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    

18s Ball Hamilton Brotherhood Of Railroad Trainsmen” Model 999 Books $6,600.00!Rare Ball Hamilton 998 Elinvar Signed 23j Railroad Pocket Watch! Minty BeautifulAntique 21 Jewel 18 Sz. Salesman Display Case Railroad Pocket Watch Hamilton 940Antique 16s 1946 21j 992b Hamiltion Railroad Pocket Watch! The Railroad Watch!Minty 1941 22j Military 4992b Hamilton G.c.t. Pocket Watch No Reserve!Rare Dial Amazing 1942 Military Hamilton Mod. 4992b 16s 22 Jewel Pocket WatchHamilton 1893 Serial #204 Pocket Watch First Year Production 16 Jewel Size 18Vintage Hamilton, 992b, 21j, 10k Ygf, Model #3 Two Tone, Railroad Pocket Watch!8 Vintage Pocket Watch Movements 18s 16s 12s Elgin Waltham Rockford Studebaker8 Vintage Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Waltham Hampden Illinois Private LabelNice 1948 Hamilton 16s 21 Jewel 992b 10k Gf Bar Over Crown Pocket WatchAntique 18s Elgin Bw Raymond 17j 17 Jewel Pocket Watch Parts RepairHamilton 992b Railroad Special 21j 16s Openface 10k Gf – Looks & Runs Great!Antique Hamilton 992 16s Rr Pocket Watch. 1920. Gold Filled Case. Runs Great Scarce 16s 23j 950b Hamilton W/porcelain Dial Model A Case Minty! Beautiful Wow!1925 Hamilton 992 Pocket Watch 21 Ruby Jewels - Railroad Grade - Size16 - Runs1906 Hamilton 940 Pocket Watch 18 Size 21 J 20 Year Gold F Cases Run StrongMinty Correct Hamilton Rr Model #5 Keystone J.boss 16s 14k Wgf 992 992b 950 950bAntique 1901 Hamilton 18s 925 Hunting Style Pocket Watch - 25 Yr Gf Case -runsGreat Art Deco 14k Gf Hamilton 917 Priest Pocket Watch & CaseHamilton, 23 Jewel 10k Gf Pocket Watch With Gold Filled Fob - A BeautyWwii 1942 Yr. Military Officer's 24-hr Dial Hamilton 4992b Pocket Watch ServicedCirca 1919 Hamilton 992 In A Rare Nawco Security Bulldog Case. Bold Dial. No ResBall Hamilton 16 Size Model 999 Pocket Watch. 156hHamilton 21j 992b Vintage Pocket Watch. Runs!Hamilton Pristine 992 Scarce Model 3 Rose Gold Filled Railroad Pocket WatchRare 1906 Hamilton "the Union" Pocket Watch 17j In Deer Engraved Case 18s - RunsHamilton Watch Company P.a. Pocket Watch Lever Set Gold Plate Circa 1935 21j.Hamilton 992b Louisville Nashville Railroad 16s 21j Vintage Pocket Watch To FixBeautiful 1909 Hamilton 940 21j 18s Gold Filled Damaskeened Movement C.o.s.1917 Antique 18 Size Hamilton 924 Pocket Watch 17 Jewels - ServicedAntique Ball-hamilton 21 Jewel 5 Position Railroad Watch Gold Fill Size 16 WorksHamilton 16 Size Railroad “stifff Bow” Signed Pocket Watch Case. 19hBall Watch Co. Hamilton Model 999 Size 16 21 Jewel Gold Filled Case1949 Hamilton 992b Railroad Pocket Watch Model "a" Yellow Gold Filled Case!Antique 1900's Hamilton 950 B 10k Gold Filled 23 J Railway Special Pocket Watch ** Vintage Hamilton 992b 21 Jewel Size 16 Railroad Watch Excellent ConditionVintage Hamilton 992 Railroad Pocket Watch Lever Set Parts Or RepairVintage Hamilton Lancaster Case 17 Jewel 987a Movement Running No Reserve !!! Hamilton "992" Railroad Pocket Watch, Size 16, 21 Jewels, Open Face, Usa P 676.  hamilton 12 Size 17 J Adjusted Grade 912 Asymmetric Case Pocket Watch.Early Dead Accurate Great Running Hamilton Gr 990 16s 21j 5p Rr Mvmt Got Rr TimeHamilton Gold Filled Pocket Watch Hamilton 21j 992b Pocket Watch - Boc Not RunningServiced!! Hamilton White 14k Gf Pocket Watch Open Faced Case 912 S12 C. 1925Hamilton 992 L And 992b Pocket Watch18 Size Hamilton 17 Jewels 927 Adjusted Hunting Case Model 2 Pocket Watch1904 Large Hamilton Gold Filled 18s 17j Pocket Watch Runs 116 GramsHamilton Pocket Wrist Watch Parts Salesman Display Case Many PartsGood Looking - Running 1907 18s Hamilton Gr 926 17j Pocket WatchRare Hamilton 18s, 17j, Grade 937 Yr 1901 Yg Fill 20yr. Case, Minneapolis, MinnHamilton 16 Size “railway Special” 992b Montgomery Pocket Watch Dial. 5hSuperlative Cond Hamilton 16s Montgomery Ds Enamel 3ft Dial 950 992 974 950e 996Hamilton 940 Pockety Watch 21 Jewels Montgomery Dial WorkingAntique Hamilton Railroad 10k Gold Filled Pocket Watch 21 Jewels 992 For Repair1913 Hamilton 992 Pocket Watch, 21 Jewels - C.w.c. Co. Crescent Watch Case1914 Hamilton 992 Pocket Watch, 21 Jewels - Star 10k Gold Filled Watch CaseVintage 1909 Hamilton 21j Double Roller 18s Nickel Plated Openface PartsAntique Hamilton 992 21 Jewels Pocket Watch As-is Parts Or RepairVintage Hamilton Khaki Military Pocket Watch In Original Box