The Hampden Purchase

During the commissions visit to America, pragmatism prevailed and finding the bankrupt Dueber-Hampden (and Ansonia Clock Co.), plant up for sale the Soviets, through Amtorg, purchased patterns, machinery, tools and stock. 


The pre-contract negotiations were brokered between Bodrov and the company Receiver Raymond Loichot. In the letter below you can see that Loichot is using Albert Dueber (the former owner and President of Dueber-Hampden) as an advisor. Although he had sold the company back in 1925 he would have the kind of business expertise Loichot needed. Indeed the two men were also friends and associated in other business ventures.

 

The First Moscow Watch Factory (Poljot) history has it that two contracts were signed on the 26th April 1929. The first was for factory equipment at $325,000 and the second for spare parts and part finished timepieces at $125,000.

 

The Dueber-Hampden Watch Company was located in Canton, Ohio, and sold its watches under the Hampden brand. With no interest in the Hampden or Dueber trade names, they assigned them back to the liquidator.

 

A report in The Daily Republican newspaper from the next door state of Pennsylvania, confirms that Amtorg’s head commissioner for the purchase of the Dueber-Hampden factory was Mr A. Vladiminsky (he would become the first Director of the Moscow factory). Although based in New York Vladiminsky would spend much time in Canton finalising matters with Receiver Loichot. 

Raymond Loichot would have relied heavily on the Factory Superintendent John C. Miller for technical help. Miller would lead the party of Canton watchmakers to Russia to train the new workers. On the Soviet side Chief Commissioner Vladiminsky would have been told that four models, from the extensive Hampden range, had been ear-marked for production in Moscow and then worked with John Miller to identify what equipment was needed and also what spares could be utilised. Additionally, which ex-employees would be needed to train the new factory workers. Equipment and spares not associated with these four models were left in-situ. Evidence that equipment remained can be seen in the reports of the old Hampden factory when it was sold in 1949, 20 years later.

 

Two Soviet commission members Alexander Breytburt and Percy Dreyer (who unlike Breytburt, spoke good English) were sent from Moscow to supervise the packing. They were joined by a Russian emigre to the US, Samual Zubkoff.


Samuel Zubkoff, a watchmaker, was hired by Amtorg to accompany the 23 American watchmakers, on a similar contract. For an American emigre his background is unusual for he had joined Poalei Zion (the Jewish Communists) in 1915, took part in the revolution of 1917 and fought for the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. Having realised his political desires it would have seemed he was all set to participate in the brave

new world. However, right after the Civil War he emigrated to the US “to join his wifes relatives”. By 1923 he had joined the US Communist Party and was actively involved both in the party and in trade union work. In 1928, he arrived in Moscow as a delegate of the American Union of Watchmakers to the Congress of Trade Unions. One could speculate about Zubkov’s roles and motives; perhaps it was simply opportune that this communist watchmaker was available to Amtorg at the right time. According to Sue Killen, when they got to Moscow, Zubkoff and his wife Zina were given an apartment in the same block as her and her colleague Alfred Fravel. Herman London’s family felt they had much in common with the Zubkov’s as new American citizens, longing to return. Of course their political outlooks varied widely, but we may never know if politics were discussed between them.

Just to complete Zubkov's story. He would work with Bodrov on the prestigious State Bearing Plant being built in Moscow with American assistance and he travelled to the US in that regard. By 1938 he was back in the watch industry working as deputy head of quality control at 2GCHZ. Like many who had outside contacts, he to was arrested for spying and executed that year. He was rehabilitated on October 4th, 1989.

 

Percy Dreyer was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1900 to an educated Jewish family, and eagerly pursued engineering, the sciences and socialist politics in his teenager years. In the aftermath of WWI he was forced to flee through Lithuania to Germany where he distinguished himself and was rewarded with a scholarship to the Arnstadt Technology Institute. Afterwards he worked in the nearby watchmaking town of Gera, Thuringia, where he may have become familiar with watchmaking equipment. Percy Dreyer was a KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) member and classed as a Soviet citizen. This, or the economic meltdown of the Weimar Republic, made him move to the USSR in 1924. Tochmekh files state Dreyer was married at the time he was sent to help pack the Hampden equipment in Canton as the only fluent English speaker Tochmekh had at its disposal. According to the US Manifest of Alien Entry, his wife’s name was Annemarie and she lived in Gera, Germany. It is likely that Dreyer had met and married her when he lived in Gera prior to him going to Moscow.

To the astonishment of the former Hampden watchmakers, during the journey from Canton to the Moscow, Dreyer slipped away from the party in Berlin and failed to complete the journey. Having a family in Germany may have been a reason for defecting. Tochmekh tried to re-establish contact with Dreyer, and after writing to him without any response, asked Wolf Pruss to make a follow-up visit to his home in Gera; Pruss was on one of his watchmaker recruitment drives. The letter must have discussed the matter of outstanding payments Dreyer should have repaid when he defected and defaulted on his contract with Tochmekh. When Pruss arrived at Dreyer’s house Annemarie opened the door but didn’t let him in. Pruss wrote back to Tochmekh saying, “She tries to persuade me that he is ill, but adds that no one can visit him. She says that she doesn’t even show him the letter, so as not to upset him”. 

    Above: Two Canton newspaper reports about the impending move to Moscow.            

Alexander S. Breytburt​ 1901 - 1938

A graduate engineer who helped supervise the breakdown of the Hampden factory in Canton. He later became the Chief Engineer at the First State Watch Factory and wrote books on the watchmaking process. During 1936 and 1937 he served as the Chief Engineer of Factory 192 the Moscow Experimental Plant “Radiopribor” (later tasked with Rocket and Space Instrumentation) responsible for the production of remote-controlled boats, tanks, etc.

The Director of the 192 Factory was none other than his old comrade A. M. Bodrov. For the last year of his short life Breytburt held senior positions in the Ministry of the Defense Industry.

Breytbert was shot as a spy after a show trial during the purges. Rehabilitated in April 1956.

Andrey Mikhailovich Bodrov​

According to Romanov & Murzim, Bodrov was born in Tul, Venevsky district in 1896. By the time his political and working career begins his family had moved to the St.Petersburg area. The formation of political consciousness in Andrei Bodrov was greatly influenced by his family. His father and uncle were associated with the 'Irregular Circle of the Nevskaya Zastava', an early Bolshevik revolutionary movement inspired by Lenin.

In 1910, Andrei Mikhailovich became an apprentice at the Tilemans factory where he joined the trade union of metalworkers. Two years later he was working in the model workshop at the Putilov factory (in February 1917 strikes at the factory contributed to setting in motion the chain of events which led to the February Revolution). At the same time Andrei Mikhailovich became a member of the first Narva Cultural and Educational Society (Narva is a region on he Russian Estonian boarder near the town of the same name), and in 1914 became its Chairman. He remained in this position until the outbreak of World War I, when it was closed by the Tsarist authorities. In 1915, Bodrov joined the RSDLP (The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) and fought for the restoration of the defeated Bolshevik organisation in the Narva area.

He managed to unite another 50 party members but was unable to join up with the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee, or the leaders of the other regional organisations. When the connection with the Petrograd Committee was finally made, the whole district organisation went over to the Bolsheviks. In 1915 Bodrov went to Smolensk and then to Tula. He returned to Petrograd on February 7, 1917 just before the revolution. He was elected a deputy in the Petrograd Soviet and soon became a member of the Petrograd Committee.

 

The February revolution was in fact the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. It was centred on Petrograd, then the Russian capital. The revolution was confined to the vicinity of the capital and lasted less than a week. It involved mass demonstrations and armed clashes with police and the last loyal forces of the Tsar. In the last days, mutinous Russian Army forces sided with the revolutionaries. The immediate result of the revolution was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire. The Tsar was replaced by a Russian Provisional Government, an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted political reform. They set up a democratically-elected executive and constituent assembly. At the same time, socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet, which ruled alongside the Provisional Government, an arrangement termed Dual Power. Andrei Bodrov consistently implemented the decisions of the Party. As a member of the District Committee, he, along with other Bolsheviks called for the masses to support the armed uprising and actively participated in the overthrow of the Provisional Government.

 

At the end of 1917, when Bodrov was working at the Okhta Gunpowder Factory, the party sent him into Petrograd, where together with K S Eremeev & B P Pozern he engaged in the formation of the Red Army. A M Bodrov participated in the civil war as the head of the political department of a number of armies.

 

We know that after the Civil War Bodrov was rewarded for his loyalty to the Party by becoming the Director of Tochmekh. We have also learnt about his efforts to establish the watch industry. 

 

By late 1930 he was transferred to the new State Bearing Plant in Moscow where he becomes involved in its conception and planning, later becoming the factory Director. This was a prestigious appointment in a key industry and one that would require much political diplomacy as at the time different factions were vying for control of decision making. Bodrov was a member of the local Moscow MK (MGK) committee and so nailed his allegiance to them (which may have been the thin end of a wedge, with the more centralised Politburo becoming more prevalent).

Above: Letter from the Receiver to Bodrov(ff) © Dmitry Pruss 

Above: Letter from Miller to the Receiver © Dmitry Pruss 

From 1936 he was the Director of the secretive Plant No. 192, where radio control devices for torpedo’s etc, were being developed. It was probably factional infighting that led the ever paranoid Stalinist’s to associate the lack of progress at the Plant with sabotage. All of Bodrov’s appointments were clearly political, he was neither an academic or an engineer. During the purges, loyalty, ideology and conscientiousness were no protection and along with many many other Bolsheviks and non Bolsheviks he paid with his life. He was arrested, tried and executed within a month, during the Fall of 1938, on the pretence of participating in counter-revolutionary organisations. He was rehabilitated in the 1950’s

Vladimir Osipovich “Wolf” Pruss

(in collaboration with Dmitry Pruss)

V. O. (Wolf) Pruss had been jailed for pacifist agitation against the Russo- Japanese War of 1904-1905 when he worked as a railroad chronometer repairman in Irkutsk. During an amnesty he was released, undeterred he joined the socialist protest movement in then-Russian-ruled Lithuania, was rearrested, skipped bail, and escaped to Switzerland.

 

In Switzerland he sought advice from Lenin, who was a law student and made a living advising fellow exiles. Wolf’s girlfriend had joined him in Switzerland but in the conservative northern Swiss cantons, where they worked, the landlords wouldn’t recognise their civil marriage and wouldn’t rent them a house. Lenin shrewdly advised them to move to Geneva for a year, where the landlords weren’t morals-obsessed and then move back with a recommendation letter from the previous landlord. But the Pruss family ended up staying in Geneva and Wolf also studied there as a vocational educator in the newly formed J-J. Rousseau Institute.

 

Like other left-leaning exiles, he was ready to return to Russia after the fall of the Tzar, in one of the 1917 German-sponsored “Sealed Train cars” which Lenin had used to return. However, Wolf’s wife was pregnant with their 4th and youngest child at that time and their friends talked them out of this risky travel scheme, assuring them that it won’t be long before the next opportunity came along. But owing to the Civil War and destruction in Russia, they had to wait for a further nine years.

 

By then, Pruss had put down roots and wasn’t planning to return. He was keenly interested in education, social work, and supporting education charities. An American in Geneva, the brother of Anna Louise Strong, collected funds to rescue and educate homeless children from Russia. Wolf helped him and, eventually in 1926, signed up for a stint in Russia as a vocational teacher. They built a watchmaking workshop under the auspices of the American Industrial Workshops Charitable Project, which, whilst being plagued by red tape, managed to train the children to become Precision Engineers and Watchmakers.

 

Pruss did in fact establish and for a short period run the MONO (Moscow Department of Education) training facility, which trained teenagers in the watchmaking arts. A high proportion of the students were destitute street children many of whom were female. In September 1929 the People’s Commissariat transferred the MONO organisation to Tochmekh and Pruss took on the role of “General Consultant to the Director of 1GCHZ”. 

By 1937 he was working at the 4th office of Ministry of Defence Industry.

 

Following a brief show trial in 1937, during Stalin’s purges, Wolf Pruss was found guilty of Spying and executed. He was rehabilitated in the 1950’s.

John C. Miller

John Miller was born on October 13, 1875 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania USA. He started work at the Hampden watch works at the age of fourteen and rose to become the Superintendent of the Dueber-Hampden Watch Co., by the time of the factory closure in 1930. That same year he led the party of watchmakers, who had worked under him in Canton, to Moscow Russia. His wife Stella accompanied him but they had to leave their son Richard behind. When his 12 month stint in Moscow was completed he returned to his home in Canton. Just 3 years later John suffered a heart attack and passed away on October 19th 1934, just six days after his 59th birthday.

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