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    

0364, Superb Military Hamilton 4992b, Silver Case W/ Navigation Watch Box- WowBall Hamilton 999b 21jewel 6 Positions Railroad Pocket Watch 1940s1968 Hamilton 992b Railroad 21j Pocket Watch Montgomery Dial Railway Special16 Size 21 Jewels Hamilton 992b Railroad Pocket Watch Movement RunningVintage Hamilton Gct Military Wwll Navigational Pilots Pocket Watch 4992b An574016 Size 21 Jewels Hamilton 990 Railroad Pocket Watch Movement RunningNice 1910 Hamilton 21j 992 Railroad Pocket Watch Model 1 Beautiufl Case!Hamilton 992 B Sz16 Railway Special 21jwl. Gf Adj. 6 Pos. Ls/sw Pocket Watch Railroad 16s 1947 21j 992b Hamiltion Railroad Pocket Watch Beautiful Minty Condi1954 Hamilton 21 Jewel 992b U. S. Gov"t Railroad Pocket Watch - Runs - No Res!16 Size 21 Jewels Hamilton 992e Railroad Pocket Watch Movement RunningEstate Lot Antique Elgin Waltham Hamilton Silver Gold Filled Mens Pocket WatchesAntique 10k Gf Hamilton 23 Jewel 950b Railroad Montgomery Pocket Watch S713518 Size 21 Ruby Jewels Hamilton 940 Tu-tone Railroad Pocket Watch Running21j Hamilton 992b Railway SpecialHamilton Railway Special 992b Pocket Watch 21 Jewels, Rare 2 Star 16 Size 21j Hamilton 961, Antique Railroad Pocket Watch MovementHamilton Railroad Bar Over Crown” Pw Case. 37fRunning Hamilton 23j Jewels 923 Mens Pocket Watch Movement16 S Wadsworth/hamilton Model 2 Boc 10k Gold Filled Railroad Pocket Watch Case18s17jewel Hamilton 925 Two Tone Movement Silver Hunter Case Fine ConditionHamilton 16 Size 992 Railroad Pocket Watch Case. 15fVintage Hamilton Watch Co Usa C 173326 1946 10k G.filled Working Pocket Watch21j Hamilton 992b Pocket WatchPocket Watch Case Lot - 16s - Hamilton Wadsworth Model10 - Rr Case Very Nice 1940s Ww2 Usaf Hamilton 4992b Air Force Pilots Pocket Watch An 5740 Prt No 33106Vintage 1925 Ball Hamilton, 999, 21j, 14k Wgf, Railroad Grade, Pocket WatchHamilton Grade 950 Model 3 Railroad Pocket Watch 16s 23j Hamilton 992b Pocket WatchHamilton 917 Pocket Watch (swiss Movement) 14k Gold Filled *runs Strong*Large Lot Watch Part Or Repair Elgin Hamilton Timex Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch Beautiful Gold Filled Case 192118s 21jewel Hamilton 941 Hunter Fancy Stag On Case Near Mint ConditionHamilton 992b 21 Jewel 16 Size Model 11 Case Railroad Pocket WatchHamilton Watch Co Special Usa Chronometer 18s 17 Jewels Pocket Watch MovementIvory Hamilton Bakelite "cigarette Box" In Excellent Condition With Inserts Great Looking Hamilton 992b, 16 Size Antique Open Face Railroad Pocket WatchHamilton 992b Rail Road 16 Size Pocket Watch All Original Serviced Must See No RLqqk!! Antique 17 Jewel Hamilton 917 Pocketwatch W/ 10k Goldfilled Hamilton CaseVintage Hamilton Railroad Grade Pocket Watch/#992/1913/ For Parts Or RepairLarge Collection 3 Railway Special Hamilton 992b 21j RailroadVintage "1923" Hamilton, 992, 21j, 10k Ygf, Railroad Grade, Pocket Watch "nice!"18s 2 Star Hamilton 938 Pocket WatchHamilton Pocket Watch 992b Rail Road Grade Railway Special C1958Hamilton Rail Road Early 940 18s 21 Jewel Pocket Watch. Runs Great! 1901Clean 14k Gold Filled Hamilton 10s Grade 912 Scarce "secometer" For RepairMinty & Select Hamilton Montgomery 16s Dress-rr Dial Ds Enam 3-post Ultra CherryHamilton 996 16s 21 Jewels Rail Road Pocket Watch. Runs Great! Made 1917.Hamilton Mens 921 21j Jewels Pocket Watch Movement RunningHamilton 992 16s 21 Jewels Rail Road Pocket Watch. Runs Great! Made 1917.1940s Wwii 22 Jewel 4992b Hamilton Pocket Watch Clean Nice !1904 Hamilton 17 Jewel 973 Hunting Case 16s - Pocket Watch - Runs - No Reserve!1918 Hamilton 17 Jewel 974 Pocket Watch - Hamilton Display Case - Runs - No Res!Misc Vintage Pocket Watch Lot Of 4 For Parts/repair Elgin, Hamilton, Hampden 1924 Hamilton 912 Pocket Watch 12 Size 17 Jewels Adj'd 14k Gold Filled Case RunsVintage 1949 Hamilton 917 Pocket Watch 17j 14k Gf 3pos 10s RunningBeautiful Hamilton 992 All Original Rail Road Pocket Watch Must See No ReserveHamilton Railroad Standard 10k Gold Filled Pocket Watch Model 992 - JewelryHamilton Pocket Watch 917 W/box Clean 14k Filled Size 10sHamilton Pocket Watch Grade 940 21 Jewel