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 C1903 Riverside Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch, 14k Gold /f Dennison CaseAntique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch Coin Silver CaseAntique C1922 Waltham Pocket Watch, Hand Painted Dial, 14k Gold /f Dennison CaseHeavy 14k Multicolor Gold Fancy Dial Diamond Antique Waltham Ladies Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Crescent St. 18s 21 Ruby Jewel High Grade Pocket Watch 1897Waltham Mass St. Crescent Usa 17 Jewel 18 Size Chronometer Pocket Watch MovementAntique C1908 ' Lady Waltham ' Open Face Pocket Watch, 14k Gold /f Dennison CaseWaltham Royal 14k Yellow Gold Pocket Watch Demi Hunter Swing Out Antique C1880sVintage Pocket Watch - 1899 - Waltham 0s - 7j - Multicolor Gold Designs - RunsVintage Wwi Waltham Pocket Watch 16 Size Neat "the Great War" Presentation Vintage 1904 Solid 14k Gold Waltham Royal Size 16 Open Face 17j Pocket WatchLot Of 10 Pocket Watches Non-running Waltham Elgin Hamilton Parts RepairAntique Waltham Bond St Keyless Pocket Watch In Dennison 25 Years Gold FilledAntique 14 Kt Solid Gold Pocket Watch **no Reserve**Waltham 18k Solid Gold Mdl. 84 Amn Grade. Gold Gear Train Superb Flawless Lot Of 47 Pocket Watches Waltham Hamilton South Bend Parts Repair Gold FilledWaltham Riverside Maximus - 18k 12s 23j - Beautiful AntiqueWaltham Riverside Maximus 23 Jewel Diamond End Stones Gold Gears Pocket Watch NrAntique Waltham Canadian Railway 16s 21 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch.Super Rare Vintage American Waltham Gold Filled Full Hunter Pocket Watch Superb!Antique 18s Pair Case Keywind Pocket Watch Case €18s Fahy's Pair Case Keywind Pocket Watch Case €Waltham Mass. 845 Model Usa 21 Jewels 18s Chronometer Pocket Watch Movement 1911Rare "patent" ****big****. 56mm *chronograph* Silver Waltham. (gold Hinges) ***High Grade Appleton Tracy Civil War Era Working Waltham Coin Silver Pocket WatchAntique C1908 Full Hunter Waltham Pocket Watch, 14k Gold /f Dennison CaseAntique Coin Silver Waltham Ps Bartlett Key Wind 1880 Pocket Watch Model 1877 Vintage Pocket Watch - 14k Gold - 6s - Waltham -11j - Runs -beautiful - 14k GoldAntique Waltham Vanguard 23j 18s Pocket Watch Movement & Dial!Antique American Waltham Watch Co. 14kt Gold Pocket Watch **no Reserve**Scarce High Grade Waltham 8s Model 1873 Pocket Watch C. 1879Antique Waltham Large Size Gold Filled Fancy Case Running Pocket Watch Antique Waltham Sterling Silver Swing Out Case Non-running Pocket Watch Waltham 14s Vintage Antique Solid 14k Gold Pocket Watch 14 Size Old Watch Antique Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Railroad Watch Gold Filled Case Running1895 Large Silver Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch Good ConditionAwesome 16s 21j Waltham Riverside 1935 Railroad Pocket Watch!14k Yellow Gold Waltham Pendant Watch!Waltham (american Watch Company) Model 1859 Ser# 671701891 Waltham Pocket Watch 11 Jewels In Ornate Engraved Case Size 18 Runs18s Silver Waltham Pocket Watch 15 Jewels Appleton Tracy Psb Circa 1881 1899 Waltham 18 Size 15 Jewels Sterling Silver Open Face Pocket Watch RunsVintage Waltham Railroad Model 431 25j 10k Rgp Pocket Watch Nr(lot Of 13) Non-running Pocket Watches Westclox Waltham & Others Parts E48Antique Waltham Traveller Half Hunter Gold Plated Pocket Watch21 Jewel 16s Hamilton Gold Filled Pocket Watch Circa 1917Antique 1907 Official Standard Ball Waltham Stirrup Bow Railroad PocketwatchWaltham Grade 28 16s 15j Open Face Pocket Watch Handsome 1867 Vintage Rare Script Dial Waltham P.s. Bartlett Grade Keywind1884 Waltham Broadway Key Wind Key Set Pocket Watch Mint Dial 1 A Case 18s RunsLot Of 12 Antique Pocket Watches Waltham / Elgin / New York - Parts Steampunk **5 Vintage "working" Pocket Watches 2-hamiltons, Elgin, Waltham & IllinoisExcellent 1903 Diamond End-stone 18's Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Of PocketwatchVintage Waltham Pocket Watch From 1918 Gold Filled Large 2-1/16"Beautiful 21 Jewel Hamilton "railroad" Pocket Watch With Sterling Travel Case !1906 Waltham Pocket Watch In Scene Engraved Case - Mint Dial - Size 18 - RunsVintage Pocket Watch -rare Awco Sterling - 1881 - 18s - Waltham - Wm Ellery RunsVintage Waltham 14k Solid Gold 15 Jewel Pocket Watch For Restoration Or PartsVintage Pocket Watch - 1893 - 0s - Waltham - Gf Hunters - 11j - Runs - StunsBeautiful Antique 0s Gold Filled Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

LTHR Looks to Bring Quality Watchmaking Back to Massachusetts
BostInno (blog), September 19th

Boston used to be a timepiece town. With the Waltham Watch Company revolutionizing the operation for about 100 years until the 1950s, ours was a city synonymous not with telling time, but making time. As the manufacturing process modernized, though, ...Read more

Cutting Edge: a look at Tommy John surgery and search to save ligaments
SI.com, September 4th

Between 1854, when the Waltham Watch Company opened its doors, and 1957, when it stopped making watches, 35 million were manufactured in Watch City. Now this sleepy commuter town on the outskirts of Boston, lined by clapboard houses and public ...Read more

'Yolanda' fashion exhibit to open at Charles River Museum in Waltham
Wicked Local Waltham, August 29th

River Museum of Industry & Innovation boasts a collection of hands-on exhibits featuring American innovation and invention from 1812 to modern day, including The Orient Bicycle, Boston Manufacturing Company, Metz Automobile and the Waltham Watch ...Read more