NPR

From Wristwatches To Radio, How World War I Ushered In The Modern World

The war is remembered for trench warfare, millions of deaths and the failure to bring lasting peace. But it also brought together emerging technologies, remaking life on and off the battlefield.
A 1917 Elgin wristwatch, which many American officers wore in World War I. Prior to the war, men rarely wore wristwatches, but officers needed them to coordinate movements across a vast battlefield. The watch has a "shrapnel guard" to protect the face of the watch. Source: Courtesy of Smithsonian's Museum of American History

Imagine you're a military officer in World War I. Armies have grown so large, you can no longer communicate just by the sound of your voice or the wave of your hand. You need to synchronize movements of troops and artillery, far and wide.

You need a wristwatch.

"The entire process of using artillery to protect folks in the trenches, as they advanced, was an elaborately timed, choreographed forward motion," said Carlene Stephens of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, who's showing me a 1917 Elgin watch, the kind

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