A group of armored forces officers work out a tactical problem during a training program at Fort Benning, GA, April 1942. Officer to the right is wearing a watch in the style of the "Cartier Tank Watch", named for jeweler Louis Cartier, inspired by the design of the WW I Renault tank, with visible screws. One of the first tank watches was given to General Pershing in 1918.
An original World War I era military watch made by Elgin. Photo courtesy ebay seller Decowatches.
Prior to World War I, men did not wear wrist watches; they were considered a woman's fashion while men used a pocket watch. The convenience of a timepiece on the wrist was compelling and during World War I and the inter-war period, wrist watches started to appear in the U.S. military. At first, some were pocket models converted to strap on the wrist, others were commercial wrist watches ruggedized by the addition of screens or bars over the crystal. The Cartier Tank Watch and many others were procured privately, mostly by officers. It is not clear when the first U.S. military standard wristwatch was procured. There is a white face watch with markings "US 1917-H" made by both Bulova and Hamilton that is pre-World War II.
U.S. Military Watches From World War II and Forward
Large scale procurement of U.S. military wrist watches began with the build up of the armed forces prior to World War II. Since there is alot of personal preference with a watch, enlisted soldiers and, in particular, officers, continued to buy thier own watches and bands, even while the military issue watches were available. Many of these watches have survived and are avidly sought after by collectors. Certain modern watches are available commercially from the suppliers who make them for the U.S. military.
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