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    

16 Size Hamilton 992b Pocket Watch, 21 Jewels Antique Railroad Pocket WatchAntique Hamilton 940 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Beautiful Watch. 1909Pocket Watch #7 Hamilton 2 Time Zone 992b 21 Jewel No Reserve!C. 1945 Hamilton Railway Special 992b 21j 16s 6 Adj 10k Gf Railroad Pocket WatchPrimo "hamilton Railroad Model" Case #5 16s Keystone J.boss 14k Wgf 992 950 950eHamilton 937 17j 18s Low Serial #1760 Railroad Pocket Watch MvtVintage Hamilton Railway Special 21 Jewels Model 992b Pocket Watch Running!!0005, Fabulous Hamilton 950 23j Ls Wgf Hamilton Case, A BeautyMint Unused 16s 1955 23j 950b Hamiltion New Old Stock Pocket Watch!Hamilton 1919 Railroad 992 Double Roller 21j Open Faced 10k Gf Pocket Watch | G18s 21jewel Hamilton 940 Railroad Rare Gold Inaid Horse And Rider Extra FineHamilton 992b 21 Jewel-size 16 Pocket Watch / 10k Gf CaseHamilton 952, Of, Ls, 19j, 16s, Railroad Pocket Watch. Good Running Order1925 Hamilton 992 16s 21j Railroad Grade Pocket Watch 10k Gold Filled Case RunsPocket Watch #9 Hamilton 16s Mainliner 950 Elinvar 23 Jewel Porcelain Dial950e, 23 Jewels, Of, Ls Elinvar Hamilton Railroad Pw, A Superb Rr WatchLot #283 Lot Of 3 Old Vintage Pocket Watches Hamilton Waltham Illinois Bunn Hamilton Grade 992b Open Face 21 Jewel Railroad Pocket WatchVtg Hamilton 940 Gold Filled 12 Jewels Enamel Face Railroad Pocket Watch 588401Antique Hamilton 975 16s 17 Jewel Gold Filled Hunter Case Pocket Watch. 1903Hamilton 992b Bar Over Two Tone Case 1946Hamilton Railroad Gold Filled Case Nonrunning Pocket Watch 21 Jewels 992 ElinvarHamilton Size 16 Greenwich Civil Time Gct Military Pocket Watch 4992b 24hr Dial Scarce! One Star Marked “extra” 16s 1912 21j 992l Hamiltion 1st Model!1920 Hamilton 992 Railroad Gold Filled 21 Jewel Pocket Watch - Runs/needs WorkAntique Hamilton 940 18s Gp Of 21j Railroad Pocket Watch,runsRare (4598 Total) Hamilton Gr 954 16s 17j 5p Dr Rr-grade Mvmt Museum Quality Rr!Antique Hamilton 940 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Beautiful Watch. 1907Hamilton 992 B Railway Special1941 Hamilton 992b Lever Wwii Us Govt Ordnance Depo Oe-33 Pocket Watch Military Vintage Hamilton 992e Gold Filled Pocket Watch - 21 Jewels - Size 161920's Vintage Men's Hamilton 14k Gf Pocket Watch Runs/needs ServicedImmaculate Dead Accurate Ball Hamilton Gr 999p 16s 21j 5p Rr Mvmt Cranks Rr TimePocket Watch Hamilton 992 Railroad Montgomery Dial #2 No Reserve!1931 Hamilton Case & Movement 14k Real White Gold Pocket Watch 21 Jewel Masonic Antique Hamilton 992 16s 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Beautiful Watch. 1913Blindman Deco Ball Hamilton 16s Rr Dial Ss Enam Choice Select Fits All Ball HamsSuperb Hamilton 21 Jewel, Open Face, Lever Set Railroad Pocket Watch Deco Mania Hamilton Case Mod #10 16s Rr Case 10k Ygf 992 992b 992e 950b 950e 996Rare Hamilton 992b Gold Special Movement Boc Excellent 21j Railroad Pocket Watch18 Size Early Ball & Co. Cleveland Hamilton 17 Jewel Pocket Watch RunsHamilton 12 Size Model 912 Pocket Watch In Cushion Ygf Case. 97hHamilton 921 21 Jewels Men's Pocket Watch Movement2 Hamilton R.r Pocket Watch 16s Crowns. New/old Stock Antique G.f.992/992b EtcAntique Hamilton 924 18s Gp Of 17j Pocket Watch,runs,cleanHamilton's First & Finest Boc Case Mod "crossbar" 16s Wadsworth 14k Wgf Classic!Hamilton Pocket Watch, Military 992b With N.o.s. Ordinance DialHamilton Military 4992 B Pocket Watch Circa 1941Hamilton's Classic "cathedral" Case Mod #7 Keystone J.boss 16s 10k Ygf Rr Case!!Very Nice - 1924 16s Hamilton 992 21j Pocket Watch Movement - Runs (b99)"styled In Steel" Hamilton 16s Stainless Rr-case Late-model 992b 950b 992e 950e!1906 Hamilton 940 Size 18s 21 Jewels Railroad Grade Pocket Watch Gf Of Case Runs16s Hamiltom Elinvar 21j Railroad 992 Pocket Watch Real Nice1944 Hamilton Pocket WatchVintage Hamilton Silverode Pocket Watch - 21 Jewels - Size 18Working Gold Filled Etched Hamilton Pocket Watch With Chain!!!Antique 1924 Hamilton Ladies 986a 17 Jewels 6/0 Size Solid 14k White Gold WatchHamilton 16 Size Genuine Factory Salesman Sample Case. 65hFlawless - 16s Hamilton Ds 992/992b Pocket Watch Dial - (t14)Hamilton 992 Pocket Watch Salesman Display Case Running