Waltham Watch Company was the first watchmaker to mass-produce watch movements on an assembly line. This had the combined effects of increasing productivity and lowering the prices of Waltham’s watches to its customers. It should have given Waltham an immediate and early edge over the competition. Unfortunately, Waltham’s early decades were fraught with financial difficulties.

Founded in 1850 by watchmakers Aaron Dennison, Edward Howard, and David Davis as the American Watch Company, the firm’s earliest watch movements were stamped with the words "Howard, Davis, and Dennison – Boston," even though the company was actually based in nearby Roxbury. By 1851, their manufacturing processes perfected, the partners renamed their firm the American Horologe Company. All of these early pieces had key-wound movements, came in size 18 or 16, and were sold without cases—back then, it was common to take a movement to a jeweler to complete this final step.

In 1853, American Horologe became Boston Watch Company and moved to a new factory in Waltham, Massachusetts. But the partners were dogged by financial problems in the years following the move to Waltham—in 1857 the company was purchased, at auction, by Appleton Tracy & Co.

Appleton’s Model 1857 is generally considered the first production watch with completely standardized parts. These early Model 1857s are favorites among collectors of antique pocket watches. The majority of these size-18 watches were adorned with either roman or bold Arabic numerals, generally on a porcelain face. In 1859, the company merged with the Waltham Improvement Company and was renamed the American Watch Company, although Waltham Watches and American Waltham Watch Company were often used in advertisements from this period.

Waltham’s factory was almost as impressive as its products. By the end of the 1860s, the giant facility employed hundreds of men and women, numbers unheard of in the watch industry. But when the Civil War broke out, business dropped to almost nothing. Factory managers quickly downsized the plant by cutting hours, encouraging employees to join the military, and shuffling jobs to make sure everyone had something to do, even if it was only one task. Thankfully, soldiers needed watches, and Waltham survived the war by meeting this demand with its relatively cheap timepieces. Movements from this period are extremely rare today.

Like Hamilton and other watchmakers, Waltham made railroad watches. In order for a watch to qualify as railroad-grade it had to be large (size 16 or 18), have at least 17 jewels in its movement, feature easy-to-read Arabic numerals, and meet a number of other technical requirements.

Waltham manufactured movements in two basic styles: full and 3/4 plate. The works in a full-plate movement were completely covered, while the 3/4 plate featured cutaways to make ...

Some of the most famous Waltham models of the 19th century included the aforementioned 1857 line, the high-end Vanguard (it had 23 jewels in its movement), the Crescent Street, and the Wm. Ellery, which was reportedly carried in the pocket of Abraham Lincoln. Other Waltham lines included the Santa Fe, whose railroad-grade movement self-adjusted to maintain accuracy even in extreme temperatures, and the Lady Waltham, a smaller watch built specifically for women. The Lady Waltham was the first of its kind, and other companies like Elgin quickly jumped on the ladies’ pocket-watch bandwagon.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Waltham movements were considered so reliable that the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned special, railroad-grade movements. Some of these pieces were marked on the movement with the railroad’s emblem (a shield and a beaver). Other movements bore the words "Canadian Railway Time Service." They’re difficult to find today, and are great examples of post-1900 pocket-watch movements.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Waltham didn’t embrace Art Deco as much as other watchmakers, focusing instead on railroad-grade chronometers. The venerable Vanguard brand was a notable exception, selling consistently throughout the 1930s, despite the drop in pocket-watch sales caused by the popularity of the wristwatch.

During World War II, Waltham was contracted by the U.S. Army to make speedometers, tachometers, chronographs, and other military equipment. After the war, pocket-watch production came to a virtual standstill in favor of wristwatches and other domestic items. Like other American watch companies, Waltham could not compete with cheaper imported movements, and the firm closed its doors in 1957.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

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    

Vintage Solid Sterling Silver "waltham Usa" 15jewels Pocket Watch, Mod1908. 19241858 Appleton Tracy Model 1857 Hunter P S Bartlett Pre Civil War $1 No Reserve!Clean 1903 Vintage 18 Size Waltham 17 Jewel Appleton Tracy Co. 20y Pocket Watch18s 23jewel Waltham Vanguard Silver Hunter Pocket Watch Extra Fine ConditionWaltham Crescent St 21 Jewel 18s Hunting Case Scarce 2-tone Pocket Watch MvtAntique Waltham Pocket Watch~gold Filled Royal Hunter Case/chain/fob~runs?!? YqzHeavy - Waltham 2 Oz? Case - Pocket Watch (working). Solid Silver *1894*Antique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Eagle Case. 186418sz Waltham 21j Crescent St. Md'92 Polished Display Back Pocket Watch ServicedAntique 1884 18s Waltham Pocket Watch In Rare 6oz Coin Silver Case Kw Ks Key*** Superb Antique Gold Of Waltham Pocketwatch - C1898 *** Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Up Down Indicator Pocket WatchSuper 1902 Triple Marked Waltham Riverside 14 Karat Solid Gold Of PocketwatchOutstanding 1904 Waltham Vanguard Pocket Watch High Grade 23j Mvmt Adj 5posWaltham Appleton Tracy Prvt Label 18 Size Hunter Pocket Watch Gold Pl MovementUnusual Antique Waltham Salesmans Sample Pocket WatchAntique Inter-war Waltham Traveler Half Hunter Pocket Watch: Gwo.High Grade 18s Waltham Crescent Street 21j Pocket Watch Gold Filled Hunter Case1841 Pair Cased Verge Fusee Pocket Watch J Padbury Waltham In Working Order=good Gents Waltham Mass Antique Pocket WatchWaltham 16s Grade 625 17j Pocket Watch Movement In A Wrist Watch Case,Vintage Lot Pocket Watches Waltham Elgin Illinois Gold Filled Etc As IsVintage Silver Cased Pocket Watch By American Waltham Watch Co. (not Working)Db 50.  waltham 16 Size 15 J Circa 1910, Fully Engraved Hunting Case Fancy DialMulti Color Solid 14k Gold 18s Fancy Dial Waltham Box Hinge Pocket Watch 145 GStunning++ C. 1901 17j 18s Waltham Appleton Tracy 1892 Railroad Gf Pocket WatchBeautiful Antique Rolled Gold F/ Hunter Waltham Traveler Pocket Watch Dated 1903Antique Waltham Vanguard 16s 23 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1946(2) Antique Coin Silver Estate Pocket Watches With Key - Runs Waltham Amer Watch5124, Very Scarce U S Watch Co Waltham Two Toned Adjusted 15j Movement-onlyWaltham Premier Pocket Watch Vanguard 23j Usa Railroad Grade Running Used1900 18sz Waltham Vanguard Rr Grade Pocket Watch Dial 21j Adj Gold Regulatr MvmtAntique Size 18 Waltham Hunter Case Pocket Watch P.s. Bartlett Movement “as-is” Antique Waltham Riverside Pocket Watch 14ct Gold Plate Spare Parts Or Repair Rare Dial 16s 1872 Model American Waltham 14k Gold Hunting Case Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Vanguard Premier 16s 23 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1941Vintage 1920's Waltham Vanguard Up & Down Indicator 23 Jewel Pocket Watch 6 Pos.Waltham 23j VanguardSuperb Waltham Traveler 10ct Gold Plate Full Hunter Mens Pocket Watch WorkingAntique Waltham Pocket Watch, Keystone Case, Gem, 14k Yellow Gold , Gem Rare23j Waltham Vanguard 8 Pos. Railroad Grade Watch Factory Case Exc. Plus Ca.19431882 Waltham 11j 18s William Ellery Pocket Watch For Parts [0e79]**l@@k**gorgeous** Ornate Hunter Cased Waltham Pocket Watch With Fancy Dial Stunning Solid 14k Gold Fancy Dial Waltham Size 18 Pocket Watch / 129 Grams1918 Waltham 14k Solid Gold Case Pocket Watch Size 12 Runs Rare Watch 17 JewelsWaltham 1 1/2 Inch Hunter Case Yellow Gold Filled Pocket Watch18s Keywind Keyset Appleton Tracy (waltham) Pocket WatchWaltham 16s Riverside Maximus 1899 Bridge Model All Original 14k Solid Gold CaseChoo Choo Case - M-92 1904 Waltham Vanguard 23j Gf Pocket Watch - (wer)Waltham Cronometro Alexandria 16 Sz Hunter Pocket Watch Multi Color Enamel DialAntique Waltham Vanguard 16s 23 Jewel Canadain Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1946Waltham Antique Gp 21 Jewels 16s Grade 645 Model 1908 Of Pocket Watch (#s410)Waltham And Elgin 18s 7j Pocket Watch Movements Parts Or Repair107 Yr Old, 19 Jewel, Size 16 Waltham Vanguard Runs Strong/timed Sn 19012458Waltham Antique Gp 21 Jewels 16s Grade Cres St. Model 1908 Of Pocket Watch #s413Antique Waltham 825 18s Silverine Of 17j Pocket Watch,very Clean,runs Lovely Antique High Quality 630 Grade Waltham Pocket Watch: Vgwo.Fivegold Filled Pockets For Repair/2 Elgin,illinois Seth T. Waltham4 Staffs GoodCrisp 1902 Vintage Waltham 15 Jewel Hunter's Case 20y Lady's Pocket Watch Runs 100 Yr Old, 21 Jewel, Size 16 Waltham Vanguard Runs Strong/timed Sn 20031278

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Monday Morning Find: A Rare Naval Dive Watch With Big Deal History
Bloomberg, August 3rd

The history of Waltham Watch is confusing. The company was founded in 1850 under a different name in Massachusetts, then a big watchmaking and clockmaking hub. The name changed a few times over the years as the company continued to make nice, ...Read more

The Original Wild West Showdown, 150 Years Ago
History, July 21st

He snatched Hickok's beloved Waltham pocket watch off the felt and declared he would hold it as collateral until the debt was settled. When Hickok protested, he also threatened to flaunt the timepiece in the town square the next day. A seething Wild...Read more

Area photographers gather for fun, fellowship
Amarillo.com, July 18th

So you think you can take pretty good pictures, right? You love shooting with your camera and capturing those fleeting moments of life. Want to improve your skills and meet others just like you who love photography? If so, there is a place for you to...Read more

What is it like to live in Waltham?
Boston Globe, July 3rd

Waltham residents are lucky: They don't need to head into Boston for a special meal out. Moody Street is a culinary wonderland, offering everything from earthy Mexican to big-budget charcuterie. Indulge in cured meat at the swanky new Backroom at Moody...Read more

If an item has been 'clobbered,' it will be worth a lot less
Columbus Dispatch, June 28th

The term clobbered has been used since the late 19th century to mean patched or worn. At a Neal auction in April, a pair of very large “clobbered” famille rose porcelain vases sold for $4,780. In about 1970, we were appraising an estate, and the family...Read more

Waltham's WATCH celebrates anniversary, community work
Wicked Local Waltham, May 12th

Waltham watcher ... Waltham's WATCH celebrates anniversary, community work. On a warm, spring evening at the end of April, WATCH Community Development Corporation celebrated its 27th anniversary with a gathering of over 120 people. email print...Read more

Waltham's WATCH to hold Anniversary Celebration
Wicked Local Waltham, April 24th

Waltham's WATCH to hold Anniversary Celebration. WATCH members will celebrate the organization's 27th anniversary at a community celebration and dinner on Tuesday, April 28. email print. Comment. Wicked Local Waltham. Writer. Posted Apr. 24, 2015 ...Read more

Waltham's Watch City Brewing Closes for Good
Boston.com, July 28th

Watch City Brewing appears to be closing down permanently, The Waltham News Tribune reports. The Moody Street brewery closed in June, saying it needed repairs. But a restaurant equipment company now says it will auction off the brewery's equipment...Read more