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    

A Very Nice Antique Gold Plated Full Hunter Pocket Watch By Waltham 1907Waltham Storm 8 Days Power Reserve Ship Deck Chronometer Watch - No Reserve !!!Antique Coin Silver Pocket Watch By American Waltham Watch Co No Reserve** Antique Solid 14k Gold Fancy Case Waltham 15 Jewel Size 6 Watch 64.6 GramsArt Nouveau Antique 14k Gold 1905 Howe Family Ladies Waltham Hunter Pocket WatchWaltham Vanguard 23 Jewel 16 Size Wind Indicator 6 Positions 10k Gf Pocket WatchAntique 18s Waltham 3 Ounce Coin Silver Pocket WatchWaltham 18s 1857 Model Ps Bartlett Hunter Case Pocket WatchRichly Engraved American Waltham 14k Solid Gold Hunter Case Pocket Watch 1890Waltham 1892 Cres. St. 18s 21 Jewel Open Face Coin Silver Pocket WatchWaltham Appleton Tracy 18s Hunter Case Pocket Watch Runs16s Waltham Gr. 645 American Railroad Pocket Watch Serviced Runs (rph)Antique Waltham 14k Solid Gold Pocket Watch Dated 1908 ~ Freshly Serviced ~ MintMassive Heavy Bwc Granger Waltham 1883 Model Mens Hunter Pocket Watch 18s1907 Waltham 21 Jewels Pocket Watch In Original Salesman Display Case 16s - RunsAntique Waltham Vanguard 16s 23 Jewel Pocket Watch With Gold Filled Case. 1918Antique 1900 Waltham Size 16 Hunter's Case "14k" Pocket Watch Ornate Case 17jPost Civil War - 1867 18s M-57 Waltham Kwks 11j Pocket Watch Movement8 Vintage Pocket Watch Movements 18s 16s 12s Elgin Waltham Rockford Studebaker14 Size Waltham 15 Jewels Chronograph 14 K Case Pocket WatchMinty 1892 Fancy Multi-color Dial American Waltham Hunting Case PocketwatchServiced~near Mint Cond.~1908~waltham~0s~fancy 14k Gold Filled Hunter Case WatchAntique Waltham Sterling Silver Catholic Nun's Pocket Watch 17j #32433382 Nr YqzAntique 1884 Us Waltham Double Hunter Pocket Watch ##rec76absAntique Working Waltham Pocket Watch Hunter Case8 Vintage Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Waltham Hampden Illinois Private LabelScarce 21j Hunter Case Waltham Crescent St 14k Gold Antique Pocket WatchAntique Early Gold Filled 15 Jewels Hunter Case Pocket Watch Waltham2 Lot Vintage Antique Waltham Pocket Watches18 Size Waltham Key Wind/set Gents Coin Silver Pocket Watch, Circa 1883 Broadway1938 Gents 10k Gold Filled Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch Excellent ConditionWaltham Fancy Solid 14kt Gold Pocket Watch Double Hunters Case No Reserve!!!!Vintage Waltham Ore Silver Trench Watch With Shrapnel Guard Wwi Era MilitaryAntique Waltham 18s 15j Grade 84 Model 1883 Pocket Watch Sterling Silver CaseNew-old-stock 18s Waltham Multi-color True Double Sunk '92 Mod Pocket Watch DialAntique Sterling Silver 1890 Waltham Size 18 Ps Bartlett Open Face Pocket WatchAntique Vintage 1908 16 S Waltham Openface Collectible Pocket WatchRailroad 21j Waltham 16s 645 Top Railroad Grade In Beautiful Mainliner Case!Antique 1904 American Waltham Sterling Silver .935 Pocket Watch #12969307 Nr Yqz18sz Waltham 17j- Adjusted Model 1883 Pocket Watch Ca. 1894- No ReserveWaltham Pocket Watch Movement 18sQueen Ball & Co. Cleveland American Waltham Ladies Woman's Pocket Watch Gold 7jAntique 16 Size 15 Jewels Double Hinged Pocket Watch Waltham RoyalRose Gold Art Nouveau Antique Diamond Multi Color Waltham Hunter Pocket WatchMagnificent 18s Waltham 19 Jewel Vanguard Diamond E.s.!Waltham, Appleton, Tracy & Co Pocket Watch, Model 83, Train On Back - Rf259722 American Waltham Watch Co 16s 15 Jewel Pocket Watches Watch VintageRunning Waltham,ww Ii,military Pocket Watch, 9 Jewel, For RestorationAntique Working Waltham Pocket Watch Hunter Case Red Second Hand1883 Waltham 11 Jewel Wm. Ellery 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch For RepairWaltham Pocket Watch. Runs! Vintage.Waltham 6 Size 7 Jewels Seaside Model Circa June 1888 Model 73 Hunter Case A Vintage Gold Filled Plated Waltham Crown Winding 17 Jewels Pocket WatchAntique 1887 Am Waltham Royal Lever Sec Pocket Watch Full Hunter Coin A B Silver3 Antique Waltham Pocket WatchesWaltham " Royal " Full Hunter Pocket Watch For Spares Or Repair 14ct Gold PlateMagnificent 23j Waltham “vanguard” In Model 1908 Railroad Case! Minty And Nice!Early Waltham 18s Ser# 154058 Kwks Cir. 1865 No Reserve !1917 Waltham Open Face Pocket Watch, No. 620, Model 1908, Running WellWaltham Pocket Watch - Does Not Work