Joseph Bulova

Joseph BulovaALMOST every watch and clock in America has been set or checked by radio-announced "Bulova Watch Time". For years this has been a familiar byword to radio listeners as their eyes involuntarily compared their own timepieces with Bulova time. Yet few know anything of the man who created the phrase and supplied one of the best, watches on the market in a country where time is of the essence. Joseph Bulova was never interested in drawing attention to himself but considered that the best service he could render the country which he loved so deeply was to maintain the highest standards of its free economic tradition. His charities were many and unpublicized because his philanthropy was an intensely personal affair to which he felt the need of giving of himself as well as of his money. He was a man of many families - of all, indeed, who needed his help. Two months preceding his death he was still riding to work every day in subway or streetcar where he loved to talk with people, many of whom found him to be their benefactor.

Born September 7th, 1851, in a small town near Prague, Czechoslovakia, Joseph Bulova was the youngest of five children. Antonio Bulova, his father, supported his family with his wages as a toll-keeper but died at the early age of forty-one. Young Joseph unquestionably found a simulating example of courage and enterprise in the manner in which his mother, Barbara Kraus Bulova, met this dire misfortune. She moved her small family to Prague where she opened and successfully ran a grocery store. In accordance with the general practice, young Joseph was apprenticed to a jeweler at a very early age. He learned his trade under the most gruelling conditions in times when there was little food and warmth for a lowly apprentice. In three years he had become an expert jeweler and in 1869, at the age of eighteen, he came to America, the land of his dreams. He arrived in New York with only fifty cents.

It was characteristic of Joseph Bulova that he did not seek help from a prosperous cousin living in New York but preferred to carve out his own career no matter how meager it might be. This, too, was perhaps the sturdy heritage of a mother who had supported her five fatherless children and seen the eldest son through a medical education.

In the late 1860's many things were happening in America. About a year after his arrival, the young jeweler had to face one of the nation's major depressions brought on by the economic readjustments following the Civil War. In spite of going cold and hungry with park benches as his only home he developed a fierce pride in his adopted country. It is interesting to note that even though in later years Mr Bulova owned a watch works factory in Switzerland he returned to Europe but once. Fortunately, after his second lean year in the new country conditions improved and he worked ably at his trade. Soon his mother and three sisters were sent for and brought to America. His brother, however, remained in Prague where he had been appointed physician to the Crown. It was not long before Joseph Bulova felt that he wanted his own business and with five hundred dollars borrowed from a friend, he established on Canal Street a small business, manufacturing jewelry and repairing for the trade.

In 1879, ten years after coming to America, Joseph Bulova became a citizen. His marriage to Bertha Eisner took place in 1883. About ten years later the Bulovas bought a small house in Yorkville where their five daughters and one son were brought up. It was a home in which family life was enriched by music, good books and wholesome sports. All the children attended a gymnasium and the whole family spent Sundays together in the out-of-doors.

The small manufacturing firm of J. Bulova & Company became the Bulova Watch Company with works and case factories here and abroad. A man's name became the guarantee of a product and his thousands of employees had ample proof of his respect and belief in the working classes. Outside of his business his chief interest was good government. In Mr. Bulova's younger years an honest candidate for office could always find a staunch supporter and an eloquent speechmaker in him.

Joseph Bulova died on November 18, 1935, respected by all who worked with him, loved by those who knew him and a symbol of that land of opportunity which he loved so well.

From the Book of Enduring Names, Town Hall, New York.