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On the Ball: The Story of Webb C. Ball and the Railroad Watch

Program Information

Webb C. Ball

Even after Standard Time was adopted in 1883, most trains continued to run on nonstandard local time - and quite a few trains ran into each other. A new WVIZ/PBS-produced documentary, On the Ball: The Story of Webb C. Ball and the Railroad Watch, tells the story of Ball - an enterprising Cleveland jeweler - who saved countless lives by getting the railroads to run on time.

In 1891, after an especially tragic train collision in Kipton, Ohio, crash investigators realized the urgent need to improve railroad watch accuracy. Soon after the Kipton accident, Ball, a quintessential Cleveland entrepreneur, was literally at the right place (his Downtown Cleveland repair shop) at the right time (when members of Congress walked by). Already the first jeweler to bring accurate time to Cleveland, Ball took hold of the opportunity and began working with the government and the railroads to bring accurate, synchronized timekeeping to railroads throughout North America.

Ad for the Ball Watch

Ball coined the advertising slogan "Get on the Ball" to encourage adoption of his standard railroad watches and clocks and his universal standard time system to keep them all accurately synchronized. Through interviews with watch and railroad experts and enthusiasts, as well as historical documents and photos, this new documentary travels back in time to chronicle the moments and the man that made it possible to "synchronize our watches."

On the Ball: The Story of Webb C. Ball and the Railroad Watch is a co-production of WVIZ/PBS ideastream and Larry Baker Productions and is made possible by contributors to the ideastream Campaign for Community.