Bowman Technical School History

Call Number: MG-392, Series 1 School Records

16 boxes     104 folders     8 cubic ft.

Repository: (Lancaster, Pa.)

Shelving Location: Archives South, Side 9

Description:  Series 1 of the Bowman Technical School Records contains documents directly related to the school and its students, faculty, staff, classes, and administration. The majority of materials range from the early 1900s through 1992, but several items have somewhat earlier dates. Student roll books, student account books, lists of students, and a card file record dates of entry, attendance, grades, transfers, expenses, and dates of graduation. Many newspaper, magazine, and trade journal articles provide coverage of the school, while others focus on the careers of individual students, graduates, or faculty. Placement books and letters detailing job offers showcase some of the opportunities available to graduates. Particularly detailed records on a handful of students survive, giving an in-depth look at several points of Bowman Technical School’s relationship with the many veterans who attended through government assistance.

This series contains many examples of Bowman Technical School’s correspondence. Of this, a significant portion is related to the school’s state licensing and authority to train veterans. Other correspondence includes recruiting letters, letters of recommendation, internal memoranda, and exchanges with graduates.

Instructional materials are similarly diverse. These documents include, among others, syllabi-like course sheets, engraving guides, diagrams of watch movements, and instructions for setting stones in rings. These items are of varying origins; some were drawn or written by Bowman instructors, while others were taken from books, trade journals, and even catalogs. A few complete books are also included. Several sets of these items are contained in their original binders as issued to students, rather than folders. The wide range of dates encompassed by these materials provides insight into the education offered at Bowman and enable tracking of changes over time. Tool kit lists are similarly useful, giving a window upon materials used by students and prices paid.

School catalogs are of particular value. Since they were frequently updated, they enable tracing of faculty, tuition rates, and courses offered. Moreover, the various formats and contents of catalogs demonstrate the varying manner in which the school presented itself to both potential students and the wider public. Several postcards and letters from schools and libraries across the country demonstrate wide-ranging recruiting efforts, while other documents attest to participation in various Pennsylvania career fairs and expositions. Other recruiting tools include entries in trade school directories and articles on prospective careers in watchmaking authored by Bowman instructors.

Much of the aforementioned correspondence with state officials, as well as surviving forms, give examples of licensing procedures and regulations for a school of Bowman’s nature. Many years of school licenses survive, including some of the earliest private trade school licenses issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction (now the Department of Education). Cards and certificates of membership in academic and horological bodies, such as the Pennsylvania Association of Private School Administrators and the American Watchmakers Institute Research and Education Council, are also in this series. Other items of note include blank student identification cards, report cards, parking permits, and a binder detailing the circumstances of the school’s 1978-1979 move from the corner of Duke and Chestnut Streets to another building at 220 West King Street.Creator: (Lancaster, Pa.)

Creator: Bowman Technical School (Lancaster, Pa.)

Conditions for Access: Restrictions are noted at the item level.

Conditions Governing Reproductions: Collection may not be photocopied. Please contact Research Staff or Archives Staff with questions.

Language: English

Source of Acquisition: Gift of Mrs. Melanie L. Parkhurst, 1998-2012.


Historical Information: Ezra F. Bowman was born in 1847 to a descendant of Wendel Bowman, an early Swiss settler of what would become Lancaster County. From an early age, Ezra showed interest in and aptitude for mechanical work—and especially watches. At the time, apprenticeships were the typical medium for learning the watchmaker’s trade in the United States. However, Ezra’s father, Jacob Bowman, was skeptical of this practice. Jacob perceived apprenticeships to be excessively lengthy, taking seven years to teach skills he believed could be learned in two. To test his ideas, he hired a Swiss master watchmaker to teach Ezra watchmaking via an intensive, two-year course. Upon completion, Ezra found employment in his former instructor’s business (Bowman, 1945, 50; Gibbs, 165; Hering, 33-34).

After working for several other companies, Ezra opened his own shop in 1877. Although a successful retailer, he was increasingly occupied with orders from smaller Lancaster stores; by May 1882, he was operating as a wholesaler. During this period, Bowman began to take on students. Apparently inheriting his father’s disdain for apprenticeships, Ezra instead taught courses similar to the one designed for him (Bowman, 1945, 41-42; Gibbs, 165-166; Hering, 33-34).

In 1879, John J. Bowman was born to Ezra and his wife, Anne Elizabeth Musser. The next year saw the birth of Charles Ezra, and three more children followed in subsequent years. Bowman’s family was crucial to both his success—his brother-in-law was a key investor and, for a time, business partner—and the continuance of his legacy. Both John and Charles were raised to follow in their father’s footsteps, but were expected to take different paths. John was trained to become a horological educator, while Charles specialized in the administration and management skills necessary to continue his father’s business (Gibbs, 166-167; Hering, 34-35).

The exact date of Bowman Technical School’s founding is somewhat unclear. If any records from Bowman’s earliest educational endeavors have survived, their current status is unknown and they are not presently held in this collection. According to a 1904 catalog, the school was founded independently of Bowman in 1889. It was established in Philadelphia as the American Horological Institute, and only renamed Ezra F. Bowman Technical School five years later, after a move to Lancaster and the beginning of Ezra’s involvement. Several subsequent catalogs modified this account, simply stating that the school was founded in Philadelphia and later moved to Lancaster. By the 1930s, John and Charles decided to observe the fiftieth anniversary of the school’s founding in 1937. According to later materials, a marked separation between Bowman’s school and store developed from 1877 and was sufficiently pronounced by 1887 that this year could be regarded as the school’s beginning. This date appears to have become the consensus, appearing on letterheads, billheads, and catalogs throughout the rest of Bowman Technical School’s lifetime. Nevertheless, the school’s 100th anniversary was celebrated in 1977, reckoning the year Ezra first took on students as the true founding of the school (Bowman, 1904, 9; Bowman, 1914, 41; Bowman, 1923, 31; Hering, 1945; BTS, Catalog, 1977).

Upon Ezra’s death in 1901, John and Charles inherited his school and store. Though these two enterprises were by now operationally separate, they remained closely intertwined. Ezra F. Bowman’s Sons, Inc. frequently employed graduates of Bowman Technical School. Furthermore, for the majority of their existence, both the school and store shared a building. Both John and Charles met with continued success, and the Bowman name rose to local and national prominence. In 1912, the school moved to a newly constructed building on the corner of Duke and Chestnut Streets. The store occupied the first floor, while the school was housed in the second and third stories (Bowman, 1924, 9; Bowman, 1914, 41-42; Gibbs, 167; Hering, 34-35).

By the 1910s, Bowman Technical School had settled into the form it would take for most of its existence. At this time, there were departments for watchmaking, engraving, and jewelry work. Its new location could accommodate approximately 100 students. Instruction was primarily provided on an individual basis, with flexible courses tailored to each student’s skill and ability. In later years, several other areas of instruction were considered and a few were implemented. Nevertheless, these three departments remained the school’s core curricula. Students of many backgrounds and ages learned their trade at Bowman Technical School. Placement books, recruitment correspondence, published articles, and reprinted testimonials all demonstrate the strong, positive reputation that the school developed.

Beginning in the years after World War I, a number of students attended under various veterans’ benefits programs. John Bowman promoted watchmaking, jewelry, and engraving training as ideal for veterans who possessed mechanical or artistic skill. He particularly emphasized the advantages these fields afforded veterans facing certain physical disabilities that might hinder accomplishment in other careers. Many veterans, with and without disabilities, took advantage of the opportunity to attend Bowman Technical School. In most cases, they were equally successful as non-veteran students and went on to fulfilling jobs in their chosen fields (Schattschneider, 1929).

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the school remained relatively unaltered. This was by no means stasis or complacency—instructors came and went, courses were gradually expanded and adapted when required, and the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated. With the success of his pedagogical methods, John Bowman appears to have lacked reason to explore unnecessary alterations or drastic experimentation. However, the 1940s did see several key changes. During World War II, many students found employment in the defense industry, in some cases applying their skills to new and innovative technology. The creation of the G. I. Bill allowed millions of veterans to seek educational opportunities, with many choosing to attend trade and technical schools. Unlike some other schools, Bowman Technical School did not expand or over-extend itself to meet increasing demand in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet, the sheer number of applicants caused the school’s wait list to balloon. New licensing requirements for Pennsylvania and reporting requirements to allow teaching of veterans added to the paperwork produced by Bowman’s secretaries and registrar, and contributed to the preponderance of such documents in this collection.

John Bowman died in 1959, leading to Charles becoming significantly more involved in the school’s daily operations. However, this arrangement only lasted for a few years—for on 2 August 1964, Charles Bowman died. Charles was unmarried and childless, and none of the surviving members of the Bowman family were in a position to take control of the school. Later that month, Bowman Technical School was purchased by Edwin H. Parkhurst, Jr. A resident of Ohio, Parkhurst was the president of Park Manufacturing, Inc. and an active member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. He first became involved with Bowman Technical School in early 1964, while establishing a scholarship program funded by a NAWCC chapter. After Charles’ death, Edwin purchased the school to ensure its survival and the preservation of its original mission. (BTS, Announcement or bulletin, [1964]). His wife, Jeanne G. Parkhurst, was also involved in running the school.

The school continued to prosper under Parkhurst’s ownership. Existing courses were revised to reflect changing demands of employers and customers. A few new courses, such as clockmaking, were also introduced. The Bowman building’s exterior was restored to its original appearance, drawing comment from local publications. Throughout the late 1960s, enrollment remained relatively steady. However, Edwin also experienced personal tragedy. Jeanne, a private pilot, died in 1969 when her aircraft crashed into a Virginia mountain (Danville Register, 1969). The Jeanne G. Parkhurst Fund Foundation was created in her memory.

After her marriage to Edwin in the early 1970s, Melanie L. Parkhurst quickly became involved in Bowman Technical School’s operations. Melanie occupied several roles over the remainder of the schools’ existence, but was extensively involved in its administration, frequently handling licensing and reporting requirements. Enrollment remained steady throughout much the decade, with enough applications that a wait list was required (Jaeger, 1977). Bowman’s 100th anniversary was celebrated in 1977, observing what was considered to be the “actual One Hundredth Anniversary of the founding” (BTS, Untitled catalog, 1977).

A small crisis developed in the latter months of 1978. Due to the condition and use of the Bowman building, a Pennsylvania government agency issued a number of code citations. Some of the compliance orders that accompanied these citations could have been easily implemented or waived, but others would have crippled the school. After several weeks of uncertainty, Edwin located another building which could satisfy government standards and be renovated to meet the school’s requirements. A move to this structure, located at 220 West King Street, was approved that autumn and completed by early 1979. Bowman Technical School remained at this location for the remainder of its existence. The Bowman building continued to house Ezra F. Bowman’s sons, and the area formerly occupied by the school was converted for office usage (BTS, 1978-79).

The new location had a maximum capacity of over 100 students, which was met for several years. However, enrollment was in decline by the mid-1980s. Many factors appear to have contributed to this, but several identified by documents within the collection include rising tuition rates coupled with economic downturns, the explosion in often-unrepairable quartz watches, and changing perceptions of the viability of watchmaking, jewelry work, and related trades among the general public. Numerous students still enrolled and graduated, and many favorable articles on graduates and the school were published during the 1980s. Nevertheless, student roll books and lists of graduates indicate this downward trend persisted throughout the decade.

Whether falling enrollment could have been reversed and the school revitalized is unfortunately a matter of speculation. On 12 April 1991, Edwin Parkhurst died (NAWCC Bulletin, “In Memoriam,” 1991). Now the full owner of both Bowman Technical School and Ezra F. Bowman’s Sons, Melanie continued to oversee their operations for several months. However, by September, she made the decision to retire, closing both the school and business (Parkhurst, Notice, 1991; Savage, 1992). In order to allow students to graduate, the school remained open through early 1992. On 12 April, the last group of students received their diplomas and certificates (BTS, List of students, 1992).

In the years following the school’s closure, much of its equipment was sold and auctioned off. The Bowman building was sold to a Lancaster resident in 1998 and remains in private hands. Over two decades after closing, Bowman Technical School’s legacy remains impressive. In its more than a century of existence, it trained thousands of students in a number of trades. Not merely a local institution, the school and individuals connected to it achieved national renown. Throughout the country, graduates of Bowman Technical School continue to apply their skills in a wide variety of industries.


Bowman, John J. “Lancaster’s Part in the World’s Watchmaking Industry.” Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society, vol. 49 (1945): 29-50. Library,

Bowman, John J. The Higher Education of Hand and Eye. n.p.:1904. MG-392, Series 1, Box 14, Folder 83. Archives,

Bowman, John J. Your Future and Our School. Baltimore: Munder Thomsen Press, 1914. MG-392, Series 1, Box 14, Folder 84. Archives,

Bowman, John J. Your Future and Our School. Lancaster: L. B. Herr and Son, 1923. MG-392, Series 1, Box 15, Folder 85. Archives,

Bowman Technical School. Announcement or bulletin. [1964]. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Folder 85. Archives,

Bowman Technical School. Binder. Documents related to school’s relocation to 220 West King Street. August 1978-February 1979. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Binder 104. Archives,

Bowman Technical School. List of students. Final graduates of Bowman Technical School. 12 April 1992. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Folder 102, Insert 8. Archives,

Bowman Technical School. Untitled catalog. n.p.: 1977. MG-392, Series 1, Box 13, Folder 68, Insert 2. Archives,

Hering, Daniel W. “Historical Notes on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Bowman Technical School.” In Bowman Technical School, Your Future and Our School. n.p.: 1936. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Folder 86. Archives,

Gibbs, James W. “Lancaster County.” In Pennsylvania Clocks and Watches: Antique Timepieces and Their Makers. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. Library,

Jaeger, Gerald G. “Bowman 100th Anniversary Celebrated in Pennsylvania,” in column “Scholastically Speaking.” Horological Times (September 1977): 42-43. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Folder 103, Insert 5. Archives,

Parkhurst, Melanie L. Notice. Announcement of closure of Bowman Technical School in July 1992. 9 September 1991. MG-392, Series 1, Box 16, Folder 102, Insert 5. Archives,

Savage, Daina. “Bowman store, school to close.” Intelligencer Journal, 26 March 1992.

Schattschneider, E. “Watchmaking, Engraving, and Jewelry Work.” Proceedings of the Fifth National Conference on Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929. MG-392, Series 1, Box 13, Folder 67. Archives,

“Two Women Die In Air Crash.” The Danville Register, 21 March 1969.


Related Materials: Materials related to the Ezra F. Bowman’s Sons jewelry store, as well as advertisements and personal documents, may be found elsewhere in this collection. Numerous photographs and slides are stored in the Photograph Collections. 


Contents of Series 1, School Records