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The Worlds First Electronic Timepiece

 US FlagIn any serious discussion of 20th century technology, the Accutron 214 should be acknowledged as an American icon. The 214 project was begun214 Astronaut Front by Bulova at a time when America felt threatened by Russian advances in technology. At the helm was retired general Omar N. Bradley, the quiet hero of WW2 and the man after whom the Bradley Fighting Vehicle was named. The "Astronaut" model was worn by pilots of our experimental X-15 Rocket Planes, and Accutron played a vital part in every US Space mission during the X15
60's and 70's. To this day, there are several Accutron 214 timing devices sitting on the Moon's "
Sea of Tranquility". The first was carried there in 1969 by the crew of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to actually land men on the moon. The Accutron 214 was declared an American "Gift of State" by President Lyndon Johnson and for over a decade they were given to hundreds of visiting dignitaries. The 214 was made into panel mount clocks that were installed in the instrument panels of military ships and aircraft including "Air Force One". The 214 can reasonably be considered to be the prototype for all modern quartz watches. No other timepiece has had a greater impact on the way we keep time today.


A Symbol of it's Era

Apollo Liftoff

Many of us who watched the liftoff of Apollo 11 in 1969 remember the pride and the apprehension that we felt as a tiny capsule, mounted atop a gigantic "flying bomb" was launched into space. TV's were set up in store windows and at workplaces so that people could go about their business without missing the launch and we crowded around those early sets to witness the historic event.

Three.....two.....one.....lift off!   The rocket rose, ever so slowly at first, and the world watched. In every group, a spontaneous chant could be heard. It was almost inaudible at first, breathed rather than spoken, "go".  Several more voices chiming in, "go",  louder now, "go....go", and finally, shouting as the telescopic lens showed the stages separating, GO!.....GO!.....GO!.......

As the rocket rose into the blue Florida sky, America and the world rode with it on an emotional high. At last, when the spacecraft had reached the escape velocity of 17,500 miles per hour and the main engine shut down, the enormity of what had just occurred set in. At he Kennedy Space Center on that July day at 9:32am EDT men from Earth began a journey to the Moon and Accutron was aboard.

America's moon landing program actually started on May 25th, 1961, approximately eight months after Accutron first appeared in stores, when President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he said that America had to be the first nation to land a man on the Moon. That was an amazing period in American history. During the next few years, with the X-15 rocket planes setting new speed and altitude records regularly, and our satellites multiplying in orbit, I wanted a piece of it to call my own. At the end of November in 1963 just a few days after  president Kennedy's assassination, in need of something to lift my spirits, I went to a jewelry shop in Boston and bought a gleaming stainless steel Accutron Chapter Ring Spaceview at the then fairly high price of $150. That watch has been counting time to my life's events ever since.

The Corvette Connection:

During the 60's and 70's, America's Astronauts were young men who regularly flew the fastest and most sophisticated aircraft in existence at that time. They were mostly military test pilots so it should come as no surprise that they loved speed on land as well as in the air. Enter another American icon, the Chevrolet Corvette Although the many documented exploits by astronauts with their "Vette's" were kept under wraps by NASA, and product endorsements were, and still are taboo for astronauts, General Motors, sensing an opportunity for free advertising, leased Corvette's to the astronauts for $1 a year. At the time, these men were only receiving a few grades above standard military pay, so during the years that followed, everywhere that the astronauts went as a group, there were bound to be Accutrons on their wrists, and Corvette's in the parking lot.

Accutron Today and Tomorrow

Tuning fork driven Accutrons evolved into quartz crystal watches by the 70's but the old hummers are so robust that when given reasonable care, they run as well today as they did when new. In this modern age of throw away technology, the life span of most consumer electronic devices is measured in months, a relative few may be considered state-of-the-art for a few years, but here we are, a half century after the introduction of the 214, and yet, day after day the electronic miracle on my wrist keeps on humming it's tune without losing a beat. Thanks to it's breakthrough technology, Accutron tuning fork watches may very well be the only mass market electronic devices of their era that are still in every day use. Truly amazing!

Clock SwitchSpeaking of longevity, I have no doubt that the Accutron timer controlled hardware that Apollo Astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin left on the Moon during the first landing, and the scientific instruments left by those succeeding them will eventually be collected and brought back to Earth. I only hope that we get to them first. If so, they will surely be displayed in a moon artifact exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

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For those of you who have an Accutron 214 that belonged to a loved one, I hope that these paragraphs have shed some light on the reasons why many in our generation treasured them and why we kept them in drawers long after Bulova stopped repairing them.

Very truly yours,
Martin Marcus

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Earth Rise


To the present day, a surprisingly large number of pilots are still wearing an Accutron Astronaut.
All of you original Astronaut owners are old enough to remember that during the 60's CBS, NBC, and ABC signed off at midnight which at that time was the end of their programming day. One of the stations, I forget which, ran a short film showing a military jet streaking through "towering banks of clouds". The film was accompanied by a narration of the pilots anthem. For those of you 214 owners who are not familiar with this inspiring poem, I present it here. High Flight

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