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Catalog Data

Hamilton Watch Co.  Search this
Physical Description:
gold (case material)
overall - watch: 3 in x 1 1/2 in x 7/8 in; 7.62 cm x 3.81 cm x 2.2225 cm
overall - battery: 1/4 in x 1/2 in; x .635 cm x 1.27 cm
Object Name:
wrist watch, electronic, Pulsar
wrist watch, electronic, pulsar
Date made:
ca 1972
Most Americans learned about digital electronic watches for the first time when the Pulsar came on the market in 1972.
The Pulsar originated in a watch built by George Thiess and colleagues at ElectroData, a small electronics firm in Garland, Texas, and developed into a marketable piece of fine jewelry when ElectroData partnered with a division of the Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, Pa. The watch had no moving parts. It was huge, showy and expensive. With a price tag of $2100, the Pulsar cost about as much as a small car at that time.
Hamilton marketed the watch as "a time computer." The display was composed of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that consumed so much power that the watch couldn't display the time continuously. Instead, the wearer had to push a button to illuminate the time. Pressing the button briefly displayed the hour and minute. Holding the button down a little longer showed the seconds. To set the watch required a small magnet stored in the watchband's clasp.
For these inconveniences, Pulsar's proud owner got the most accurate time then available in a wristwatch. The new quartz technology inside made the watch accurate to within a minute a year, compared to about 15 seconds a day for the best mechanical watch.
The wristwatch was completely reinvented with all-new electronic components beginning in the 1960s. For centuries before then, watches had been mechanical--composed of intricate moving parts powered by an unwinding spring. When battery-driven quartz wristwatches first hit the market, it seemed unlikely that the new-fangled gadgets would sell. But electronic watches won over the buying public.
Today, mechanical watches make up only approximately 10% of the world watch market. The components for the quartz watch emerged from independent streams of invention that stretched over nearly a century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries scientists identified new materials like liquid crystals and discovered unknown properties such as piezoelectricity, the ability of certain crystals to produce electrical voltage when pressed mechanically. During the Cold war, researchers in defense and aerospace technologies laid the basis for miniaturizing electronic circuitry. In the 1960s, enterprising manufacturers applied the new research to the first electronic consumer products—tvs, calculators, hearing aids, and watches.
Currently not on view
Credit Line:
Gift of John M. Bergey
ID Number:
Catalog number:
Accession number:
See more items in:
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Clothing & Accessories
Data Source:
National Museum of American History