Ingersoll Radiolite

Ingersoll Radiolite

"There will be no more parades..." 

After the bells sounded on Armistice Day, the soldiers who had "cursed through sludge" in the trenches of the Great War brought home with them tools and technologies developed during the terrible conflict. 

These were not just instruments of destruction, but life-changing--sometimes life-saving--innovations. Portable X-Ray machines, drones, sun lamps, and tea bags were all developed during the First World War and then employed in the civilian realm once the war had ended. Watches are no exception--in fact, it's in no small part due to the war that wristwatches became so popular. 

While soldiers had worn pocket watches strapped to the wrist since the 1860s, it wasn't until WWI that the need for precise timekeeping was recognized as paramount for strategy and tactical advantage. The introduction of aerial combat and timed artillery strikes necessitated a timepiece that could be read at a glance, and pocket watches simply would no longer suit that purpose. So soldiers strapped watches to their wrists, and carried them home at parade's end. 

Cartier is one brand that popularized wristwatches "over there." The design of its signature Tank line, epitome of class, was inspired by the tanks that Louis Cartier glimpsed on the battlefield. On the home front, Hamilton and Elgin produced wristwatches for the American market. 

Ingersoll, another American brand, got its start selling rubber stamps via mail order in the 1880s. By the 1890s they were selling watches produced by the Waterbury Clock Company. During the First World War, Ingersoll repurposed its Midget pocket watch for use on the wrists of American soldiers, starting a civilian trend once the War had ended.

The Radiolite wristwatch, introduced in 1919, incorporated another newfangled technology in its design: luminescence through Radium. Madame Curie's discovery was first used on watch dials produced by the U.S. Radium Corp in 1917, and Ingersoll started using radium on Radiolite pocket watches that same year.

Luminescent dials proved invaluable in the low-light conditions of tanks and airplane cockpits, and after the War, watches with radium dials found use in civilian occupations such as motoring and camping. Just as Ingersoll became a watch word for value (the brand's Liberty watch, introduced in 1896, retailed for only one American dollar, which Ingersoll touted as "the watch that made the dollar famous"), the Radiolite became the brand's most prolific model. In fact, an advertisement in an issue of Popular Mechanics from 1917 states that "nearly one-third of the Ingersoll watches now sold are Radiolites." 

This expression bears a serial number dating it approximately to 1926, in the height of post-war wristwatch popularity. In keeping with its roots as a trench watch, the case is large even by today's standards, at 40mm. The stark black dial is highly legible, the puffy Arabic numerals prominent. Coming with its original strap and box (!!), the watch exudes a militant and sporty vibe, comfortably inhabiting the realm between military and civilian life, and is without question a brilliant piece of American watchmaking history.


Steel case is approximately 40mm (excluding crown). Manually-wound movement. Circa 1926.

Overall Condition: Steel case is in very good condition with signs of light use and wear in keeping with its age. Dial is in very good condition with no radium burns or discoloration. The luminescent material on the hour markers and hands have aged to a fine even patina. Ingersoll case back is in very good condition with minimal signs of use and age; inside is marked "Made in the USA."

Includes original 13mm brown leather strap.

Also includes original box.

SKU: AS01726

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