In 1893, the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania began producing pocket watches primarily for railroad workers. Railroad-grade watches had to meet strict guidelines to ensure their reliability and accuracy. Hamilton met these standards, and more. Its watches had 42-hour mainsprings, with 17 jewels in their isochronous movements. Physically, the watches were large (size 16 or 18), and they had easy-to-read boldface Arabic numerals on their faces. Little wonder, then, that a lot of Hamilton watches found their way into the pockets of a lot of railroad employees.

As a result of its focus on the railroad industry, Hamilton never had the widespread brand recognition of giant watchmakers like Elgin and Waltham. But Hamilton was content with its reputation for accuracy. In fact, its pocket watches were so highly regarded that by the beginning of the 20th century, the company’s 1893 Broadway Limited model was named the official timepiece of all U.S. Expeditionary Forces. In World War I, a wristwatch version of the Broadway Limited was made for troops and General Pershing himself.

The Broadway Limited, along with another railroad-grade watch called the Model 992, accounted for the bulk of the company’s sales during this period. Both models were decorated with the standard Arabic numerals, often with gold lettering and center wheels on their faces.

Some 992s had Montgomery dials, in which not only the hours were labeled but the minutes as well. Other companies tried to copy this design, but Hamilton’s Montgomery dials were unique for the way in which all numbers could be read on the dial—the 6 at the bottom of the watch was actually placed inside the seconds dial so that the numeral 30 would still be readable. Today, these pre-1920 workhorses are among the most collectible Hamiltons around.

Before and after World War I, Hamilton was simply unable to compete with the production rates and sales of bigger watch companies like Waltham. So, in addition to focusing on railroad-grade pocket watches, it also made pocket watches for well-heeled customers. For these watches, Hamilton incorporated expensive materials into its mechanisms. It’s not uncommon to find antique Hamilton pocket watches from the first quarter of the 20th century with gold screws, wheel sets, and cases.

In 1927, Hamilton acquired Illinois Watch Company, which helped increase its overall production levels. During the Great Depression, it remained a maker of prestige watches. Then, in World War II, Hamilton, like many other watchmakers, shifted gears to make instruments for the war effort. Here Hamilton’s railroad roots served it well—its Navy chronometers were considered some of the most accurate mechanical timepieces ever made.

Hamilton produced far more wristwatches than pocket watches after World War II, but it continued to supply the high-end pocket-watch market. Following the trend of many other watchmakers in the 1950s, Hamilton began using movements imported from Switzerland. Its remaining railroad watch, the pricy 992B, wasn’t phased out until 1969.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Barry S. Goldbergs Pocket Watch Collection

Barry S. Goldbergs Pocket Watch Collection

Barry Goldberg’s excellent collection of pocket watches, mostly American models from the late 1800s and early 189… [read review or visit site]

American Watch Company Web

American Watch Company Web

Tom McIntyre’s reference site on antique watches, especially those made by the American Watch Company (later know… [read review or visit site]

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1940 Wwii Era Hamilton Navigation Hack 24 Hr Dial Pocket Watch .8 Silver 22j GroVintage Hamilton 950b, 23 Jewel, 10k Ygf Railroad Grade Pocket Watch "nice!!!"Hamilton 950b 23 Jewels Railroad Pocket Watch In Bar Over Crown Case No ReserveOld Hamilton Pocket Watch 23 Jewels112 Yr Old, 17 Jewel,size 18, Grade 926 Hamilton Runs Strong/timed Sn 162657Scarce Us Govt Ordinance Dept Railroad Grade Hamilton 992b Montgomery C45227Vintage Hamilton 912 Pocket Watch Digital Seconds 14k Gf Case Needs MainspringWaltham 23j Vanguard Pocket Watch, Big Ruby Jewels, Star Case, RpgWw2 Hamilton Military Model 19 Jewel Model 23 Cronographic Pocket Watch Type DRare! Hamilton 4992b 22j 1942 6 Pos, Military Pocket Watch, 24 Hr DialHamilton B&o Rr Special Railroad 18 Size 21 J Pocket Watch Very Rare 1 Of 1000114 Yr Old, 17 Jewel, Size 18, Grade 925 Hamilton Runs Strong/timed Sn 185495Early Rare Collectible Hamilton 16s Gr 971 Hunter Watch 21j 5p Pos Set Runs Aok!Model 2 Hamilton Watch Co. Pocket Watch C.1910 16s 21j 14k Gold (585 Fine)Hamilton 950 E Pocket Watch, Hamilton Bakelite, Hamilton Inner Box, No ReserveMuseum Grade Dead Accurate Hamilton Gr 996 16s 19j 5p Rr Mvmt Immaculate Got Rr!Hamilton 974 Special 17j 3 Pos Dbl Roller Mont Dial Pocket WatchAntique Hamilton 940 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Very Nice. Made 1901Nos Hamilton 992b Lever Set Pocket Watch Railway 21 Jewel Stainless Steel (58167Mint High Grade 21j Hamilton 904 12s Movement & Pinstripe Silver Dial!!Hamilton 16s Display CaseHuge Lot Of Vintage Pocket Watch Movements & Dials Waltham Hamilton Rockford LotBall Hamilton Railroad Genuine Pw Dial. 87aBlack Hamilton Pocket Watch Case, No Reserve, Free ShippingNice Antique 1916 Hamilton 900 Pocket Watch 19j 12s Gold Filled Railroad Vintage1926 Hamilton Pocket Watch Grade: 912 Size:12s 17 Jewels Open Face 14kgf (4425)Sparkling Dead Accurate Ball Hamilton Gr 999b 16s 21j 6p Official Std Mvmt GotrrEstate ~ 1910 Antique Hamilton Cal. 974, 16s 17j Pocket Watch - Very Nice CaseHamilton 956 Gold Filled 17 Jewels Lancaster Pa Adjusted Antique Pocket WatchIllinois Currier Pocket Watch - Key Wind, 18s, Hunting Case - For Parts/repairMarble Hamilton Pocket Watch Case, Free Shipping & No ReserveHamilton Model 992, 21 Jewel Railroad Grade Pocket WatchNos Hamilton 992b Lever Set Pocket Watch Railway 21 Jewel 10k Gf (58169)Antique 1907 Hamilton 18s 17 Jewels 926 Open Face Pocket Watch - RunningHamilton 992b Bar Over Crown Case 21 Jewels Railway Special Pocket WatchHamilton 10s 17j 14k Solid Yellow Gold Pocket Watch And Celluloid BoxRare 18s Hamilton Jeweled Motor Barrel 19j Grd 944 In Union Pacific Logo Case108 Yr Old, 17 Jewel,size 18, Grade 926 Hamilton Runs Strong/timed Sn 617180Hamilton 16 Size “bar Over Crown” Pocket Watch Ygf Case. 139aVintage Hamilton Railway Special Pocket Watch 10 K Gold Filled Wadsworth Lot 9Hamilton Watch Co. 18 Size “salesman Sample” Pocket Watch Case. 14aAntique Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch Original Gold Fill CaseAntique Hamilton Pocket Watch Model 2, Grade 912, Made 1926-14k Gold Filled Antique 1914 Illinois Pocket Watch With Full Hunter Rose Gold Filled Ornate CaseVintage Hamilton 17 Jewel 912 Pocket Watch-14k White Gold Filled Case 55mm Hamilton Railway Pocket Watch & 9ct Gf Stamped 11"double Albertchain Vg.woHamilton 992 Runs SetsHamilton 940, 21 Jewel Needs Help, I Just Have No Time !Hamilton 16 Size “model A” Railroad Pocket Watch Case. 70a16s Wadsworth-hamilton Ygf Case For 992-950-950b Bar Over Crown Model 2 Thick CrSpotless Dead Accurate Hamilton "974 Special" 16s 17j 3p Ls Dress-trolley Got RrHamilton Railway Special 950b Pocket WatchHamilton 992 B Pocket Watch R/r Special99 Yr Old, 17 Jewel,size 16, Grade 956 Hamilton Runs Strong/timed Sn 1223741Hamilton 992 Elinvar Pocket Watch 21 Jewels, Free Shipping, No ReserveVintage Hamilton 18's/ 21 Jewels/ 941/ Gold Filled Hunters Case / To RestoreHamilton Pocket Watch 17 Jewel 1916 16sAntique Hamilton Open Face Art Deco Pocket Watch In Original Box *nr*Hamilton 16 Size Enamel “railway Special” Pocket Watch Dial. 71aHamilton Pocket Watch Movement 921 — 10 Size — 21 Jewels - Nice