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 Watch Co Usa 924 Grade 18 Size 17 Jewels Pocket Watch Movement - 1917Antique Hamilton Type 1, 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Beautiful CaseSuper Fancy Mens Hamilton Chased Orig Gold Filled Case 2t Dial 1922 Pocket WatchRare Hamilton Stainless Steel Rail Road 950 992 992b Model #15 Pocket Watch CaseVintage Wwii Military Issued Hamilton Model 23 Black Dial Pocket Watch - RunsHamilton 992 Hi Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch Fine 21 Jewel 5 Adj Ls Vintage 1924Hamilton Beautiful Hunter Case 18 Size, 927, 17 Jewels RunningAttractive High Grade 23 Jewel Hamilton Pocket Watch Movement #121945 Hamilton 992b Triple Sunk Pocket Watch 2 Hour Hands Serial #c131010Antique Hamilton Railway Special 992b 16s Pocket Watch. Made 1948. Runs GreatVintage Hamilton Watch Co.992b 21 Jewel 16s Railroad Grade Pocket Watch RunsSuperb Antique 1912 Hamilton Pocket Watch 21j Adj 5pos 16sz Grade 992 Dble RollrVintage Pocket Watch Movement Lot,elgin Hamilton Waltham Bulova Illinois Baylor+Excellent 1957 Minty Montgomery Dial Hamilton 992b Railroad Grade PocketwatchHamilton Watch Co Usa Model 992 16 Size 21 Jewels Pocket Watch Movement - 1913Awesome 1920 16s Hamilton 992 21j Railroad Original 25 Yr Case Pocket Watch!!Running Hamilton Railway Special 992b Pocket Watch Dial 21j Adj Temp 6pos Movemt1947 Hamilton 992b 21 Jewel Gold Filled Railroad Pocket Watch Movement & CasingScarce Antique Hamilton 18 S Railroad Grade 944 Pocket Watch - No Reserve !Super 1939 Double Sunk Montgomery Dial Hamilton 992e Railroad Grade Pocketwatch1942 Hamilton 4992b 22j 16s An 5740 Military Hack Pocket Watch All OriginalHamilton Pocket Watch992 Hamilton 21 Jewel Railroad Pocket Watch Movement Running10s Hamilton 917/1 Pocket Watch Movement, 17 Jewel, #x81858 - 1941, OfExtra Fancy Mens Hamilton Chased Orig Gold Fill Case Wild Dial 1922 Pocket WatchBall Hamilton 21 Jewel 16s Scarce Canadian 24 Hour Motor Barrel Pocket Watch MvtAntique Hamilton 992e 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Beautiful Dial. 1935Hamilton 4992b 22 Jewel, Navigation Master, U.s. Govt 1950 Era, Chain IncludedVintage Hamilton 992, 21 Jewel, 16 Size , Lever Set Railroad Pocket Watch Superb Hamilton 1952 Pocket Watch Railway Special 992b 21j Adj Temp 6pos 16szVintage Hamilton 23 Jewel Grade 922 Mp Masterpiece Pocket Watch MovementRare 17j Hamilton 924 Railroad Grade 18 Sz Movement Silver Case Pocket Watch Old1918 Hamilton 992 21j 16s 14k Solid Yellow Gold Railroad Pocket WatchBold 16sz 1921 Hamilton Pocket Watch Porcelain Dial Slated Block #s 974 GradeVery Rare Now Hamilton 992b - Box, Papers, Warranty - New Old Stock16s Hamilton 21j Model 992 Railroad Boxcar Dial Pocket Watch, Excellent Working1903 Hamilton 940 Pocket Watch  s18- 21j Pristine Damaskeened Finish Ds Dial12s Hamilton 19j Model 900 Fishscale Yellow Gold Filled Watch, Excellent WorkingCollector Special Strong Runner Dead Accurate Hamilton Gr 950 Rr Mvmt 23j 5p Rr!Antique Hamilton 925 17 Jewel, Beautiful Hunter Case Gold Filled Pocket Watch Sharp Green Gf Crossbar Case 1930 Vint 21j Hamilton 992 Rr W/great Mont DialHamilton Hayden W Wheeler 21 Jewel 16s Very Rare 206 Made Railroad Pocket WatchSuper Cherry & Nice Hamilton Case Mod #5 16s Rr-approved Cs Keystone 10k Rose GfOutstanding 1927 Hamilton 992 Grade Pocket Watch Box Car Dl Railroad Grade 16szStunning Hamilton 992 Rovelstad Bros. Pocket Watch 16sz 21j Adj 5pos 10k Rgp CseHamilton Grade 943 18 Size 21 Jewel Hunting Case Pocket WatchVintage 992b Hamilton Pocket Watch With 10k Rgp Case1942 Vintage 4992b Hamilton 22 Jewel Wind Hack Military Men's Watch Ww2 16 SizeHamilton Railroad Grade Pocket Watch With Montgomery Dial - 21 Jewels - 992Hamilton Men's Masonic Open-face Pocket Watch 917 Movement, 17 Jewels, Adj 3Very Rare High Grade Hamilton 904 Good Filled 21j Pocket WatchHamilton 917 17 Jewels 14k Goldfiled Pocket Watch 16s Hamilton 21j Model 992 Montgomery Dial Pocket Watch, Excellent WorkingVintage Hamilton Electric Watch Hamilton Spectra Dial Hands Movement Ring WinderVintage Hamilton 940 21 Jewel Pocket Watch Fully Signed Hamilton Pocket WatchHamilton 23j Grade 920 Pocket Watch Movement No ReserveHamilton Grade 935 Hunting Case 18 Size 17 Jewel Pocket WatchHamilton 992 B Railway Special Project Watch ???12s Hamilton 19j Model 900 Fishscale Green Gold Filled Watch, Excellent Working