American Waltham Watch Company (Waltham, MA. 1851-1957)
Also commonly referred to as the “Waltham Watch Company,” the American Waltham Watch Company was the first company to mass produce watches in America and is generally considered to be the most important American watch company. The history of the company is a little complicated, but it all started in 1850 when Edward Howard, David Davis and Aaron Dennison got together in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and decided to start their own watch company. They formed the “American Horologue Company” in 1851 and 17 prototype watches were produced in 1852 with “Howard, Davis & Dennison” engraved on the movements. The name of the company was then changed to the “Warren Mfg. Co.”, and the next 26 or so watches produced bore the name “Warren” on their movements. The name was officially changed to the “Boston Watch Company” in 1853, and in 1854 a factory was built in Waltham, Massachusetts. The founders of the company certainly knew how to make great watches, but weren’t so hot at managing money, and the Boston Watch Company failed in 1857. The story doesn’t end there, though! The defunct company was sold at a sheriff’s auction to a man named Royal Robbins, and he reorganized the company and renamed it the “Appleton, Tracy & Co.” In 1859 the Appleton, Tracy & Co. merged with another company called the Waltham Improvement Company, and “The American Watch Company” was born. Soon after that, the company name was changed to “The American Waltham Watch Co.,” and in later years the watches simply bore the name “Waltham.” Note that The American Waltham Watch Company bears no relation whatsoever to the similarly named “U. S. Watch Co. of Waltham” which was founded in 1884.
Over 35 million Waltham watches were produced during the company’s long history, and many of them still exist today. Although they made many low and medium grade watches to suit the needs of the existing markets, Waltham also produced watches of exceedingly high quality. They also probably produced more types of watches than any other American company, including railroad watches, chronographs, repeating watches and deck watches. Early Waltham watches with low serial numbers are especially prized by many collectors.
Ball Watch Company (Cleveland, OH 1879-1969)
Webb C. Ball of Cleveland, Ohio, was the general time inspector for a large chunk of the railroads in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It was Ball who was originally commissioned by certain railroad officials to develop the standards for railroad approved watches. The Ball Watch Company didn’t produce any watches itself, but instead had high-grade watches manufactured by other companies made to Ball’s specifications and the company literally placed its stamp of approval on them and marketed them under the Ball name. Ball watches were made primarily by Waltham and Hamilton, although there were also a small number made by Aurora, Elgin, Illinois, Hampden and Howard. There were also some Swiss-made Ball watches, but these are not as prized by railroad watch collectors as the American models. One interesting note is that Ball was not a fan of highly jeweled watches, feeling that anything beyond 17 or 19 jewels was unnecessary, although he did later market 21 and 23 jewels watches as the market demanded them.
Elgin Watch Company (Elgin, IL 1864-1964)
Formed in 1864 as the National Watch Company of Elgin, Illinois, the company officially changed its name to the “Elgin National Watch Company” in 1874. Some of the founders of the company, including P. S. Bartlett, had previously worked for the Waltham Watch Company. With the exception of the so-called “dollar” watches, Elgin made more pocket watches than any other single watch company – over 55 million of them – and made them in all sizes and grades.
Hamilton Watch Company (Lancaster, PA 1892-Present)
Much like the American Waltham Watch Company before it, the Hamilton Watch Company evolved over a period of years. In 1874, the Adams & Perry Watch Manufacturing Company was formed, and the first watch was produced in 1876. By 1877, the company had turned into the Lancaster Watch Company. In 1886, the company was bought out by a gentleman named Abram Bitner who renamed it the “Keystone Standard Watch Company.” The business was then sold to the Hamilton Watch Company in 1891, and Hamilton officially sold its first watch in 1893.
Guide to Pocket Watches Hamilton produced many fine pocket watches of all sizes and grades, and some of their models were considered the main “workhorses” of the railroad. In 1941, they won the contract from the U.S. government to produce marine chronometers, and these are highly prized today as some of the finest timepieces ever made. Hamilton eventually became part of a Swiss watch conglomerate, and the last American-made Hamilton was produced in about 1969.
Hampden Watch Company (Springfield, MA/Canton, OH 1877-1930)
In 1877 John C. Deuber, formerly the owner of a watch case company, bought a controlling interest in the New York Watch Mfg. Co. [located, despite its name, in Springfield, Massachusetts] and renamed it the Hampden Watch Company. In 1889 Mr. Deuber relocated the company to Canton, Ohio, where it remained until being bought out by a Russian company in 1930. Hampden made a wide variety of pocket watches of all sizes and grades, and they were the first American company to produce a 23 jewel watch in 1894. Production records for Hampden are sketchy at best, and it’s not uncommon to find a model or grade which is not mentioned in any of the standard price guides.
E. Howard & Company (Boston, MA 1879-1903)
Edward Howard was one of the three original founders of the company that became the American Waltham Watch Company. When the original company failed in 1857, Mr. Howard was able to secure all the unfinished movements and started his own company with Charles Rice in 1858. At first, this new company of “Howard & Rice” merely finished the leftover watches and placed its name on them, but the company soon began to produce its own, completely different, watches under the name “E. Howard & Co.” Howard introduced many innovations to American watchmaking, and may have been the first to produce stem wound watches in America. Because Howard made their watches completely different from those produced by other companies, they wouldn’t fit inside standard cases, and they had to have cases specially made for their watches. As a result, it is very common to see old Howard watches without a case, since replacements were very hard to come by if the original case was damaged or melted down for its gold
Guide to Pocket Watches value. As with early Walthams, early Howards are especially prized by collectors due to their historical significance.
E. Howard Watch Co. [Keystone] (Jersey City, NJ 1902-1930)
In 1902 the Howard name was purchased by the Keystone Watch Case Company. The watches that were produced by Keystone under this name were completely different from the earlier Howards. Nevertheless, many fine watches were made, including some exceedingly high grade railroad watches.
Illinois Watch Company (Springfield, IL 1869-1927)
Organized in 1869, Illinois made many low, medium and high grade watches before being sold to the Hamilton Watch Company in 1927. They are especially known for the large number of railroad grade and railroad approved watches they produced, including the Bunn Special, the Sangamo Special and the Santa Fe Special. Illinois also used more names on their watches than any other company, including names of companies which simply sold the watches, such as “Burlington Watch Co.” and “Washington Watch Co.”
Other Common American Watch Companies
Aurora Watch Co. (Aurora, IL 1883-1892) Columbus Watch Co. (Columbus, OH 1874-1903) Ingersoll (New York, NY 1892-1922) Ingraham (Bristol, CT 1912-1968) New England Watch Co. (Waterbury, CT 1898-1914) New York Standard Watch Co. (Jersey City, NJ 18851929) Peoria Watch Co. (Peoria, IL 1885-1895) Rockford Watch Co. (Rockford, IL 1873-1915) South Bend Watch Co. (South Bend, IN 1903-1929) Seth Thomas Watch Co. (Thomaston, CT 1883-1915) Trenton Watch Co. (Trenton, NJ 1885-1908) United States Watch Co. (Marion, NJ 1865-1877) U.S. Watch Co. of Waltham (Waltham, MA 1884-1905) Waterbury Watch Co. (Waterbury, CT 1880-1898)