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    

Rare Waltham Model 1892 Riverside High Grade 17j Pocket Watch. Hunter's CaseHigh Grade 15 Jewel Waltham Full Hunter Gold Plated Pocket Watch.Antique Waltham Vanguard 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road High Grade Pocket Watch 1903Antique C1906 Waltham Ps Bartlett Keyless Pocket Watch. Fortune Gold Filled CaseSolid Gold Waltham Hunter.1898 14k Gold Filled Waltham 15 Jewel Pocket Watch In Excellent ConditionMen's Waltham, Antique Large, High Grade Pocket Watch Movement In Steel Case.3 Vintage Pocket Watches Elgin Atlas & American Waltham Great LotC.1896 Antique & Ornate Sterling Silver Waltham Hunting Case Pocket WatchAntique Pocket Watch Waltham Traveller Full Hunter 9ct Gold PlatedWaltham Military Stop Watch [ Asdic] Royal Navy Issue Patt 6 Original Box SuperbVanguard Chronometer With 24 Hour DialA Superb Antique 10 Carat Gold Plate Waltham Full Hunter Pocket Watch 1905Antique Waltham Civil War Model 1859 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Made 1863Fine 18sz Waltham 11j Vintage 1881 Wm Ellery 5oz Coin Silver Hunter Pocket WatchFine Waltham 10k Gold Plated High Grade Jewelled Full Hunter Pocket Watch.Stunning 1894 Solid Gold Fancy Dial Waltham Pocket Watch No Scrap 28g Runs Waltham 18s Coin Silver Sterling Silver Pocket Watch Lot Hinged Flip Out MvmntsAmerican Waltham Watch Co. Appleton Tracy Pocket Watch W/coin Silver CaseStunning Waltham '1894' Gold Plated Pocket WatchVintage Gold Filled Embossed Waltham 35mm Full Hunter Pocket/fob WatchWaltham Watch Co Model 57 Huge & Heavy Coin Silver Case 7.9 Oz Total Weight Great Lot Of (3) Three Antique 18s Waltham Pocket Watch Movements Lot Of (4) Antique Elgin & Waltham 18s Pocket Watches Circa. 1888-1903, 4u2fix14k Gold 4 Color Waltham Heavy Antique Pocket WatchStunner1892 Goldflashed Mvt.waltham 2glass Display Case 18s Antique Pocket WatchLate Run Vanguard 23 Jewel With Silver Dial And Whip RegulatorWaltham Very Strong Tu-tone Grade 3 Model 1883Waltham Watch Co.18 Size Porcelain Dial Double Sunk For 1892 Model Rr StyleLot Of 31 Pocket Watches Parts/repair Vtg Elgin Hampden Waltham Hamilton ArnexA Fabulous Solid 9ct Gold Open Faced Waltham Pocket Watch 1919-20Waltham Riverside Maximus 16 Size 21 Jewel Diamond End Stones Stunning !!!!!!18s Waltham William Ellery 1859 Model Keywind Silver Hunters Case Pocket WatchVintage 1908 Waltham 21 Jewel 5 Adj. Grade 845 Pocket Watch 25y G/f Case 4 RepVintage Fancy Dial 0s Small Pocket Watch W/ 14k Solid Gold Waltham Case - E1200***p. S. Bartlett *** Waltham - High Grade - 17 J Pocket Watch (working).Waltham P.s. Bartlett Pocket Watch 18 Size 15 Jewels Silveroid Case RunsAntique 18s Waltham Coin Silver Pocket Watch - Scarce O'hara Case - No ReserveMassive Scarce Keywind 1879 Appleton Tracy18s Coin Silver Antique Pocket Watch(4) Waltham 7 & 15 Jewel For Parts Gf Case Pocket Watch Lot @ E1302Crescent 25 Yr. Gold Filled 12s Hunting Pocket Watch Case 38 Grams Elgin WalthamWaltham Vanguard 23-jewel Pocket Watch, 16-size, 10k Gold Filled Case - Rf17507~antique Waltham Riverside 14k Gf 19 Jewel Adj Pocket Watch W/original Box 1910~Excellent 1889 Coin Silver Waltham Appleton Tracy & Co Open-face PocketwatchLarge 1868 Waltham Silver Keywind Hunting Case Antique Pocket Watch W/key.runsAntique 16s Waltham Gold Filled Fancy Dial Pocket Watch Parts RepairLot Of (8) Antique Pocket Watches Illinois Waltham Elgin Nys Esta Fine Silver(9) Antique Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Hampden Waltham South Bend 12s 16s 18sAntique Waltham 49 Mm Hunter Case 14k Gold Pocket Watch In Very Nice Condition1892 Waltham Pocketwatch 18s 15j Open Face Ps Bartlett E52Antique Waltham Traveler 14ct Gold Plated Half Hunter Pocket WatchAntique Waltham 3/0 Trench Watch 1916 New Band Wwi Fahys Oresilver Keeps Time!Waltham Model '92 Appleton Tracy & Co. PremierWaltham Watch Co.18 Size Porcelain Dial Double Sunk For 1892 Model Rr StyleHallmarked 1877 Keywind Waltham Gents Pocket Watch In Working Order18s Model 1883 1890's Gold Filled Hunters Case American Waltham Pocket WatchLot Of 38 Pocket Watch Movements For Parts Or Repair Elgin, Waltham & MoreAntique P Bartlett Waltham American Watch Co Pocket Watch - Railroad Train CaseGold Plated Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch For Repair Excellent Working Gold Filled Half Hunter Waltham 16 Size Pocket Watch 50.6mm

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Watch World Series: RGM's Pennsylvania Home Run
Forbes, October 21st

The Roman numerals and baseball figures fired into the surface of Pennsylvania Series Caliber 801 Baseball's genuine enamel dial were inspired by a rare 1892 American Waltham Watch Co. pocket watch with a baseball-themed enamel dial that Murphy ...Read more

Relojoaria americana homenageia beisebol em mostrador
WatchTime Brasil, October 21st

rgm_baseball_150 A mais recente adição da relojoaria RGM à sua linha é inspirada por um modelo de bolso raro, de 1892, da American Waltham Watch Co. A peça contava com um dial esmaltado com inspiração em jogos de baseball. Pois o novo RGM ...Read more

ee cummings Tries to Answer the Question "Who Am I?" in This Delightful Lecture
The New Republic, October 14th

Buckboard with Friction Drive produced by the Waltham watch company & my father sent me to a certain public school because its principal was a gentle immense coalblack negress & when he became diplomat (for World Peace) he gave me & my friends a...Read more

Introducing the RGM Watch Company's Pennsylvania Series 801 “Baseball in ...
Perpetuelle.com (blog), October 6th

The collection included a rare 1892 American Waltham Watch Co. pocket watch that housed a baseball-themed enamel dial. Murphy was captivated by a watch that married American watchmaking history with America's pastime, baseball. The idea was born ...Read more