CUYAHOGA COUNTY OHIO
File Contributed for use in the Ohio Biographies Project by
Susan Marsh Carr
January 16, 2001
BALL, Webb C.
Cleveland Special Limited Edition, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago & New
Webb C. Ball was born in Knox County, Ohio, and educated in the public schools of the county.
His father being a farmer, the boy learned to handle the somewhat crude farm implements of that day, but
this machinery did not satisfy his inclinations for mechanics of a higher grade and finer type. His was
undoubtedly the natural genius which has given America some of the greatest of the world's experts in the
field of mechanical invention.
The result was the Webb C. Ball was soon apprenticed to a watch maker and jeweler for a term of
four years. The schedule fixed his wages at $1 a week for the first two years, while during the third and
fourth years he was to receive $7 a week. Thus he was put to work in handling the tools and repairing the
delicate machinery of watch and clock mechanism. Mr. Ball has been in the jewelry business since May
13, 1869. From 1875 to 1879 he was business manager of the Dueber Watch Case manufacturing
Company, whose plant was then located in Cincinnati. This is now a part of the great Dueber-Hampton
Watch Company of Canton, Ohio.
On March 19, 1879, Mr. Ball established himself in business at Cleveland. The site of his first
shop was Superior Street, corner of Seneca. He was in that location thirty-two years. The Webb C. Ball
Company, of which he is president, is now located in the Ball Building on Euclid Avenue. Beginning
business in Cleveland with a very limited capital, his shop consisted of two show cases and a work bench
on one side of the room. There was a steady increase in the business both in quality and volume. In 1891
a stock company was formed. Prior to that Mr. Ball had been sole owner and manager of the business.
The Webb C. Ball company was incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio with a paid up capital of
a $100,000. For several years Mr. Ball was manager and treasurer of the company, after which he
became president. During 1894-95-96 he was associated with the Hamilton Watch Company at
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as vice president, director and mechanical expert. As a jewelry house the Webb
C. Ball Company is one of the largest in the Middle West, but as the home of railroad standard watches it
is without doubt the greatest watch business in America.
Mr. Ball has devoted practically his entire life to originating and improving watch mechanism,
adapting it to every test and requirement of railroad service. He has improved railroad watch movements
and many invented appliances used in their construction. His business is both a wholesale and retail
jewelry house, and the fame of the firm is by no means confined to the United States but extends
throughout Canada and Mexico.
The occasion which prompted him to the development of that great service which is his chief
contribution to American railroad life was a tragedy. On April 19, 1891, there occurred a collision on the
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad between a government fast mail train and an
accommodation train. The engineers and firemen of both engines and nine United States Postal Clerks
lost their lives. Investigations and trials followed by the public authorities. In these trails (sic) Mr. Ball
was frequently called upon for expert testimony. It was finally proved that the accident was due to
defective watches in the hands of the trainmen in charge of the accommodation train. Mr. Ball, as a
recognized expert on watch construction, was soon afterward authorized to prepare a plan of inspection
and investigate conditions on the Lake Shore lines.
Those who are in any way familiar with the efficient system of watch and clock time regulation
now in use on practically all railroads of the country will be interested at the results of Mr. Ball's personal
investigations. He discovered that no uniformity existed or was supposed to be essential in trainmen's
watches. Watches were of any make which the owner wished to use. The clocks in roundhouses and
dispatcher's offices were seldom regulated to any uniform schedule. After this careful study and
investigation Mr. Ball evolved a plan of inspection and time comparison for the watches used by railway
employees and for the standard clocks as well. This plan provides that watches of standard grades must
be carried by men in charge of trains. No discrimination is permitted against any watch factory provided
its products meet the requirements. There are now seven leading watch factories whose watches are
accepted under the uniform standard inspection rule.
Thus Mr. Ball was responsible for the establishment of the first watch inspection service on the
Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in 1891, and since then that service has been extended to
include the New York Central and all other Vanderbilt lines, the Illinois Central, the Rock Island and
Frisco systems, the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific Oregon Short Line, the Nashville, Chattanooga and
St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City and Texas, El Paso and Southwestern, Sun Set Central lines, Western
Pacific Railway, Lehigh Valley Railway, Boston and Albany, New York, New Haven and Hartford
Railroad. Fully seventy-five per cent of the railroads throughout the country employ the system of
inspection instituted by Mr. Ball. As a result of that system thousand s of lives have been saved, the
general efficiency of railroad operation has been promoted, and a vast volume of railroad property has
The main office of this extensive inspection service is located at Cleveland and local inspectors
are appointed at division points along the various railway lines. To these local inspectors trainmen must
report every two weeks for time comparison. They are furnished with a clearance card certificate which
must record any variation in their watches, the limit being thirty seconds per week. If anything is found
amiss the trainman must secure a standard loaner watch and leave his own for adjustment. These loaned
watches are furnished without expense to the trainmen. By this card system a perfect record is kept and
the trainmen cheerfully comply, as it safeguards the service and themselves as well. The Ball inspection
service requires a large office force in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Winnipeg, with a number of
traveling assistants. The railroad lines in eastern and central districts are administered from the
Cleveland offices while the railroads in the Chicago, middle western and southern districts are
administered from the Chicago office, the Pacific lines from the San Francisco office, and from the
Winnipeg office the Canadian Railroad lines are handled. Correct records of all the watches carried by
the employees of the different railroads are on file in one or other of these offices.
Today the name "Ball" is a synonym for accuracy in construction of railroad watches throughout
the entire country. In this field Mr. Ball's ingenuity and mechanical skill have a free play. He made a
special study of the requirement of railroad men in the matter of timepieces and has been able to keep
abreast of the marvelous strides of recent years in railroad speed and equipment. His genius as an
inventor has produced several distinct watch movements, covered by his own patents and trade marks, and
each adapted to fulfill the requirements of their users. Many times Mr. Ball has been referred to in recent
years as "the man who holds a watch on one hundred seventy-five thousand miles of railroad" and also as
"the time and watch expert."
Besides his noteworthy place among Cleveland citizens as a business man Mr. Ball is a charter
member of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Union Club and Advertising Club, a
director of the Cleveland Convention Board five years and its president in 1902. In politics he is a
republican. Mr. Ball was married in 1879 to Miss Florence I. Young, of Kenton, Ohio. They have one
son and three daughters.
In August, 1913 Mr. Ball established a wholesale watch and jewelry business in Chicago, known
as the Norris-Alister-Ball Company, with his son Sidney Y. Ball as president. Branches have since been
opened in San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Birmingham, Alabama;
Cleveland, Ohio; and Syracuse, New York.
The Webb C. Ball Company
The Webb C. Ball Company is a great business institution. As is true of every great business its
primary principle and object is service. The company not only sells merchandise, but supplies an
indispensable service in more fields than one. It is a composite organization. In fact few people of
Cleveland appreciate the magnitude of the work that goes on and is directed from the office of the Ball
Organization in the Ball Building on Euclid Avenue. There are four distinct departments. It is the home
of the Ball Railroad Standard Watch, of the Ball Watch Company, of the Ball retail jewelry store and of
the Ball system of railroad watch inspection.
All of these services have a personality behind them. That personality is Mr. Webb C. Ball,
whose interesting career and achievements are the subject of another article on other pages of this
publication. Like other great business men Mr. Ball has not depended entirely upon his own energies. He
has built up a great business around the loyalty and faithful cooperation of men and women who have
made special studies of their particular line and who have found it profitable and pleasant to say with the
organization for years. It is for the purpose of furnishing some additional facts concerning this company
and noting some of the major personalities involved besides Mr. Ball that the present article is written.
In the production of the Ball railroad standard watch the superintendent and head of the
mechanical department for the adjusting and finishing of these watches is Mr. L. N. Cobb, who has been
connected with the company since 189. Mr. Cobb is a man of enthusiasm as well as an expert in his
particular field. He has made his department a marvel of efficiency and has introduced some new
principles of shop management. In many watch factories it is customary to furnish each workman with a
small equipment of tools valued at perhaps $10 to $20, while in the department supervised by Mr. Cobb
each man has a complete set of individual tools valued at from $500 to $3,500.
Of the requirements maintained for efficient service in this department some interesting facts
have been furnished by Mr. Cobb. "The very efficiency of a watch-adjusting establishment," he says,
"depends on the length of service of the watchmaker or adjustor. Before a man can reach a position to be
of real value in the work he must have served with close study for at least five years. Then he has much to
learn in regard to adjustment for heat, cold and position, that only experience can teach him. In this
department we have a staff of men and women who have been with us for years and who are thoroughly
skilled." The assistant superintendent of this department is C. P. Gerdum, with thirty-five or more of
other expert finishers and adjustors. Miss Mary Foot has kept the shop records and she is an expert
One of the chief men connected with this department as well as with others is Mr. H. L. Mowatt,
who has been identified with the Ball organization for thirty years. He was largely responsible for making
the Ball watch known all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. He spent several years introducing
the Ball railroad standard watches and clocks on the railroad lines in Mexico.
The retail store at Cleveland has been under the able management of Mr. W. S. Gaines for the
past thirty years. Mr. Gaines is one of the best known local jewelers of the city. While he is a veteran in
the work Mr. Ball has many other capable assistants who have been with him for many years. Mr. Gaines
is head of the diamond department in the retail store, and his assistant is H. R. Avery. The head of the
watch sales and clock departments is F. G. Story; George A. Sheakley has charge of the watch repair
department; W. G. Edwards and Louise Montgomery, of the silverware department; Miss Catherine
O'Neill, of the gold jewelry department; and E. T. Hastings, of the accounting department. Of the retail
store conducted under the name the Webb C. Ball Company Mr. Webb C. Ball is president; R. J. Gross,
vice president; W. S. Bowler, secretary, while other directors are F. I. Ball and S. Y. Ball. The members
of the retail department take special pride in the remarkable growth of this institution, and some of them
were connected with the store in its early days when it was started in one side of a small millinery store on
Lower Superior Avenue at the corner of West Third Street. The store has been in the Ball Building since
November, 1910, and now occupies three floors.
Several years ago Mr. Ball branched out into the wholesale railroad watch business. The rapid
growth of this enterprise necessitated constant changes and additions. In 1913 Mr. Ball bought the long
established Norris-Alister Company, a wholesale jewelry house of Chicago, and consolidated the
wholesale railroad watch business of Cleveland with the Chicago house and changed the name to the
Norris-Alister-Ball Company. It is incorporated under Ohio laws, and Sidney Y. Ball, a son of Mr. Webb
C. Ball, is president. The headquarters of the wholesale business are now on the night and tenth floors of
the Garland Building, corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue in Chicago. Under the direction
of Sidney Y. Ball this has now grown to be the largest wholesale distributing house of railroad standard
watches in the United States. It also stands on equal footing with many other large companies in the
importation of diamonds, the distribution of clocks, silverware, tools, optical goods, etc. Mr. Webb C.
Ball is chairman of the board of directors of this wholesale company, with his son as president, R. J.
Gross, vice president, C. H. Spencer, general manager, H. F. Taber, treasurer and secretary. The company
employs about twenty traveling salesmen, covering the entire United States, with branches in San
Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Birmingham, Alabama; Syracuse, New York; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
How it was that Mr. Webb C. Ball inaugurated and became the pioneer of watch and clock
inspection system for American railroads has been told elsewhere. This inspection system now requires a
large and efficient organization and is a great institution by itself. As a result of the watch inspection
system the railroad standard watch is now regarded everywhere as the standard authority and source of
correct time. Every day in the year thousands of people set their watches to correspond with the
timepieces of railroad men.
The Ball watch inspection system has on duty local watch inspectors on every railroad division
and also maintains general offices in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, and Winnipeg, Canada. While
the main headquarters of this service are in Cleveland, the service itself is separate from the wholesale or
retail departments or watch making business of the Ball Company. The assistant general time inspector is
Mr. H. L. Mowatt, together with F. A. Tinkler and H. J. Cowell. Mr. Cowell, who holds the post of
cashier, is one of Mr. Ball's oldest associates. The manager and assistant general time inspector at the
Chicago office maintained in the Railway Exchange Building is W. F. Hayes, with L. L. Doty as assistant.
Stanley A. Pope is manager and assistant general time inspector in the San Francisco office, while the
office at Winnipeg is managed by O. H. Pyper, assistant general time inspector.
In front of the Ball Building on Euclid Avenue stands a large bronze street clock. When the
name The Webb C. Ball Company is read above the clock face, the mechanism takes on added
significance, especially when the facts herein stated are considered, and time itself and its regulations has
a meaning that is seldom realized by the average person whose daily routine and movements must
conform to a less strict standard than is required of the great railway companies.
Submitted by: Susan Marsh Carr (email@example.com)
Names in this selection:
AVERY, H. R.
BALL, F. I.
BALL, S. Y.
BALL, Sidney Y.
BALL, Webb C.
BOWLER, W. S.
COBB, L. N.
COWELL, H. J.
DOTY, L. L.
EDWARDS, W. G.
GAINES, W. S.
GERDUM, C. P.
GROSS, R. J.
HASTINGS, E. T.
HAYES, W. F.
MOWATT, H. L.
POPE, Stanley A.
PYPER, O. H.
SHEAKLEY, George A.
SPENCER, C. H.
STORY, F. G.
TABER, H. F.
TINKLER, F. A.
YOUNG, Florence I.