Aug 1, 2009
Jonathan Dillon was an Irish immigrant watchmaker who worked in a watch repair shop in Washington D.C. He told his children that on the day the news arrived of the attack on Fort Sumter he was repairing Lincoln’s watch.
He told them he had inscribed inside the watch these words: "The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try."
The watch was given to the Smithsonian in 1958. No one has ever checked the truth of the man’s story – until now …
This morning, in a small conference room on the first floor of Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, officials decided to find out. Expert watchmaker George Thomas used a series of delicate instruments — tweezers, tiny pliers — to pull apart Lincoln’s timepiece. He put on a visor with a magnifying lens and talked as he worked. Some of the pins were nearly stuck, he explained. The hands of the watch were original with a case made in America and the workings from Liverpool. The Illinois rail-splitter had splurged: The watch, Thomas said, would be the equivalent to a timepiece costing “$5,000 or more” today.