Good "Time" For Local Museum
November 15th, 2010 9:20 pm ET.
Gerald Huesken Jr
Harrisburg History Examiner
It’s always great to see local historical sites doing well…especially when the good times are unexpected. Such is the case with the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
Originally founded in 1977, the museum is one of a very few institutions in the United States dedicated solely to the study of horology, which is the history, science, and art of timekeeping and timekeepers.
The museum is run by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC), a non-profit organization with about 21,000 members and has helped put together a major collection of horological artifacts at their Columbia location. While most of the collection is mainly clocks and watches, other related horological artifices are also on display such as tools, machinery and ephemera. The museum has become an important institution in this particular field as well, containing a library, archive center, and offices for a staff of twenty employees. However, since the economic downturn as of late, the museum has struggled to make ends meet with an annual budget of just over $200,000. And forget about any help from Harrisburg. State funding has dropped from $40,000 in 2006 to $7,500 in 2009 to zero in 2010. Thankfully, it looks like the clock has yet struck midnight on this unique Pennsylvania establishment. (To see the National Watch and Clock Museum’s website, click here)
In 2008, the museum was doing research for an upcoming exhibit entitled “Time in Office”, a show that would feature Presidential timepieces. One of the artifacts that was planned to be used in the exhibit was a borrowed Gallet Museum Edition Flight Officers watch owned by President Harry Truman and on lone to the museum from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Originally introduced in 1938, these handmade Swiss watches were the first in the world to combine time-zone calculations with elapsed-time recording capabilities ranging in price from $18,500 to $89,700. Apparently such a timepiece was an important addition to our nation’s thirty-third president’s staff as he jetted back and forth across the country and to the Pacific for updates on the end of World War II or to consult with American general Douglas MacArthur during the opening salvo of the Korean War.
As part of the exhibit’s legwork, the museum contacted the creators of the Flight Officer watch, Gallet Watch Group, in Switzerland to gather background information on the time piece. To their surprise, Gallet had had no idea that an American president had ever owned one of their watches! (To see the Gallet Watch Group website, click here)
Wanting to learn more, Gallet officials made the trip to Columbia to visit the museum and were impressed by their facilities and exhibit. Already with a long history of backing philanthropic causes, Gallet offered to sponsor the exhibit and future programs at the museum. Then, Gallet officials decided to go one step further. In an incredible show of generosity in trying economic times, Gallet decided to design and re-issue a new state of the art version of the “Flight Officers” watch and give ten percent of the sales to the museum. It was an amazing show of support from one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious watch manufacturers. (To read more on this amazing story from Lancaster Online, click here)
“We are very blessed,” museum director Noel B. Poirier, said in a published interview. “It’s not often that people step out of the blue and say, ‘what you do is great…we want to support you.” Though museum officials are not speculating on an exact figure that the donation will bring in (one estimate places the final number at over $3.9 million), plans are already underway for where the money will go. The museum needs a new heating / air condition system as well as roof repairs.
As a local historian who lives in the Columbia area, I think it is great that the museum is finally getting some recognition and some financial help for someone other than our debt-ravaged state government. It just goes to show that time is a tricky business; you never know what to expect.
If you have your own experiences with the Columbia National Watch and Clock Museum, feel free to comment or share them with the History Examiner.
Gallet Watch Group
USA & Canada: 888-9-GALLET (425538)