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    

A Rare Ww1 / Ww2, Rfc / Raf 'waltham Premier' Military, War Dept. Pocket WatchAntique Waltham 23 Jewel Riverside Maximus Railroad Montgomery Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Beautiful CaseMinty1884 Antique 18s Waltham Solid Gold Full Hunter Pocket Watch Scrap/use 106gRare Waltham Riverside Maximus 23j 16s Pocket Watch Solid 14k Gold Engraved CaseAntique Waltham Pocket Watch Movement And Crystal Serial #7780093Antique Waltham Sterling Silver Open-face Pocket Watch- Works - #7 YqzAmerican Waltham 18 Size 21 Jewel Crescent Street 2 Tone Movement Parts RestorLot Of 11 Large Antique American Pocket Watches - Waltham - Elgin - IllinoisAntique Waltham, Elgin, & More, Lot Of 21 Pocket Watches. 18s, 7-23 Jewels 1882 Waltham Appleton Tracy 15 J In 14k Gold Filled Ornate Hunter Case 18s RunsAntique Waltham 18s Gold Filled Pocket Watch. Original Hunter's Case. Runs. Pre Civil War Waltham P.s Bartlett Lot Of Key Wind Pocket Watch MovementsHuge Lot Of Antique Pocket Watch Movements - Waltham - Elgin + No Partials1912 Waltham 14k Gold Presentation Pocket Watch Riverside Maximus Movement1877 Waltham Broadway Martyn Square Key Wind In Steamboat Engraved Case 18s RunsWaltham Watch Co., 18s, 21j, Crescent St. Gold Inlayed Sawmill Open Face WatchAntique Gents Waltham Hunting Cased Pocket Watch-dennison Gold Filled 20yr CaseVintage 9ct Solid Gold Waltham Fob Pocket Watch 1924 Working - Needs AttentionVintage Pocket Watch Waltham 1876 Birmingham Silver Hallmarked Case RunningBeautiful Antique A.w.c. Waltham, Sz6 14kt Gold Pocket Watch, Keeps Time,ca 188914k Solid Gold Waltham Riverside Maximus 16s 21j Of Ticks 3 Diamond Endstones!Antique "1915" Ball Waltham, 21j, 10k Ygf, Railroad Grade, Pocket Watch!!!Vintage Waltham Pocketwatch Appleton Tracy Model Yr 1871 Key Wind & Set Coin C.Antique Fusee No Name Pocket Watch Is It Elgin, Waltham ?? No Clue It Is Nice.Vintage 18 Size Waltham Pocket Watch In Heavy 5 Oz Coin Silver Hunting CaseAntique 23 Jewels 16 Size Railroad Pocket Watch Waltham Vanguard Large 18s Waltham 15 Jewel Mens Antique Pocket Watch In Swing Out Case Ca 1901Waltham 18s 11j Model 57 P.s.bartlett In A 4 Oz 59mm Coin Silver Case Excellent Antique Silver Case Waltham Pocket Watch American Watch Co Working Order Vintage Waltham .800 Coin Silver Pocket Watch W/chas. J Hurd Face & MovementWorking Vintage Men's Waltham 14ct Gold Plated Dennison Half Hunter Pocket WatchVintage Waltham 16s Riverside 14k Gold Filled 19 Jewels Pocket WatchAntique 1894 American Waltham Multicolor Solid Gold Pocket Watch Us Assay Runs Rare Antique Appleton Tracy, Waltham Solid Silver Rail Road Grade Pocket WatchAmerican Waltham Antique Railroad Pocket Watch Model 1892 - 1901Waltham Traveller Rolled Gold Mens Full Hunter Pocket WatchW. 54.Vintage Antique Waltham Riverside Pocket Watch 19 Jewels 12 Size Gold FilledGenuine Waltham 14k Gold Multicolor Ladies 0s Keystone Hunter Pocket WatchAntique 18 Size 15 Jewel Waltham Full Hunter Pocket Watch Vintage Antique Waltham 16 Size Railroad Style Pocket Watch Shock ProtectedVintage Antique 1890 Mens 18 Size Waltham Pocket Watch W Fahy's Ore Silver CaseWaltham Vanguard 23j, 16s, Ls, Of, Up/down Indicator Railroad Pocket WatchHuge Antique Gold Pocket Watch By Waltham In Working Order2 Railroad Pocket W Works Waltham & Hamilton 21 Jewels TlcWaltham 12s Model 1894 15j Gold Filled Hunting Case Ca.1907 Good ConditionWaltham Elgin American Mfg Co Sterling Silver Working Antique Desk Pocket WatchBig Vintage Solid Silver American Waltham Pocket Watch Gold Hinges AdjustedVintage Waltham 18 Size Pocket Watch Movement & Dial Circa 1893Man’s Waltham Usa 17 Jewel Pocket Watch W/ Dueber Gold Filled 20 Yr Case #6 YqzRare 500pc. Antique C.1881 Waltham P.s Bartlett 18s Gold Filled 11j Pocket WatchVery Early Waltham Pinned Plate P S Bartlett Movement To Restore 4 Digit SerialGorgeous Waltham Pocketwatch 16 Size Hunter Year 1906 14k Goldf Case Look!!!1919 Waltham 15 Jewel 12s Gold Filled Pocket Watch With 25 Year J Boss CaseAntique 10k Gf Waltham Premier 23 J Vanguard Railroad Montgomery Pocket Watch1929 Waltham 1235 Colonial 17 Jewel Adj. Secometer 14k White Gf Pocket Watch E39Waltham Crescent Street Pocket Watch M#1892Unusual Vintage Waltham Pocket Watch - 14ct Gold Filled - WorkingWaltham Vanguard 23 Jewel 6 Position Pocket Watch

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Marilyn Lozier
Boothbay Register, July 22nd

She later moved to Waltham, Mass., got her driver's license, and worked in the Waltham Watch Factory for several years. In her spare time she enjoyed going to Boston Red Sox games. Upon returning to the Boothbay region in 1954, she got a job working in ...Read more

Waltham Museum hosting several 'historic' events
Wicked Local Waltham, July 11th

-July 14: Lecture on "The Waltham Watch" by noted Waltham Watch historian Christopher Carey. Carey will speak about watches made at the Waltham Watch Company, the company's inception and the 1950s transition to the Waltham Precision Instrument Co ...Read more

Historic Waltham Month features many events
Wicked Local Waltham, July 4th

July is Historic Waltham Month. Here is a list of events by organization: Christ Church Episcopal. 750 Main St., christchurchwaltham.org. Tours of the church and stained glass windows. July 5 and 12, 10-11 a.m., free. Stonehurst, the Robert Treat Paine...Read more

Press Clips: A-B's Trademark Battle; Jim Koch Remembers the Early Days
Brewbound.com, July 3rd

Tomorrow, most Americans will commemorate the Fourth of July holiday with some barbeque, a few beers and celebratory fireworks in honor of our nation's independence from Great Britain. But before you go reaching for a cold one, we've got some fireworks ...Read more