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    

Antique Coin Silver Waltham Riverside Open Faced Pocket Watch Date Around 1874.Vintage Solid 9ct Gold "waltham" Pocket Watch, Dennison Case, 105g, Birm- 1923Antique Waltham 845 21 Jewel High Grade Canadian Railway Pocket Watch. Made 1907Antique Gold Filled Waltham Pocket Watch - Working - Top Winding (f23)Running Key Wind American Watch Co. Waltham Pocket Watch - 1865Antique Gold Filled Waltham Usa Pocket Watch - Requires Attention (f74)M-92 1896 Waltham Vanguard 23j Pocket Watch Movement - Dial - (w9)C. 1907 Ball By Waltham Blf&e 17j 16s Openface Railroad Pocket WatchFine C1907 Waltham Vanguard Gold Filled 23 Jewels 5 Pos Railroad Pocket WatchWaltham Appleton Tracy Gold Gilt Damaskeen Model '83 17 Jewel Colored Dial Waltham Model 1899 Vanguard 16s 23j Jewels Ls Of Pocket Watch Lot 205Magnificent 14k 8k Solid Gold Waltham Antique Opera Pocket Watch - Art Deco*****beautiful Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Size 18 Pocket Watch Movement*****Antique Waltham Vanguard 18s 23 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1907Waltham Adams St. Pocket Watch Key-wind 14 Size 11 Jewels Coin Silver Case Runs18sz Waltham 17j Gilt Movement Display Cased Pocket Watch Serviced-keeping TimeWaltham 3 Oz Coin Silver Hunting Pocket Watch Case Only, Key-wind - Rf20023Waltham Mod 1887 Ps Bartlett 18s Kwks 6oz Coin Silver Case Pocket Watch Lot 193Antique Waltham Solid Gold 14k Pocket Watch (no Reserve)*****beautiful Waltham Crescent St 21 Jewel Size 18 Pocket Watch Movement*****21j 16s Ball Waltham Pocket Watch Movement - Runs - (p10)Vintage 1903 Waltham Royal 17 Jewel Adjusted Open Face Pocket Watch Runs1901 Waltham Pocket Watch 18 Size 17 Jewels Sterling Silver Case Parts-repair1907 18s 17j Fancy Waltham Dl.glass Back Display Case Antique Pocket Watch. RunsAntique Waltham Model 1857 Key Wind Pocket Watch. Made 1869. Runs! Coin SilverEarly Am Watch Co, Waltham Huge 4 Oz Coin Silver Hunter Case Only, 60mm -rf19906Dead Bang Mint Waltham 18s Mod 92 Hunter Dial Ds Enam Vanguard Crescent St DressAntique Waltham Usa 14ct Plate Gold Pocket Watch WorkingGents Vintage Gold Filled Full Hunter Waltham Pocket Watch. .Vintage 1948 Open Face Waltham Pocket Watch 23j 16s Railroad Vanguard Not RunWaltham Railroad Grade 645 21 Jewel 16 Size Pocket WatchAntique (1895/96) Crown Wind Hallmarked Silver Waltham Pocket Watch.Waltham, Ps Bartlett, 18s, Antique Pocket Watch, Running 1909 Ball Waltham Rr Pocket Watch 16s 19j Adj 5 Pos Of Sold At No ReserveWaltham 16s Grade 625 17j Pocket Watch Movement In A Wrist Watch Case,Rare Waltham U.s.a. Riverside 19 Jewels Hunter 16 Size Pocket Watch Movement Large C1897 American Waltham 17 Jewel Adjusted Coin Silver Case Pocket Watch  M-92 1901 Waltham Vanguard 23j Gf Pocket Watch - Runs - (w11)Antique Waltham 16s 21 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1926. Very Nice16sz Waltham 19j Chased Gold Filled Display Back Vanguard Rr Grade-servicedFine Antique 1887 American Waltham 7j Gold Filled Pocket Watch Fancy Hunter Case1869 Waltham Movement Model 1857 18s 15j Grade Ps Bartlett Foggs Key Wind Nice 1905 Waltham Pocket Watch 17 Jewel Grade 825 Movem. #14441462 (t216)1871 Kw Appleton Tracy & Co Waltham Sn522,703 Silver Hc 18s Pocket Watch 15j1890 Elgin 15 Jewel Size 18 Grade 15 Model 1883 14k Gold Filled Full Hunter CaseAntique 1899 50mm Waltham Traveler Full Hunter Pocket Watch & Snake Chain AlbertWaltham 1908 16s 21 Ruby Jewels 645 Railroad Grade Pocket WatchFantastic 1904 Montgomery Dial Waltham 21 Jewel Model 845 Railroad PocketwatchAntique Sterling Waltham Pocket Watch Hunting Case 18 Size Coin Silver Case 1885Vintage Waltham 17 Jewel Hunter Case Pocket Watch 16 Sz G F Case Bird On CaseLarge Early 1877 American Waltham Co Morphy Coin Silver Hunter Case Pocket WatchRare 1888 American Waltham Grade 19j 14k Gold Case W/ Rare Dial Antique P Watch1880 A.w. Co. Royal Waltham 18k Solid Gold Ladies Pocket Watch - Sz 6s - CanteenWaltham Crescent St 21 Jewel 16 Size Montgomery Dial Railroad Pocket WatchWaltham Silver Hunting Case Kw, Ks Pw, 18 S, Heavy, Sn #: 149164 (1864)1879 Waltham 11 Jewel Home " Wm Ellery " 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch RunningPretty Antique Waltham Gold Plated Fob / Pocket Watch Waltham Riverside 16s 21j Railroad Grade Pocket Watch Running Strong !!Waltham 18 Size “crescent Street” Hunting Pocket Watch. 135g1889 American Waltham Pocket Watch.....runs Great!........no Reserve!

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Three options on table for Fitch School site
Wicked Local Waltham, August 20th

He said a second location of the restaurant is planned for the Waltham Watch Factory. Colomba, a Newton resident, is also behind the plan to build a hotel at 210 Moody St. While a hotel at the Fitch School is an allowed use, it would require a special...Read more

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

Big Bird to big screen: Waltham native Caroll Spinney's life chronicled in film
Wicked Local Waltham, June 12th

But his father, who worked in the Waltham Watch Factory as a screw maker, was disappointed that his boy wanted to be a puppeteer. He wanted Caroll to work in the factory. The documentary, though, details how the two reconciled in the end. Spinney lived ...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

Consulting firm expands into Waltham Watch Factory
Boston Business Journal, March 22nd

Business Journal. The Waltham Watch Factory. Enlarge. Photo courtesy of Watch City Ventures LLC. The Waltham Watch Factory. Trinity Pharma Solutions has leased 12,000 square feet of office space in the Waltham Watch Factory in Waltham, Mass...Read more