Bulova Lone Eagle Series
Much has been written about Charles Lindbergh's nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927, so I will not attempt to retell that story in detail here. The focus of this brief article is the Bulova Lone Eagle series of watches, the first of which was released in 1927 to commemorate Lindbergh's flight, with five additional models sold through the 1940s. The LEs are amongst the most famous of the Bulova watches. For those who are not familiar with these models, the following will provide a brief history of how they came about and how they evolved.
To view the Lone Eagle models in my collection, visit Lone Eagle Models. Vintage advertisements showing all ten variations of the six Lone Eagle models are provided below.
In 1926 Bulova offered a prize of $1,000.00 to the first pilot to make a nonstop transatlantic flight between New York and Paris. Bulova was not the only entity supporting that venture. The $25,000 Ortieg Prize had been offered for that feat since 1919, but the prize had remained unclaimed. However, in 1926, there was renewed interest in the endeavor, largely due to technological advancements that appeared to make a successful flight possible. Several pilots announced intentions to attempt the flight, and the impending event attracted international attention.
Former U.S. Air Mail pilot, Charles Lindbergh, was one of the pilots who, in late 1926, announced his intention to make the transatlantic flight. Due to the popularity of the endeavor, Lindbergh was able to raise financial support from various business entities, allowing him to have his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, custom built for the flight. On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh began the 34 hour journey covering over 3,610 miles and completed the transatlantic flight the following day by landing at Le Bourget airfield in Paris to much fanfare. He was dubbed the "Lone Eagle" and "Lucky Lindy" by members of the press. He thereby won the $25,000 Ortieg Price, as well as Bulova's $1,000 prize for successfully completing the flight.
Lindbergh Accepting Orteig Prize, June 1927
The story later told was that, within three days of Lindbergh's landing in Paris on May 21, 1927, Bulova sold 5,000 of a commemorative "Lone Eagle" watches to the general public. Those first watches have long been the subject of much research and debate and even claims of having identified the "First 5000" by serial numbers on the movements. However, recent research has revealed important new facts about what really happened after the flight and the true nature of the first release of the Bulova Lone Eagle watch. Specifically, we now have early trademark records, first release advertisements, and a published interview with a retired Bulova executive that tell us quite a bit more about what really happened.
As shown below in an excerpt from the "U.S. Horological Trademark Index", by Kurtis Meyers, Bulova's trademark of the name "Lone Eagle" was filed on June 17, 1927, and the Lone Eagle name was reported as first used on June 13, 1927. Those trademark dates are weeks after Bulova claims to have sold the first 5,000 watches immediately following Lindbergh's flight. Those dates are crucial to understanding the truth about the first Bulova Lone Eagle.
Excerpt from "United States Horological Trademark Index" - Bulova listings
In addition to the trademark record, we also have newspaper advertisements that tell us when the first actual Lone Eagle watch was released. These early advertisements, which are shown below, are dated June 17, 1927. The ads make it clear that the first Lone Eagle watch was released on June 17, 1927, which, not surprisingly, matches the date Bulova trademarked the Lone Eagle name.
Lone Eagle I: Earliest known advertisements - June 17, 1927
So, what does all this mean? Most importantly, it means that Bulova did not use the Lone Eagle name until June 13, 1927, a full three weeks after Lindbergh's flight, and it did not release a watch for sale under that name until even later on June 17, 1927. It also means that, if the story is true, and Bulova actually sold a commemorative watch immediately following Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, that watch was not released under the name "Lone Eagle" and is not the watch commonly believed to be the first Lone Eagle (see Lone Eagle I below). Rather, that first watch may have simply been marketed as a commemorative watch, with later models released as the "Lone Eagle" following general public acknowledgement and acceptance of the nickname "Lone Eagle" for Charles Lindbergh. It is not known which watch was sold right after the flight.
A recently discovered newspaper article reports that the Bulova watches sold immediately after the transatlantic flight were a model that Bulova had on-hand and which cost $37.50 per watch. The article, which is reproduced below, is careful to state that the watches sold immediately after the flight were "its $37.50 model. . . with Lone Eagle cases" (emphasis supplied). The article does not refer to the watches themselves as the "Lone Eagle". The only reference to the Lone Eagle model is later in the article when it is reported that 50,000 of the Lone Eagle model were "eventually" sold. That leaves the question of which watch Bulova sold at that time for $37.50.
Boston Globe, May 22, 1977
Interestingly, all the known advertisements for the first watch marketed as the Lone Eagle consistently list the price as $50 (see ads below for the Lone Eagle I). Moreover, the prior version of the Lone Eagle I, sold under the Conqueror name, also cost $50.00. Thus, the question of which watch costing $37.50 was stuffed into cases maked "Lone Eagle" and rushed to jewelers remains a mystery and the subject of more than one urban myth, including one on-line "club" for those claiming to have one of the "First 5000"--a claim that has, as far as I have been able to surmise, no factual support and strong, mounting evidence refuting it. Bulova certainly did sell watches for $37.50 at the time of Lindbergh's flight. The following is just one such example, taken from an ad dated 1928, and also seen in advertisements dated 1926, always listed for $37.50.
Bulova watch that sold for $37.50 at time of flight
In addition to the $1,000 prize that Bulova had promised to the first pilot to make a nonstop transatlantic flight between New York and Paris, Bulova also gave Lindbergh a Bulova watch after the flight. The following advertisement displays an apparent reprinting of Lindbergh's acknowlegement of the prize and watch, conveyed via telegram on June 10, 1927. Speculation regarding which watch was given to Lindbergh after the flight runs as freely as that regarding the first Lone Eagle, with some believing that the watch given to Lindbergh was the first Lone Eagle model. However, not only is there no evidence to support that conclusion, but evidence such as the trademark records cast serious doubt on it. As the telegram below shows, the watch given to Lindbergh by Bulova was presented before the Lone Eagle name was first used on June 13, 1927, per the trademark records. The telegram date indicates the date of Lindbergh's expressed thanks, so we can assume that the watch which was presented to him was produced at an even earlier date, making it even more unlikely that the watch would have been a true Lone Eagle model, rather than some other commemorative gift watch.
Another recently discovered newspaper article may shed a bit more light on what actually happened, both in terms of the watch given to Lindbergh as well as the watch later sold under the Lone Eagle name. The article below, published in 1930, purports to provide notes from a speech by a H.H. Taub, who was a Bulova corporate executive in 1927 when the Lone Eagle watches were sold. Mr. Taub, who was reflecting on the watch given to Lindbergh after the flight, has several very interesting things to say. First, the watch given to Lindbergh was one that they had already been making with little success. He refers to that watch as "one of the hardest seller's in the company's line". Second, Taub states that, within 48 hours after Lindbergh's successful flight, Bulova received 30,000 orders for the watch given to Lindbergh. If we assume this article to be true, then surely the watch given to Lindbergh was the model known as the Conqueror, later rebadged as the Lone Eagle following the flight and in response to the many orders that then arrived. An image of the Conqueror model is presented below.
Suffolk County News, May 2, 1930
This article may be suggesting that the popular story of selling 5000 watches within three days of Lindbergh's transatlantic flight was simply a distortion of the true facts, i.e., that Bulova received orders for the watch given to Lindbergh within a few days of the flight--as opposed to making actual sales. Since we know from trademark records that Bulova did not use the Lone Eagle name for watches until weeks later, it is logical to assume that, in the weeks following the flight, Bulova took orders and then produced the first actual Lone Eagle watch to fill those orders. That would have given them time to re-badge the Conqueror using a Lone Eagle case--as explained in the first article above--and ship it to retailers several weeks later when we see the first ads and the trademark record for the Lone Eagle. That version of the facts makes much more sense than the story about selling 5,000 Lone Eagle watches within three days of the flight.
Here is an image of the 1926 Conqueror, which is quite likely the watch given to Lindbergh after the flight and most certainly formed the basis for the watch subsequently dubbed the "Lone Eagle" in 1927.
1926 Advertisements for Bulova Conqueror model
Regardless of what actually happened immediately after Lindbergh's transatlanctic flight, Bulova did eventually market a watch under the Lone Eagle name, and it was a hit with the public (see the Lone Eagle I below). Following on the success of that first Lone Eagle model, Bulova re-designed and released at least six additional versions of the Lone Eagle, with the last known model--the Lone Eagle "A"--released in the late 1930s, with sales continuing into the early 1940s. Reports indicate that 50,000 Lone Eagle watches were sold throughout 1928, 1929, and 1930.
The following pictures illustrate all the currently known editions of the Lone Eagle series of watches. Actual examples of each of the models can also be viewed in my collection via the link at the top of this page. I also recently discovered an advertisement for a model called the "Charles", which is very close to, if not identical to the second version of the Lone Eagle watch. The advertisement is from 1931, the same year the third version of the Lone Eagle watch first appeared in the available advertisements. My guess is that the second Lone Eagle was renamed the "Charles", also in recognition of Charles Lindbergh, to allow that model to continue being sold, while a new design took over the Lone Eagle name. An image of the Charles is included below.
Lone Eagle I - 1927
Lone Eagle I: Open "9", spade hands, original corner design
Lone Eagle II - first seen in 1928
Though not technically a part of the Lone Eagle series, this model, first seen in 1931, may well have been named after Charles Lindbergh. It is clearly the Lone Eagle II model renamed, making way for the introduction of the Lone Eagle III shown below.
Lone Eagle III - First Seen in 1931
Lone Eagle IV - First Seen in 1932
Lone Eagle IV - 1933 Advertisement
Lone Eagle V: Sold in yellow, white, and two-tone gold - first seen in 1934
Variation of the Lone Eagle V showing no engraving on the bezel (1934 and 1935)
Available in white or natural gold
Variation of the Lone Eagle V showing no engraving on bezel and a full index dial (1934 and 1935)
Lone Eagle VI- 1940 newspapaer advertisements
Lone Eagle VI "A" - First seen in ads dated 1940, with actual models dating to 1939. Seen in ads as late as 1942.