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    

Vintage Military Hamilton Watch Chronograph Model 23Vintage Ball Hamilton 999 Official Railroad Standard Pocket Watch 16s 21 Jewels Vintage 1942 Hamilton Grade 23 Wwii Military Pocket Chronograph Watch W/ordnance1940s Vintage Wwii Hamilton Chronograph Pocket Watch Model 23 - Excellent CondAntique Hamilton 992b 16s 21 Jewel 6 Adj Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1956. Runs Good1913 Hamilton Pocket Watch 17 Jewels In 10k Gold Filled Ornate Case - 16s - RunsRare Hamilton Ship Watch Wind Indicator Us Navy Military Yr 1941 Chronometer Scarce 950 Lever Set Hamilton Railroad 23j 14k Gold Pocket WatchHamilton 992 Elinvar 21j 16s Railroad Pocket Watch W/ Original BoxAntique 16s Hamilton 972 17j Pocket Watch Hamilton Pocket Watch Model 23 Military Chronograph1901 Hamilton 17 Jewels In Original Salesman Display Case - Size 18 - RunsAntique Hamilton 925 18s Hunter Case 17 Jewel Pocketwatch C. 1905Superb Hamilton Pocketwatch 18 Size Grade 924 Model 1 Year 1911 Goldf Case LookP 116.  hamilton 12 Size 17 J Grade 917, Hamilton Case And Mint Metal Dial PockeHamilton Model 23 Chronograph Wwii Military Stopwatch Navigational Pocket WatchHamilton Railway Special 992b Size 16s 21 Jewel Original Wadsworth Case Lv#901Antique Hamilton 975 16s 17 Jewel Gold Filled Hunter Case Pocket Watch. 1913Rare Us Navy Commander's 1939 16s Hamilton 992 Elinvar Pocket Watch 1941 Hamilton Gct 22j Wwii 4992b Military Navy Pocket Watch Antique Hamilton 992b 16s 21 Jewels Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1953. Runs GreatSuperb Hamilton Pocketwatch 18 Size Hunter Year 1907 Coin Silver Case LookAntique Hamilton 940 18s Pocketwatch Made 1914 21 Ruby Jewels Adj. Rr Grade RunsAntique Hamilton 925 18s 17 Jewel Gold Filled Hunter Case Pocket Watch. 1899Antique Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Gold Filled. Made 1922Antique Hamilton 944 18s 19 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. For Parts Or RepairAntique Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Amazing Condition 1906 Hamilton 940 Pocket Watch, 21j 18s Railroad Grade 25yr Gold Fill Case, RunsHamilton 18 Size 17 Jewel Hunting Case Pocket Watch MvtHamilton Pocket Watch Movement 18s 21 JewelsVintage 1923 Hamilton 910 17j Size 12 Pocket Watch16 Size 19 Jewel Hamilton 996Minty Movement Hamilton 992b 21j C277761 Railroad Pocket Watch To RestoreRare Collectible Hamilton Gr 990 16s 21j 5p Rr-grade Mvmt Choice Early Runs GoodAntique Hamilton 992e 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. All Original. 1939Antique Hamilton 940 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Made 1907Hamilton 992b In A Bar Over Crown Case 21 Jewels Railway Special Pocket WatchUncommon 19 Jewel 16size Grade 952 Antique Hamilton Railroad Pocket WatchVintage Running Hamilton White 14k Gf Art Deco Open Faced Case 912 S12 C. 1928Rare Antique 1909 Hamilton Rr 950 Model 3 16s 23j 14k Gold Pocket Watch W/chain!Hamilton Pocket Watch 940 21 J R. R. Appr. Adj. 5 Pos. Display CaseSturdy Stylish Hamilton Rigid Bow Case Mod #4 Rr Model 16s 10k Ygf Signed Orig!!~*~estate Find~*~ Antique Hamilton Pocket Watch Railroad Watch 17j **working**Antique 10s Hamilton 917 17 Jewel 17j Openface Pocket Watch Movement PartsHamilton 940 21 Jewel 18 Size Railroad Pocket Watch MvtCollector Grade Rr-accurate Hamilton Gr 952l 16s 19j 5p Bridge Model Runs Great!Hamilton 18 Size Glassback Pocket Watch Display CaseHamilton 18s Pocket Watch Movement 17j Runs!Antique Hamilton Railroad Pocket Watch 19 Jewel Open Face For RestorationFlawless Factory Mint Ball Hamilton 16s Bold Deco Arabic Ss Enam Rr Dial AllballCollector Condition Ball Hamilton Gr 999p 16s 21j 5p Official Std Rr Mvmt Great!Superb Hamilton Pocketwatch 992b Railway Special Model 21j Year 1941 Goldf Case1952 Antique Hamilton 992b Size 16, 21 Jewel Gold Filled Pocket Watch,*~estate Find~* Antique Hamilton Pocket Watch Railroad Watch 17j 14k Gold FillExcellent & Collectible Hamilton "clamshell" 16s 25yr Ygf Dress Swingout Case!!!Ball Hamilton 999b 21 Jewel 16 Size Official Rr Standard Pocket WatchStrong Running Dead Accurate Hamilton Gr 950l 16s 23j 5p Bridge Rr Grade Got Rr!Gold Filled Pocket WatchP 129. Watch Maker Hamilton Wadsworth 10 K G.f. Bar Over Crown Case Only.  caseUnique Hamilton Watch Co Pocket Watch Ca 1899 Lancaster Pa , Serial 88087