody was killed, or injured, but there was no cyclone insurance in place and the company had to absorb the $15,000 loss and several weeks of time. While John Dueber was looking over the ruins with his architects, 18 year old Ira Augnst approached him and asked for a job. Dueber engaged him on the spot. He was the first Canton citizen to be employed by the company and he continued working there for 41 years advancing to become head of the Heat Treatment department. He was also one of the 23 members of staff who would later go Russia.


As the factory openings neared there was a great buzz of excitement in Canton. A study of newspaper reports from that period reflects the degree of organisation that the city undertook. Committees were formed to take care of every possible eventuality. A big banquet was organised for the workers and members of their families. On the program, addressing the 560 guests, was Dueber’s friend Congressman McKinley.

Early in August of 1888 two special trains brought the first contingent of 250 Hampden workers from Springfield.  Operations at the Watch factory began immediately, a year earlier than the Watch Case Works. By the end of the first year the Hampden factory was employing 1,000 persons, and turning out 600 watches a day.

In February of 1890 the company declared an 8 per cent dividend. Net assets of the two companies were reported as $609,000 (January 1891), with liabilities of $612,000. Hampden watches enjoyed a trade reputation of being amongst the highest grade on the market. Hampden watches were popular with railroad men, an important benchmark of the era. John Dueber had chosen wisely when he bought the Hampden company, where the skill of the watch workers was amongst the highest in America. Watch case engravers at the Case Works worked 10 hours a day, 59 hours a week and considered $15 good pay for a week according to a Canton Repository newspaper article of the time. 


A collage of photo's and postcards taken over the lifetime of the factory. A copy of the staff photo is also seen on the cabinet at the bottom left.

Bottom right is a picture of the company parade float - Canton 4th July 1900.

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It is possible that the Dueber & Hampden factories were unionised but in what year and by what union no one is sure. At least we know that in 1901 Eugene J. Gebel, a watch case engraver, was named the first President of the Canton Central Labor Union.


The year 1891 brought a temporary set-back when Charles Rood and Henry Cain left the Hampden Watch Company (to help set up The Hamilton Watch Company in Lancaster Pennsylvania). This event foreshadowed the impending economic panic of 1893 when many businesses, despite having good asset positions, became embarrassed for ready cash. Even though Hampden had assets three to one over liabilities, it became dollar short when Mr. Dueber bought out the interests of Mr. Rood. Total temporary indebtedness was about $300,000, none of which was overdue. Nevertheless references were filed (a pre-bankruptcy action) for $217,000 and Judge Day turned the companies over to Howard Douglas, a Cincinnati lawyer, as assignee. All operations were suspended for a week or two and Mr. Dueber had to put up $600,000 in mortgages. A combination of Dueber, Douglas, Judge Goebel of the Probate Circuit Court, and a trust of twenty Canton citizens, soon worked out the difficulties and in a few months the assignment was lifted. Six months later all the trust indebtedness was retired. Thus in the year 1891 Dueber and his family became the sole owners of both companies.


Rood & Cain's departure may have also interfered with Dueber's business dealings with the Webb C. Ball Co. of Cleveland Ohio. Ball placed large orders for "Ball's Standard Railway Watches' with Dueber and this period coincided with Dueber making it clear he manufactured the watches and that he sold the same watch under his own name. Rood & Cain were the ones with a personal relationship with Ball, who would also participate in the new Hamilton Watch Company. Indeed, Web Ball was a Vice President early in Hamilton's formation and had an exclusive agency for the western part of the US.

The Ball Watch Company did not manufacture watches directly. Web Ball's original jewelry business in Cleveland grew into the Ball Watch Company. From 1875 to 1879 Ball had been the business manager of the Dueber Watch Case Company. Web Ball helped develop the specifications for watches used by railroads. He selected the best movements available, perfecting them and then reselling them. Ball Watch Company also ordered watches from other watch companies and put the company name on the face and watch movements. Webb Ball established strict

guidelines for the manufacturing of sturdy, reliable precision timepieces, including resistance to magnetism, reliability of time keeping in 5 positions, isochronism, power reserve, accompanied with record keeping of the reliability of the watch on each regular inspection.

The Waltham Watch Company complied immediately with the requirements of Ball's guidelines, later followed by Elgin Watch Company and most of the other American manufacturers, later on joined by some Swiss Watch Manufacturers. The Ball Watch Company branded and distributed watches made by Hamilton, Waltham, Illinois, Elgin, E. Howard, and Hampden. Watches marked "BALL & Co." are much more difficult to find than those marked "BALL WATCH Co." Ball watches are today some of the most collectible of the American railroad pocket watches. His attention to accuracy and promptness led to the well-known saying, "On the Ball."

Despite the watch business flourishing John Dueber still had to operate in the face of the watch case trust. This had been going on since before leaving Newport, all his fighting qualities were required to meet the continuing boycott by some 27 American watch case factories. They disapproved of his sale of cases to the Rockford Watch Company who did not restrict the sale of its products to the members of the association. By September 1888, he had succeed, in no small measure, in breaking the worst of the boycotts grip 


After the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890 John Dueber brought an anti-monopoly suit for $950,000 damages against The American Watch Trust for its alleged conspiracy to boycott his products. The combined capital against Dueber was about $10M. At that time the capital of the Dueber Watch Case Co. was $2M and of the Hampden Co. $0.2M. The courts decided against the Watch Trust in 1893 and the boycott was called off in 1895.


In August 1892 the beautiful landscaping about the buildings had been completed and the business were running at the rate of $3,000,000 a year. Hampden watches with 14 karat special filled cases and 17 jewel movements, said to have been the first on the market, commanded a high price because of their intrinsic value. Hampden brought out the first 23 jewelled watch movements in the US. Altogether the company brought out seven different sizes of watches, only one of which was discontinued. Karl Krumm was responsible for jeweling them all.


In 1896 a suit was brought against John Dueber by the Waltham and Elgin companies for infringing on the Colby Patent for pendant (stem) set watches. When the lower courts ruled against Dueber he carried the case to the District Court of Appeals before Judge Howard Taft (another future US President) and there won a reversal of the decision of the lower court.


The examples are diverse in content and reflect a bold, confident company at its zenith. One notable man who worked in the Art Department at Hampden was Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Charles Macauley.( From my collection)

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Retailers Trade Card - Morgan & Ruger, Elmira NY. (From my collection)

Dueber Cycles.

By 1896 cycling became the rage, people took bike excursions around the city and surrounding countryside. Members of the “Century Club” were admitted when they had completed 100 miles within 24 hours. Bike racks were provided for workers at the factory, at stores and schools. The two Dueber brother became devotees, riding around town impressing the local girls. It's not clear if they persuaded John Dueber to get into bicycle production, or if he saw it as a way to curb their lifestyles. Either way he did add bicycles to his production, in a special adjoining building next to The Watch Case Works. Manufacture continuing about five years until the space was needed. His bicycles were reported as 'the best in town' with the Dueber Special costing $85.


This enterprise was quickly disbanded when the watch case business needed to reclaim it's factory space to meet a large increase in orders, oddly enough from European watch makers.


There were of course some other prominent Ohio citizens capitalising on the national bicycle craze, the Wright brothers opened a repair and sales shop in Dayton in 1892 (the Wright Cycle Exchange, later the Wright Cycle Company) and began manufacturing their own brand in 1896. Wilbur kept time with his Hampden Railroad pocket watch, whilst Orville carried a Rockford Railroad pocket watch. They also used a Sun stopwatch.

Joseph Dueber.

It is thought that neither of John's sons were exactly cast in his mould and that they had a reputation for being something of playboys. Nevertheless, both followed him into the company. The younger son Albert M. Dueber would eventually be the last Dueber to run the company. The eldest son Joseph had been groomed to take over the business but sadly he fell ill and died suddenly on the last day of the 19th century, aged 28, a blow both to his father and to the future prospects of the company. Taken from the 1885 Course Catalog of Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. Joseph C. Dueber's recorded achievements. Second Premium in both Maths & Book-Keeping - Distinction in Grammar - Distinction in German - Distinction in Penmanship - Excellent Deportment.


John Dueber was a staunch supporter of William McKinley and also personal friend. Although he never sought political office himself he fought hard to get McKinley elected as President in March 1897. It would seem he was a little over zealous and according to the neighbouring Zanesville newspaper report, reproduced below, took steps that would not seem correct today.

The local, strongly Republican, Canton Repository newspaper may not have reported this incident as John Dueber and his associate Col. Moore had bought shares in The Repository Printing Company, the papers publisher, in Sept. 1890, George Frease was their partner and majority shareholder; John Dueber was it's President until his death.

On September 6th 1901, McKinley after assassinated by Leon Czolgosz. Dueber was chosen by the McKinley family to act as an honorary pall bearer at his state funeral. The photo below shows him (seated far right) with the other bearers.

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McKinley's honorary pall bearers. Dueber seated right. Image courtesy of the Peninsula Valley Historic & Education Foundation.
This is a unique picture of John Dueber and the only one existing outside the family. Any other will be a crop or simulated!  

One year after McKinley's assassination finds John Dueber writing to President Roosevelt's office seeking an interview with the President in which he boldly proposes a solution to the 'Miners War'. (see letter below)

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© Courtesy R. F. Vail

Sudden death of John Dueber.

In 1903 John Dueber travelled to Europe with his younger daughter Estella, where together they visited his native Prussia. When he and his daughter returned to Canton, they were met at the station by a crowd of 3,000 people and a band. Following his return he sent a clock to be put in the church tower at Netphen. During World War II the church was bombed, but the tower and clock were unharmed.

Significant events were on the horizon of the American watch industry. During 1905 capital in the Dueber & Hampden companies had been reduced from $2,000,000 to $500,000. 

By Wednesday November the 6th 1907, the Dueber and Hampden factories were operating with 3,000 employees. No longer at capacity for the huge buildings, which had at times ran four nights a week, making a beautiful sight, all lit up. John Dueber’s health had not been to good during the previous year but nothing serious was diagnosed or expected. On Tuesday, November 5th, he had felt unwell at his work and had been taken home. He was put to bed but gradually weakened over the next 24 hours. With his family around him he passed away during the afternoon of the 6th. The reported cause of death was Paralysis of the Heart. John Carl Dueber was 66 years old.


Report of the death of John C. Dueber © Canton RepositoryPhoto simulation © Author.

Albert Dueber picks up the reigns.

At the time of Duebers' death H. W. Detmering was the superintendent of the Dueber Watch Case Mfg. Co, and V. S. Corey, was the superintendent of the Hampden Watch Co. Both me acted as pallbearers at Duebers funeral; as did William Doll.
Albert Dueber (born July 31st 1874 - died April 20th 1945), who since the death of his elder brother in 1899, had been Vice-President (he also operated part of the time as a travelling salesman) became President of both the Hampden & Dueber companies; he was 33 years old and would head the companies for another 18 years. According to Albert, in a submission to the Committee of Ways & Means in 1908, the men were paid on average $18.93 for a 60 hour week, women $8.07 and boys $5.19. The national average wage was around 22¢/hour.
Through correspondence with his grandson I learnt that Albert was a kind, gentle, fun loving man much loved by his daughters and that he did not have the 'Prussian' characteristics of his father. Whilst he did not keep horses himself he was an avid follower of the races and went to the Kentucky Derby each year. He loved to read Western Novels and complete jigsaw puzzles he ordered from England. After the watch factory was sold Albert became President of the George D. Harter Bank. Unfortunately the bank failed during the Great Depression, much to his consternation. Indeed he used much of his own money to help depositors who had gotten into difficulties.

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Whilst he lived a simple life, he also counted amongst his friends the singer, comedian, actress, and radio personality Sophie Tucker. And Sol Hess the comic strip writer best known for creating the long-run strip 'The Nebbs'. 'The Nebbs' was populated with people known to Hess.

Editorial from the Evening Repository (Canton, Ohio), March 5, 1929. 

Mr Albert M. Dueber recalled Hess’s early days in business. Dueber, formerly President of the Dueber-Hampden company, not only knows Sol Hess and several of the characters very well, but in addition has been included in the column on several occasions as have his daughters, Josephine Dueber and Mary Jane Dueber Farrell.

“I first met Sol Hess about 30 years ago in Chicago,” Mr. Dueber relates.
“At that time he was errand boy in a jewelry store which was on my list and we became very good friends. He finally obtained his own store and was a jobber for Dueber-Hampden watches. Our salesman in the Chicago territory was Earl Stamm and he and Hess established a friendship. It is Earl Stamm’s son, John, who is the attorney representing Sylvia Appleby in the cartoon. The boy now is in college in Chicago.
Practically all of Hess’ characters are from real life. He is clowning his friends in most cases and many of his pictures of them are true to life.”

John Dueber had achieved much during his 66 years, but he had also been fortunate as the majority of the time he built up his company coincided with a buoyant and expanding period in the watch industry in North America.


Many great changes for the watch industry were on the horizon, many companies would consolidate, many would fail. By the start of the 1920s only 17 of the 44 companies, listed in Robert H. Ingersoll & Brothers 1919 ‘History of American Watch Making’, were still operating. This was the environment Albert Dueber inherited. And from 1907 to 1925, some 18 years, he set a conservative course for the Dueber & Hampden companies, capitalising on many of the principles laid down by his father. To his credit he managed to kept the organisations afloat by maintaining the company’s share of a diminishing manufacturing base. Perhaps what we would today call downsizing, although judging from the staff photo (see factory collage above), taken in 1913, the organisation was still a significant employer at that time. 

n September 1910 a Canton Repository* editorial called 'LOOK TO FUTURE' reported a feeling of optimism when interviewing Albert M. Dueber, President and Treasurer of the Dueber Watch Case Manufacturing Co.

“While the future is entirely problematic,” said Dueber, “the outlook for the next 10 years is a promising one. The fact that Canton’s interests are so diversified, I think, is the most important factor in its prosperity an essential which makes for continued growth and progress.
The shipping facilities of the city make it a desirable location for manufacturing plants. It is but one night away from the important industrial centres of the country, and this alone means inducements for outside capital to invest here,” continued Dueber. “Manufacturing concerns in search of a new location realize that convenience to the large cities is a big economic step in their business.”
Canton was “pre-eminently a manufacturing town,” Dueber said, and its future would be derived from that status.

“I hold an optimistic view for the future.” 

* There is evidence that John Dueber's share in this newspaper was passed on to Albert. Indeed, the Dueber and Frease heirs retained strong business links until the 1980's according to Frease's Great Grandson Chuck Bennell.

Things were changing in the watch industry.

A major shift in the industry was the transition from pocket watches to wristwatches. Not an easy one for a concerns that had built it's reputations on the former. Looking at the wristwatches produced at Canton, it’s apparent they are small pocket watch movements, re-cased with a wrist band. It is most likely that Hampden suffered from an inherent conservatism that believed wristwatches would be a passing fad. And by the time they realised they would replace the pocket watch in popularity, it was already too late. The opportunity to develop a modern wristwatch movement to compete with the rejuvenated Swiss, had gone. In all truth both the capital to finance such a project and the expertise to accomplish it, were probably both beyond the company’s resources. Perhaps, the drive needed to bring it off was also missing - maybe that would have been the destiny of the dynamic Joseph Dueber, had he lived. What we do know is that by the early 20’s companies like the Clinton Watch Co. of Chicago were springing up and capitalising on the trend of importing advanced, modern, low cost and reliable Swiss wristwatch movements. Ironically it was the Swiss who were almost put out of business by the emerging US watch industry only 50 years earlier. 


When Jacques David, of the Swiss Company Longines, attended the 1876 American Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia (the same year the Dueber Watch Case Co., was established) he reported his astonishment at the disparity of watch manufacturing technology then existing between US and Swiss companies. The American mechanised system was far in advance of Swiss ad-hoc methods, in that it brought together the entire production of watches under one roof, employing standardised machine-made parts made from improved machines and tools. In his opinion American chronometers of that time were better than the best the Swiss were able to construct.



On October 15th, 1915 a body was washed up on the coast of Ireland. The Lusitania had been struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat and sank in May of that year, and the man was presumed to be a victim of that tragedy. But he had no identification on him – except a Dueber-Hampden pocket watch serial number 3039347. Cunard Line officials were able to trace the man’s identity by contacting Dueber-Hampden in Canton, who were able to tell them who purchased the watch. The serial number indicated that the watch was purchased new that year. 

By 1922 the writing was on the wall for domestic American watch manufacturing. Evidence of the state of US manufacture and the move toward imports is evident in the transcript of the 1922 Tariff hearings before the Senate Committee on Finance.


Albert went to the trouble of hiring a brief to give evidence to the committee in favor of tariffs. He chose Roscoe Conklin McCulloch a lawyer and Republican politician who, at one time or another, represented Ohio in both the House and the Senate.


Here are some excerpts from the digest report (the full text is available on-line)...


The result of the deliberations, following the hearings, failed to protect domestic production and the watchmakers of Canton would soon perish despite the evidence of Mr. McCulloch. Another view is that the watch industry was outdated, un-competitive and that the man in the street was better served by the ready availability of good quality, reasonably priced, imported watches.


Whilst some manufacturers would gradually switch to imported movements, such as Hamilton, there is no evidence Albert Dueber intended to follow suit.


Right: R. C. McCulloch

Dueber & Hampden merged.

A year after the 1922 hearings he merged the case making and watch companies as The Dueber-Hampden Watch Co., with a capital of $1,000,000. He continued as President and Treasurer of the merged organization, John Miller was the Works Superintenden, he had started with the company in 1889 when he was only 14-years-old and spent 40 years working there, moving up through the ranks.

The re-organization may have been a strategic precursor to finding a buyer as the company’s fortunes would continue a decline. In September 1925 the Dueber family did sell it's interest in the Dueber-Hampden Watch Co., to a group of Cleveland businessmen, fronted by Walter Vretman who had made his money in the Real Estate business.

Perhaps we could introduce some of the key workers at the factory during the latter period. Details of the large workforce are scant but we know some of the foremen, job bosses and supervisors who were chosen by the factory superintendent, John C. Miller, to go to Moscow to set-up the equipment and train staff. They were: Collins Wilcox foreman of the Flat Steel and Screw Department: Charles Hammer forman Automatic Linemen: Sue Killen head of the Department of Semi-Automatic Machines: William Goodenberger Master Mechanic: Alfred Fravel foreman of Tool Making shop: Isaac Jackson was the foreman of the Escapement Dept.: Theo Freymark a Machine Shop foreman: Joe Snyder was the Balance Dept. foreman: Ira Aungst job boss of the Model Makers.: G. Woolston was a Master Watchmaker: Louis Ryman was the Screw Dept. foreman: Karl Krumm headed the Motion Dept.: Victor Roust worked as job boss of the Escapement Dept.: H. Gebhart in charge of Finishing. Herman London was the job boss of the Leaf Cutting dept.


A post 1923 photo as the name on the building also says Dueber Hampden Watch Company. 

Photo source 

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A 1927 advert that shows the range of watches offered at the end of the business.

Vretman, Bancruptcy and the sale to Amtorg.
The sale of Hampden by the Dueber family was the end of a era but I'm not going to make a separate chapter for the Vretman period; in effect the company only changed it's officers. Vretman became President; Fred G. Gatch, Vice-President; L. W. Wickham, Secretary; R. E. Rhyan Treasurer. The purchase price was $1,551,000.00. A price equal to the debts less $65,000 which was set as the commission for the sale. The assets were written up on the company’s books at $2,338,298 and offset by 8,000 new shares of non-par stock issued to the promoters in addition to 2,000 shares issued to the selling company. No new capital was invested.


With neither Vretman nor his associates having any experience in the watch business and insufficient working capital the company’s prospects were grim. Hardly any new raw materials were bought and many of the watches not shipped out on a consignment basis, were given to banks as collateral for loans. Difficulties in making payroll would see some employees being given watches in lieu of pay. These they were forced to offer door to door at a nominal price of $10 a piece.

The company does seem to have introduced the idea of using Swiss movements in Dueber cases. I have a watch with a "Dueber-Hampden Watch Co." stamped movement (see right) that was made in Switzerland. Henrick & Arnold (Hampden Watch Co. NAWCC 1997) catalog the ladies 21/0 size model ES358 with an imported movement made by the Venus Watch Co. of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and sold as the "Lady Grace" and I believe mine matches their description all-be-it with a different dial graphic. There is no reference to the date of production but Grace was the name of Walter Vretman's wife, as evidenced by her share certificate below, so it's reasonable to assume 1926/7.

The tiny one inch long case was designed and built in house by Dueber-Hampden employee William Woesner for which he is recorded as having received a bonus.

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A copy of Grace Vretman's share certificate

In the end the company's reputation within the retail trade was severely damaged, which had repercussion for trade. This coupled with poor financing inevitably led to receivership and in 1927, that is precisely what happened, as evidenced by the receiver in his bankruptcy statement (below).

Vretman had a poor financial history as can be seen by Googling the transcript of "Carr v. Savings Loan Co., 147 N.E. 641 (Ohio 1925)", if anyone is interested. It would seem his business dealings continued to decline as evidenced by a court report 10 years on: Harry F. Payer v. Commissioner. United States Tax Court. Entered October 8, 1946....

"In October 1938, petitioner lent the sum of $250 to Walter Vretman and obtained a demand note dated October 4, 1938 from the latter. Vretman, once a very wealthy man, was a well-known citizen of Cleveland who had engaged in the real estate business. Petitioner had had business dealings with him and had used him a number of times as an expert real estate witness in cases tried by petitioner. In requesting the loan, Vretman represented himself as being temporarily in need of funds. In 1940, Vretman had a heart attack from which he never recovered."

Raymond W. Loichot, of the First National Bank, Canton OH., was appointed Receiver by the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division. on May 19th 1927. After working out the inventory and selling the assets, all operations ceased in 1930, 53 years after Hampden was first incorporated in Springfield and 42 years since the Canton factories got going.


For two years Loichot sought to sell the factory as a going concern but all his efforts were in vain. Indeed, all of the other American watch manufacturers were undergoing their own transitions.


And then chance intervened from the opposite side of the world - the machinery and tools would eventually be sold to the Amtorg Trading Corporation, one of Soviet Russia’s buying agencies in the US, for $329.000. This amount was within $65,000 of the appraised value of the equipment, which would eventually fill 28 rail cars. For the record the 1st State Watch Factory archives (later Poljot) have it that two contract were signed on the 26th April 1929. The first was for factory equipment at $325,000 and the second for spares parts and part-finished timepieces at $125,000.

The land assets were appraised at $528,886.00 and buildings at $483,388.00. At a public sale the mortgagee, Albert Dueber, was the sole bidder.


The factory building were owned by the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company. But exactly who owned the freehold of the land is not so clear. The Meyers' heirs had donated the initial 20 acres and a further 5 acres had been bought by the Canton Chamber of Commerce. I have not seen any evidence that the land was given to Dueber along with the $100,000 "Gift money". Albert Dueber, in purchasing "Land & Buildings", may have been purchasing the freehold of the 5 additional acres, if they had indeed been gifted to the Company(s).


That paragraph dovetails with a report written in 1949 that the site was divided between the Dueber heirs & the Cally-Wyl Co., (A. B. Cable, E. C. Smally and H. Wyles) so I presume the Cally-Wyl Co., were the successor to the the Meyers' heirs and as such the freeholders of the initial 20 acres.

"Today (1949) the great former watch factory plant is divided between the Dueber heirs and the Cally-Wyl Co., which latter is a word coined from the recent owners, Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Cable and E. C. Smalley of Canton, and

Howard Wyles of Berea, Ohio. Mr. Wyles withdrew from the company about a year ago. Extension of Garfield Avenue is the dividing line north and south; west of that line the Dueber heirs retain 9.22 acres, and east of it the Cally-Wyl owners for the past three years have owned 15 acres, which include the main buildings. In the buildings and along W. Tuscarawas St. the Laundromat, Boardman's Floral office, Motor Mart for used cars, and Studebaker's Service Station are on the Cally-Wyl property, while Kroger's, Kestel's Canfield Service and the Dueber Movie Theatre are on the property of the Dueber heirs. The latter include Mrs. A. L. Joliet, Mrs. John Ferrall and Mrs. Robert Vail. The latter two were Mary and Josephine Dueber, daughters of A. M. Dueber."

The Hampden factory, south plant, was used in the 40's by the 'Old King Cole Inc.' company who were best known for making the papier-mache models of the RCA (HMV) dog 'Nipper'. Another model was 'Laughing Sal' and an example is displayed in Canton's McKinley Museumn and Library. The company moved into the building to meet it's wartime expansion producing papier-mache forms used in the manufacture of self-sealing rubber aircraft fuel tanks.

QuickDraft Inc., of Perry Drive S.W., Canton was founded in 1953 as Basic Improvements, Inc. in the old watch works building. When it was founded, the company focused solely on manufacturing draft control equipment.

Interstate 77.

Eventually the construction of I77 led to the demolition of the Hampden building and later developments would swallow-up the Dueber building and complete the eradication of what John C. Dueber billed as the largest watch factory in the world.

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Top two rows show I77 under construction and the swathe it cut through the old factory, which stands forlorn.

Lower photos from 1958 show the demolition underway. On the right the clocks have been removed from the tower.

Lower Photos: McKinley Museum & Robert Fulton Thouvenin

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The site of the factory today Part 1.

Driving west along W. Tuscarawas Street just before the I77 bridge you will pass, on your left, the parking lot of the Trinity Gospel Temple. Here once stood the Dueber Watch Case Works, half of The Greatest Watch Factory in the World.  Google Maps ©

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The site of the factory today Part 2.

Driving north on Interstate Highway I77 through Canton you pass a McDonalds sign on your right before going under the W. Tuscarawas Street Bridge. In this space once stood The Hampden Watch Works the other half of the Greatest Watch Factory in the World. Google Maps ©


Today the E. Howard Clock once housed in the clock tower is on display at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.

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