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    

Hamilton Railroad Case Running Pocket Watch 21 Jewels 992 B Move Railway SpecialUsa Military Issue Hamilton M23 Vintage 1942 Men's Pocket Watch 19j Chronograph!Hamilton Illinois Bunn Special Ball 16s Pocket Watch Case Thread Repair Tool Hamilton 16s Wgf/boc 16 992Vintage "box Set" Hamilton, 992b, 21j, 10k Ygf, Railroad Grade, Pocket Watch!!Large Lot Of Pocket Watch / Watch Jewels Found In Watchmakers Estate Hamilton ++Antique Hamilton 940 Railroad Grade 18s 21j Pocket Watch Vintage Hamilton Model 4992b Military Navigational Pocket Watch 22 JewelVintage Hamilton Model 23 Military Navigational Pocket WatchHamilton Railroad Running Pocket Watch 21 Jewels 940 Movement2 18s Gold F Pocket Watch Case Keystone Hamilton Illinois Hunter Triple Hinge Vintage Hamilton Model 23 Military Chronograph Pocket WatchAntique Hamilton Military Pocket Watch- 992b / 21-jewels -10kt Rolled Gold Plate1905 Hamilton Pocket Watch 17 Jewels In 14k Gold Filled Hunter Case - 18s - RunsAntique Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch Original Case. 1928Hamilton Gold Filled Case Running Pocket Watch 17 Jewels 936 Movement1908 Gold Filled Hampden 15j 16s Grade 109 Pocket WatchAntique Hamilton 940 18s High Grade 21 Jewels Rail Road Pocket Watch. Made 1905Antique Hamilton 973 16s 17j Rail Road Gold Filled Hunter Case Pocket Watch Hamilton 992b All Orig/box/paper Hamilton Case /runs/looks/greatcase Model# AHamilton 992b Pocket Watch1947 Hamilton Model 3 Boc 2 Tone Case Steel & Gold Filled For 992b Hamilton Dress Running Pocket Watch 17j 917 MovementExcellent 16's Hamilton 10kt Yellow Gold Filled Bar Over Crown Model 2 CaseAntique Hamilton Railway Special Pocketwatch- 992b / 21-jewels -10kt Gold Filled16s Hamilton 17j 974 Special Open Face Nickel Display Case Pocket WatchHamilton 16s 992 Model#1 Wgf Ships Free!!Hamilton Pocket WatchAntique Hamilton 936 18s 17 Jewel Railroad Pocket Watch1930 Hamilton 992e Railroad Grade Pocket Watch Elinvar Spring 16 Size 21 Jewels113 Yr Old, 21 Jewel,size 18, Adjusted, 940 Hamilton Runs Strong/timed Sn 403793Antique 16s Hamilton 940 21 Jewel 21j Railroad Rr Pocket Watch Movement PartsHamilton Gold Filled Case Running Pocket Watch 17 JewelsRare- Ball Hamilton 23 Jewels Antique Pocket Watch - RunsAntique Hamilton Railway Special Railroad Pocket Watch 992b 21 Jewels 6 Position18s Gold F 17j Hamilton 926 Pocket Watch Rr Grade Time Heavy Simmons Chain T-barHamilton Private Label A. Bloedel 17 J Sw/ls Gf Pocket Watch Sold For PartsAntique 16s Hamilton 21j 21 Jewel 992 Railroad Rr Pocket Watch4992b Hamilton An5740 Gct Military Pocket WatchHamilton Fancy Dress Running Pocket Watch 17j 912 Movement1930's Hamilton Model 8 Boc Deco Yellow Gold Filled 992 992e Hamilton 992b Railroad Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Taschenuhr MovementFully Marked Hamilton Adjusted 23j Railroad Pocket Watch Scarce Montgomery DialHamilton Railway Special Open Face Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Gold Filled #992 BVintage Hamilton 21 Jewel Railway Special Pocket Watch--model 992bAntique 1918 Hamilton Rr 992 Grade Pocket Watch. 21 Jewel Swing Out Case Ps C. 1896 Hamilton Private Label Pocket Watch Chapman Fairmont, Mn 18s 15j Runs 1914 Hamilton Railroad Grade Pocket Watch 21jewels 16s Grade 992 Montgomery DialHamilton Pocket Watch 14k Solid Gold Case Caliber 917, 17 Jewels Runs!Vintage Hamilton Gct 4992b Ww2 Military Navigation 22 Jewels Pocket WatchVintage 18 Size Case For Your Hamilton, Illinois Or Other Railroad Movement18s Hamilton 927 Hunter & 18s Elgin Pocket Watch Movements Dial & HandsRare Hamilton 4992b Pocketwatch With Us Army Navigation Case Yr 1941 22j LookNice 1951 Hamilton Railway Special 16s 21 Jewel 992 B Model 5 Pocket Watch1910 Hamilton 941 21j 18s Pocket Watch Movement Antique Hamilton 17 Jewel 917 Pocket Watch X18304316s Hamilton 4992b 22j Pocket WatchLot Pocket Watch Second Hands Hamilton From Watchmaker Estate Some Nos Museum Grade Dead Accurate Hamilton Gr 927gt 18s Hc 17j Adj'd Gilt Trim Got R.r.Railroad Grade Hamilton Pocket Watch 950 23 Jewel Bold Dial And Case