A Moment in (Watch) Time

Once again our J. B. Hostetler glass plate negative collection has yielded another fascinating image: a young H. E. Meier posing in his World War I Doughboy uniform.

Herman Edward Meier was born to John and Christina Meier on July 21, 1896 in Nebraska. He enlisted in the United States Army on June 25, 1917, just shy of his 21st birthday. Sadly, during his time overseas his only sibling, Marie Meier, died on December 9, 1918 in Davenport during the Influenza epidemic. He was discharged on January 22, 1919, having achieved the rank of Sergeant. Herman then returned to Davenport and the family concrete block business; the next year, on November 25th, he married Leona Meyer. He died in Davenport on February 8, 1973, and was buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.


H. E. Meier taken by J. B. Hostetler. c. 1917. dpl17572a

It is the wrist watch peeking out from under Mr. Meier’s sleeve that caught our attention.

In the late nineteenth century, the wrist watch was known as a delicate piece of jewerly worn by women. The first was created for a Hungarian countess by a Swiss company in 1868. While there are some references to the use of wrist watches by men at this time, including the German Navy in the 1880’s and during the Boer War, it was not widespread.

Even by the beginning of World War I, the wrist watch was not a common fashion accessory for American men. Our photographs show local worthies wearing pocket watches well into the early twentieth century.

The reason wrist watches became popular during World War I is simple: a military man could not be fumbling in his clothes for a pocket watch in the midst of battle. The wrist watch provided quick and easy access to the correct time.

We were very pleased to find this early example of wrist watch-wearing among our portrait photographs!

(posted by Amy D.)


  • Ancestry.com
  • The Davenport Daily Democrat and Leader, December 9, 1918. Page 11.

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