The Practicality of a Watch Fob

The watch fob was a useful addition to the male wardrobe, and a way for companies to spread the word.

| March 2006

  • The complete set-up, featuring a fob promoting the Lorain shovel.
    The complete set-up, featuring a fob promoting the Lorain shovel.

  • The complete set-up, featuring a fob promoting the Lorain shovel.

Watch fobs go back as far as the first pocket watches, probably dating to the victorian era. The purpose of a watch fob was to make the pocket watch more accessible, giving the user something to grab on to when pulling a pocket watch out of a vest or pants pocket. Though fobs are often thought to be made of a piece of flat metal (as in the case of the fobs described in this article), a fob could also be a short chain or ribbon or anything else that allowed a person to withdraw the watch to check the time. Fobs have been made of thimbles, for instance, and even miniature gem-studded model cars. One of the oddest fobs ever made is of a coin-like slice of the first Atlantic cables laid in 1858. More typically, fobs were made of brass or nickel-plated metal, but other materials were used too, like gold, platinum, leather or fiberboard with a celluloid insert.

In the 1800s, when much of America's population was engaged in farming, agricultural watch fobs were big items. Commemorative watch fobs are still being made today, including the first American Legend fob (made in 2001) featuring the John Deere D tractor, and the second in the series, the John Deere GP tractor. A limited edition of fobs salutes W.R. Hinton's "Past and Present" artwork, and an 1884 retrospective fob honors Deere & Co.

Fobs have been produced to commemorate colleges (like a series for Michigan State Agricultural College), county agricultural organizations, birds, pretty girls, cities, fraternal groups (like the International Order of Odd Fellows - IOOF), associations and just about any other topic, interest or organization you might imagine. Many are plain, but some are engraved on the back with business names or names of the fob owner.

Watch fobs were popular items in political campaigns, beginning in 1888 with the William Henry Harrison campaign, and reaching their popularity during the 1904 and 1908 elections. More than 100 styles of watch fobs were made for the William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft campaigns.

The popularity of watch fobs began to wane after the invention of the wrist watch in the early 1900s. The final presidential watch fob produced was made for the 1976 Jimmy Carter campaign.

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