The military origins of wearable tech, a century before the Apple Watch
On July 9, 1916, The New York Times puzzled over a fashion trend: Europeans were starting to wear bracelets with clocks on them. Time had migrated to the human wrist, and the development required some explaining.
“Until recently,” the paper observed, “the bracelet watch has been looked upon by Americans as more or less of a joke. Vaudeville artists and moving-picture actors have utilized it as a funmaker, as a ‘silly ass’ fad.”
But the wristwatch was a “silly-ass fad” no more. “The telephone and signal service, which play important parts in modern warfare, have made the wearing of watches by soldiers obligatory,” the Times observed, two years into World War I. “The only practical way in which they can wear them is on the wrist, where the time can be ascertained readily, an impossibility with the old style pocket watch.” Improvements in communications technologies had enabled militaries to more precisely coordinate their maneuvers, and coordination required soldiers to discern the time at a glance. Rifling through your pocket for a watch was not advisable in the chaos of the trenches.