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    

The Holy Grail For Waltham Collectors A 1855 Dennison Howard & Davis Sn 2981Gorgeous Waltham 16 Size Salesman Sample Pocket Watch Display Case!!Rare 21j, 16s Riverside Maximus Hunting Case 14k Gold 2star Antique Pocket WatchC. 1859 Waltham "american Watch Co." #16456 Appleton Tracy Grade 18 Size WatchAntique Ladies 1905 Waltham Hunter 14k Yellow Gold Pocket Watch No ReserveAmazing Full Hunter Waltham Pocket Watch Wm Ellery Kw Ks Runs Stunning Case Nr!Waltham 23j Vanguard Pocket Watch Model 1899 25y Ald Sun Gp Case 1905Antique Waltham Model 1857 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Almost Perfect Eagle CaseC.1905 Antique Waltham Hunting Case Pocket Watch W/ Fancy Dial & Ornate CaseWaltham Appleton Tracy Sz. 18 Gf Hc 17j Adj. Full Plate Ls/sw Pocket Watch Antique [running]waltham Hillside Half Hunter 50mm Silver Case Pocket Watch Antique C1893 Silver Cased Waltham Pocket Working Gw Ladd 14k Gold Filled 1873 18s Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch No Scrap 124g RunsAntique 16s Waltham 17 Jewel Jewelers Case Pocket WatchA Superb Antique Waltham 10 Carat Gold Plate Open Faced Pocket Watch 1922Waltham Appleton Tracy & Co Sn# 9603Stunning Waltham Pocket Watch 14k 10k Solid Gold Hunter Case Ornate Engraving NrA Very Good Antique 10 Ct Gold Plate Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch 1903Rolled Gold Antique Waltham A.w.w.& C Pocket Watch, Circa 1893, Stunning Dial..Amazing Waltham Riverside "gents" Pocket Watch 19 Ruby Jeweled Adj (c.1906)American Waltham Pocket Watch Full Hunter Keystone Case Ornate 14k Gold Fill Nr1912 Gents Gold Plated Waltham Traveler 1/2 Hunter Pocket Watch Good ConditionRare American Waltham Working Perfect Riverside Maximus 21 Jwl 1888 16s Movement1892 18size Waltham Appleton Tracy & Co Model 1883 Sidewinder! Gold Jewel SetingLot Of Four (4) Pocket Watches For Parts Waltham X 2 Elgin Century * E Antique Waltham Usa Pocket Watch Movement WorkingAntique Waltham 18s Beautiful Hunter Case Gold Filled Pocket Watch. Made 1901Early Waltham Wrist Watch With 0 Size Pocket Watch MovementAntique Waltham Vanguard 18s 23 Ruby & Diamond Jewels High Grade Pocket WatchAntique 1895 Waltham Ladies 14k Solid Gold Fancy Ornate Hunter Case Pocket WatchWaltham Ball Official Standard 19 Jewels Rr Grade Pocket Watch 19059 Carat Gold Antique Waltham Pocket Watch, Circa 1931, 7 Jewels, Super MovementAntique Waltham Ellery , Coin Silver 60mm Hunter Case Pocket WatchAntique 14k Solid Gold Ladies American Waltham Open Face Pocket Watch 1903 7jAntique 14k Gold Plated American Waltham Pocket Watch Hunters CaseAntique Wm Ellery American Waltham Pocket Silver Watch Rose Gold Train Back RunsAntique 1906 Ball 21j Official Railroad Standard Waltham Gold Fill Pocket WatchNice Antique American Waltham Chronograph Pocket Watch Movement.C. 1865 Waltham "american Watch Co." #16456 P. S. Bartlett Grade Pocket WatchVintage Waltham P S Bartlett Coin Silver Hunting Case Pocket Watch Circa 1884Antique Silver Cased Waltham "riverside"-- Full Hunter Pocket Watch 1902 Waltham 845 21 Jewel High Grade Railroad Pocket WatchVintage 1915 A.m.waltham G/p Full Hunter Pocket Watch & Original Paperwork.1913 Waltham 645 Railroad Pocket Watch 16 Size 21 Jewels 14k Gf Case RunsWaltham Vanguard 23jewel 16s Pocket Watch Gjs,gold Cw,adj 5 Pos,nice Of CaseAntique Waltham Appleton Tracy 18s Pre-civil War 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. 1859Waltham Secometer Factory Upjeweled To 21 Jewels Riverside Model Superb! Runs 1918 Antique Rolled Gold Waltham " Marquis " Pocket Watch, Lovely Condition ..Fine Antique 18s Waltham Psb 20yr Gold Hunters Case Pocket Watch Stunning WorksVintage 10kt Gf Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Open-face Railroad PocketwatchVintage Antique Elgin H H Taylor Hunting Case Pocket Watch W Early Waltham CaseVintage [running] Waltham Gold Plated 50mm Hunter Case Pocket WatchVintage Waltham Ladies Mechanical: Hand-winding Double Hunter Pocket Watch2 Silver Waltham Mass Pocket Watches As FoundWaltham 17 Jewels Antique Pocket Watch RunningVintage Waltham 16 Size, 23jewel, Vanguard Railroad Pocket WatchWaltham Near Minty Classic Blindman Dial 16s Ss Enamel Vanguard Crescent St 6451901 Waltham 16 Size 17 Jewel Open Face 2 Time Zone Pocket Watch * Model 1899 Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Pocket Watch - Railroad Approved - Excellent!!Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Railway Watch In Display Case Runs Strong

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Waltham restaurant Q&A: Brelundi opens on Felton Street
Wicked Local Bridgewater, April 8th

Colomba said he plans to open a second Brelundi location at the Waltham Watch Factory on Crescent Street in June. The new location will be larger, and have more parking and even tables outside. He said he hopes to build a customer base that will visit ...Read more

WATCH: This Talking Greyhound Hopes You'll Want to Adopt Him, or Another ...
Patch.com, April 1st

April is Adopt a Greyhound Month, and advocates are hoping you pay attention to this breed's plight. By Charlene Arsenault (Patch Staff) April 1, 2015. Share. 0 Comments. WATCH: This Talking Greyhound Hopes You'll Want to Adopt Him, or Another...Read more

Fundraiser for Waltham's Charles River Museum to feature food, wine, craft beer
Wicked Local Waltham, March 19th

The annual Waltham Food & Wine Festival will have a new twist this year. For the first time, the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation's biggest fundraiser of the year features craft beer. The 23rd annual event runs from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on...Read more

Three views of dry cask storage at Pilgrim Station
Wicked Local Waltham, February 23rd

PLYMOUTH – While last week's discussion in Plymouth of the merits and drawbacks of dry-cask storage at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant was certainly civil, it was not a debate. All sides had their territories staked out, and there was little give and take...Read more

Task Force to hold forum on Coolidge School
Wicked Local Waltham, February 16th

The Coolidge Re-use Task Force will hold a public forum for Maynard residents from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 28 at the Maynard Public Library, 77 Nason St., to talk about what the town should do with the Coolidge School. Since the school administration left ...Read more

Downsizing, but not sure where to move? Check these towns
Boston Globe, November 14th

Once a center of manufacturing — the Waltham Watch Co. operated in the town for more than a century starting in 1854 — Waltham has shed its blue-collar image but still retains significantly lower housing prices than Belmont, Newton, and Weston, with...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

Trinity Pharma Solutions has leased 12,000 square feet of office space in the Waltham Watch Factory in Waltham, Mass. The company, which was previously located in the CityPoint building in Waltham, made the move to support its growth over the past year ...Read more