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    

Vietnam Benrus Hamilton Or Waltham? Military 1974 Mens Watch Gg-w-113 Hack Antique Waltham Half Hunter Pocket Watch Working OrderOutstanding Multi Color Fancy Dial 1899 Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch Chased CaseExcellent Waltham Gold Plated Fully Jewelled Half Hunter Pocket Watch.Vintage Pocket Watch - 18k Gold Rare Dial Waltham - 16s - 17j - Runs - StunsEstate Lot 4 Antique Waltham Open Face Gold-filled Pocket Watches~3 Working YqzCivil War Era 7.5 Troy Oz. Silver Waltham Pocket Watch Massive Old Vintage Waltham Traveler Top Wind Gold Plated Full Hunter Pocket Watch Waltham Late Model Vanguard Pocket Watch, 16s, 23j, 10k Gold Fill Case - Rf146431875 18s Waltham 1857 Movement Keywind Pocket Watch Repaired Cleaned ServicedAntique 18 Size American Waltham Pocket Watch With 24 Hour Dial Fahys No 1 CaseExtremely Heavy Early American Watch Co Waltham Crescent St 18k Gold 1872Unreal 16s Waltham Pocket Watch W/gold Inlaid Dial And Full Locomotive EngravingMagnificent Ladies 14k Yellow Gold Crown Diamond Set Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch1867 Antique 18s Waltham Appleton Tracy Kw Pocket Watch €Heavy 81.5 Grams Gents Sterling Silver Fusee Pocket Watch By Waltham Vintage 16 Size Waltham Pocket Watch Hunters Case 19088 Waltham 16’s Pocket Watch Balance Staffs Both Types-hairsprings Pallet Forks Minty 1913 14k Solid Gold 16s Full Hunter Waltham Pocket Watch No Scrap 84g RunsUncommon Early 18sz 21j Md'92 Vangard Waltham Hnt Pocket Watch-just ServicedThey Don't Get Nicer! - Waltham 16s 15j With Almost Perfect Fancy Dial & Hands!23 Jewel 16s Waltham Vanguard Gold Filled Pocket Watch Circa 1918Phenomenal 1903 Waltham Solid 14k Gold Hunter Case Pendant Pocket Watch, No Res!1905 Waltham Riverside Maximus 23 Jewels Pocket Watch 16 Size For Parts Nr 18sz 23j Waltham Md'92 "vanguard" Gold Fill Display Back Pocket Watch - ServicedAntique Silver Waltham 18s Keywind Gc 1885Vintage Pocket Watch -1879 - 18s - Waltham Ps Bartlett - Silver - Kwks - Runs17 Jewel Size 16 Gold Filled Waltham Hunter Watch Runs Very Well Sn 17463800Waltham Crescent St. 18s 21j Model 1892 Gf Lot 2 Antique Waltham Pocket Watch Sterling & Nickel Silver & Leather Fob LotHuge Antique Solid Silver Pocket Watch By Waltham Full Set Of English HallmarksLot 2 Antique Key-wind Pocketwatches~atlanta/dueber~waltham~as Is/parts Only YqzExcellent 1920's Solid 9 Carat Gold Waltham Crown Wind Gentleman's Pocket Watch""gorgeous** Waltham "royal" Hunting Cased "fancy" Dial, Pocket Watch & Chain Beautiful Waltham Traveler Full Hunter Pocket Watch In Dennison Gold Plated CaseVintage Antique Super Clean 12 Size Art Deco Waltham Usa Pocket Watch 14k Wgf18 Size 19 Jewels Waltham Vangaurd 1892 Railroad Pocket Watch Movement Running17 Jewel Size 18 Adjusted Waltham Watch Runs Strong & Timed Sn 18933771 Waltham Premier Vanguard Size 16, 23 Jewel Gold Filled Pocket Watch RailroadWaltham Vanguard 23j Gf Vintage Mens Pocket Watch 2 FixAntique Vtg Waltham 18s Pocket Watch Kw Ks Coin Hunter Case P.s. Bartlett Fogg's18s G.a.s. Key Wind 4 Hinged Pocket Watch Case Fits Waltham Elgin Illinois Ect.Antique Coin Silver Waltham 18s Kw Wm Ellery Pocket Watch For Parts/restore!Over 70 Waltham / Swiss Size 16’s / 18’s Pocket Watch Movement To Case / Screws. Good Antique Waltham Usa Regina Pocket Watch Movement WorkingAntique Lady's Waltham Rose Gf Hunting Case Fancy Dial 7j 0s Pocket Watch C.1901Waltham Vanguard 19 Jewel 18 Size Model 1892 Runs, Swing Out Case No Reserve!!!Antique Waltham, S18, Ca.1899, Ni, Dsd, Gold Index, 15j, Display Case, RunningSuperb Quality Mint Dial Waltham "sidewinder" 7j White Gf Pocket Watch - 19013 X Antique Waltham Gold Pocket Watches No Reserve Waltham Late Model Vanguard Pocket Watch, 16s, 23j, 10k Gold Fill Case - Rf14640Vintage Clean Tidy Waltham Gold Plated Hunter Case Pocket Watch , Ticks,American Waltham Watch Co., 18s, 15j, Open Face Pocket WatchA.w.w Co. American Waltham Pocketwatch Pocket Watch 15 Jewels - WorksAntique American Waltham Watch Company Fob Pocket Watch - Working OrderWaltham 16s Erotic Automaton Pocket Watch Movement RunsWaltham P.s. Bartlett 7 Jewel Sz. 18 Antique Kw/ks Sterling Silver Pocket WatchHeavy Ladies Lapel 14k Yellow Gold Waltham Double Hunter Case Pocket WatchNice 1881 18s American Waltham Broadway Keywind Pocket Watch Runs! L@@kVintage Clean Tidy Waltham Gold Plated Hunter Case Pocket Watch , Ticks,

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Rare photo from Lizzie Borden's home will be unveiled to public on Monday
Fall River Herald News, July 31st

The same person also donated Lizzie's 14-karat gold American Waltham Watch Co. watch in a hand-engraved case in 2009. The watch was bequeathed by Lizzie in 1927 to Carlson's daughter, Alice Isabel Soderman. The pocketwatch will also be on display ...Read more

ONLINE ONLY: Rare photo of Lizzie Borden's home to be displayed
Fall River Spirit, July 29th

The same individual also donated Lizzie's 14-karat gold American Waltham Watch Company safety-barrel watch in a hand-engraved case in 2009. Part of the society's permanent Borden exhibit, the watch was bequeathed by Lizzie in 1927 to Alice Isabel ...Read more

Rare photo of interior of Lizzie Borden's home to go on display
The Providence Journal, July 29th

In 2009, the same descendant also donated Borden's 14K gold American Waltham Watch Company safety-barrel watch in a hand-engraved case. The watch, now part of the historical society's permanent Borden exhibit, had been bequeathed by Lizzie in ...Read more

Pickin' in Pa by Ellen Geisel Time is relative!
Boyertown Berk Montgomery Newspapers, July 29th

I have also included in the picture a Waltham pocket watch and a “Little Orphan Annie” watch. Pocket watches vary in so many styles and features. Gold pocket watches have become extremely popular lately, mainly because of the price of gold. This...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

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