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 24 Hours Railroad Dial 23 Jewels Waltham Vanguard 18s Pocket Watch MovementAntique Waltham Model 1857 Civil War 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Made 1864Waltham "appleton Tracy" Post Civil War 15 Jewel Eagle Coin Silver 18 SzVintage Waltham Riverside 21 Jewel Railroad Pocket Watch 16 Size Grade No. 1621Antique Waltham Model 1892 18s 21 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1904Waltham "1896" "p.s. Bartlett" Fancy Dial 17 Jewel Gold Fill Case 18 SzWaltham Appleton Tracy Ket Wind Pw 15j C1867 Sterl 18 Runs1892 Waltham Sterling Canadian Pacific Railway 17 Jewel Pocketwatch18s Waltham Appleton Tracy Co/1883 Pocket Watch Mvmnt, 17j, #6007252 - 1893, HcPretty Antique 18s Waltham Pocket Watch Movement #36Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewels Up & Down Wind IndicatorAntique American Waltham Watch Co. 14k Yellow Gold Hunter Case Pocket WatchA Good Antique Solid Silver Waltham Full Hunter 187616s Waltham Vanguard/1899 Pocket Watch Movement, 23 Jewel, #16029379 - 1907, OfWaltham Appleton Tracy 17j Pocket Watch 18 Size Gf O Size Waltham Pocket Watch Solid 14k Gold CaseWaltham Model 1857 Silver Hunting Case Pocket Watch From 1860'sAmerican Waltham Pocket WatchCoin Silver American Waltham Pocket Watch 1891 55mm Working18s Waltham Appleton Tracy Co/1892 Pocket Watch Mvmnt, 17j, #10549040 - 1901, OfServiced W/chain~sterling Silver 1906 Waltham M1899~16s~15j~gd.620~hunter WatchWaltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Lever Set Pocket Watch, 10k Gold Filled Case. 16 Size375/ 9 Ct Gold Waltham Gent's Pocket Watch, 1924/ WorkingNice Military Waltham Premier 16s Pocket Watch Waltham Riverside 16 Size 2-tone Pocket Watch Movement NrOld Military Army Waltham Pocket Watch No. 27024 In Good Working Order**stunning Solid 18k Gold 107 Gram Longines Pocket Watch W/fancy Case**75 Yr Old,21 Jewel, Size 16 Waltham Vanguard Runs Strong/timed Sn 41878721906 Waltham P.s. Bartlett 18 Size 17 Jewels Alaska Metal Case Runs Waltham Appleton Tracy 18s Kw Pw Coin Of 15j C1879 Runs Antique Waltham U.s Watch Co. Express Train Rail Road Pocket Watch. Rare. 18931908 Waltham 220 14k Solid Gold 12s 15 Jewel Open Faced Pocket Watch #pw3Waltham Mass 18 Size 21 Jewel Crescent St. Lever Set Pocket Watch Parts/repair1902 Antique Waltham Ps Bartlett 18 Size Hunter's Case Pocket Watch 14k G/fStunning Near Mint 14k 8k Solid Gold Waltham Antique Pocket WatchA Good 10 Carat Gold Plate Antique Waltham Open Faced Pocket Watch 1919Waltham "1902" "p.s. Bartlett" Fancy Dial 17 Jewel Gold Fill Case 16 SzBeautiful Sterling Silver 1913 16s Waltham 17j Hunters Case Pocket Watch Antique Gold Filled Waltham 17 Jewels Pocket Watch Antique Waltham 1857 Coin Silver Home Watch Pocket Watch Civil WarAntique 1912/13 Waltham Mass Pocket Watch Full Hunter Gold Filled V.g.c Working1928 Waltham Pocket Watch 12 Size 16 Jewels 14k Gold Filled Case Runs 1894 Waltham 17j 14k 585 Gold Open Face Pocket Watch Size 12Large 1896 Antique Waltham 18 Size 15 Jewel Pocket Watch Open Face RunsAntique Waltham 14k Yellow Gold Pocket Watch Model 1884Fancy Waltham Gold Applique Porcelain Dl Locomotive Rail Case 18sz Pocket WatchWatchmakers Pocket Watch Balance Staffs 2 Containers Organized Waltham &elginAntique Waltham 14k Yellow Gold Pocket Watch Bartlett 1873 15j Size 819 Jewel Railroad Grade Marked Ball Standard And Gold Filled 20yr. Case Nice!Antique Vintage 14k Yellow Gold Waltham Octagon Mechanical Large Pocket Watch 1882 Antique Waltham Broadway 18 Size Pocket Watch Staggered Hinge Open FaceAntique Waltham 15j Ladies Hunter Pocket Watch Seed Pearl Mop Fob ChainHamilton 992b Time Zone Set 10k Gf. 21 Jewel Sz16I 42.  waltham 16 Size 51 Mm 17 J Fully Engraved Hunting Case Porcelain Dial Poc1888 American Waltham 7 Jewel, Size 18 Model 1883 Pocket Watch Serial # 3560494Waltham Model '57 Keywind-pair Case-15 Jewels Ca.1868-just Cleaned-no Reserve!!**stunning Solid 14k Gold Multi Color 105.5 Gram Illinois Pocket Watch**Waltham Ball Md Rr Official Standard Railroad Watch Chain Mother Pearl Lodge FobWaltham Awc Sn# 24112 1866Antique Waltham 16s High Grade 23 Jewels Vanguard Rail Road Pocket Watch. 1948

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

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

'Clobbered' porcelains still have plenty of value
HeraldNet, July 2nd

Is an antique “clobbered” Chinese vase a valuable Asian ceramic? Fifty years ago, if you were clobbered it meant someone beat you up. Recent auction catalogs have been describing porcelains using this word, and at an April 2015 Neal auction, a pair of ...Read more

Kovel: 'Clobbered' antiques still have value
Winston-Salem Journal, June 25th

u Waltham watch, hunting case, raised floral designs, 14K gold, 15 jewel, signed face, woman's, 1¾ inches, $320. u Cupboard, primitive, softwood, painted blue, blind door, hanging, paneled door, 48 x 30 inches, $385. u Weather vane, woman with tennis ...Read more

KOVEL'S ANTIQUES: 'Clobbered' porcelain pieces beating up the market
Florida Times-Union, June 25th

Waltham watch, hunting case, raised floral designs, 14K gold, 15 jewel, signed face, woman's, 1 3/4 inches, $320. ? Cupboard, primitive, softwood, painted blue, blind door, hanging, paneled door, 48 inches by 30 inches, $385. ? Weather vane, woman...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 to hold Anniversary Celebration
Wicked Local Waltham, April 24th

Music photos featured in Waltham exhibit ... Waltham show to feature musical journey through game shows ... Waltham's WATCH to hold Anniversary Celebration. WATCH members will celebrate the organization's 27th anniversary at a community celebration ...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