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 Investment Grade Ball 16s 19j Up/dn Indicator Rr Antique Pocket Watch 5starRare Pre Civil War Waltham In A 18k Mint Hunting Case. Dennison, Howard & DavisWaltham Appleton Tracy 17 Jewel 18 Size 2-tone Model 1883 Pocket WatchRare 19j American Watch Co. 16 Size 1888 Model Waltham Antique Pocket Watch Rare 1887 14s A.w. Co. Waltham Chronograph Gf Case, Pocket WatchAntique Solid 18k Gold 34mm Mid Size Ladies Waltham Top Wind WatchNear Mint 14k Solid Gold 16s Waltham Railroad Grd Pocket Watch No Scrap 89g RunsWaltham Crescent St 18 Size 17 Jewel Beautiful Fancy Damaskeen Pocket Watch MvtAntique Elgin Veritas 23 Jewel 18s Pocket Watch W/ Waltham Salesman Sample Case!Antique Waltham Home Watch 18s Coin Silver Hunter Case Key Wind Pocket Watch,run18sz Waltham Crescent Street G.f. Display Backpocket Watch Serviced-keeping TimeWaltham Vanguard 21 Jewel 18s Los Angeles Private Label Pocket WatchWaltham 17j Full Hunter Pocket Watch 18s 25y J Boss Gp Case 1901American Watch Co Waltham Pocketwatch Civil War Era 1867 Key Wind Coin Silver16's Big Pocket Watch Hunter Case 14k Gold Scrap Elgin Hamilton Waltham Hampden16 Size 23j Waltham Vanguard Railroad Pocket Watch W/ A Wind Indicator C192318s 17jewel Amarican Waltham Fancy Dial Fancy Hunter Case Extra Fine+ ConditionLovely Antique Waltham Gold/p. 15 Jewel Pocket Watch. Size 18. 1912. Running.18s Waltham No. 845/1892 Pocket Watch Movement, 21 Jewel, #15051631 - 1906, OfRare Antique 1936 Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel 16s Railroad Estate Pocket Watch, NrVanguard Waltham 23 Jewels With Wind Indicator 6 Positions Pocket Watch1908 Waltham 845 Grade 21j Sz 18s Gold Tone Base Metal Pocket Watch - K5108Spotless Late Model Waltham "vanguard" Industrial 16s Rr-grade Mvmt 23j 6p CleanSterling Silver Antique Waltham Pocket Watch, Circa 1904, " Duchess " Quality !!Antique 1892 Waltham Vanguard Pocket Watch 19j 14s High Grade Lever Set Railroad Waltham Watch, Hc, Sn# 39034, Civil War Era. Engle Patented Silver Hunting CaseSharp 18k Gold Waltham 1867/68 Crisp Hunter ~ Nr!Antique 18s Waltham Riverside 17j Hunter Pocket Watch Movement Parts4pc Dealer Lot Waltham Pocket Watches - S16 & S12 - Various - Parts/restoration14k Gold Antique Waltham Open Face Pocket Watch With Original Opal Pearl Fob Nr1910 Waltham Vanguard Rolled Gold Antique Pocket Watch, 23 Jewels, Superb, N/resVintage Waltham Gf Vanguard 23 Jewel 16s Model 1908 Open Face Pocket Watch #30921 Jewel Waltham 645 -loaner Pocket Watch 16s, Adjusted, 1918, Perfectly WorkingWorking Antique 1928 Silver Waltham Traveler Hunter Pocket Watch In DennisonVintage Waltham Crescent St. 21 Jewel 16s Model 1999 Open Face Pocket Watch #31016 Size 23 Jewel Waltham VanguardVintage Waltham Gf Vanguard 23 Jewel 16s Model 1908 Open Face Pocket Watch Antique Pocket Watch Movement Lot Dial Hands For Parts Or Repair Hampden WalthamAmerican Wm. Ellery Waltham Civil War Model 1857, Year 1864 Keywind Pocket WatchAntique 1947 Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Lever Set Size 16 Rail Road Pocket WatchLot Of (4) Antique Waltham Pocket WatchesVintage Waltham Fancy Dial 12s 15j Gold Filled Open Face Pocket Watch16s 17jewel Waltam M# 1899 2tone Movement 2tone Custom Display Case Extra Fine*antique 18s American Waltham Pocket Watch 1884 15j Coin Silver*Waltham 1943 Pocket Watch Ww2,colonial Model,17j,j.boss 10k Gf Case,excel.workWaltham 1866 P.s. Bartlett Key Wind 18s Pocket WatchWaltham Pocket Watch P. S. Bartlett Circa 1910, Safety Pinion , 17 Jewels Lot Of Waltham 18s Pocket Watch Balance Wheels Staffs & Pivot Jewels In SettingsAmerican Waltham Pocket Watch 1895 Size14, S/n 6821440, Bond St. Gf Fortune CaseVintage Appleton Tracy & Co.waltham Silver Model 1857 Serial 6058 Pocket WatchWaltham 23 Jewel Vanguard Model 1892 Diamond End Stone Railroad Grade Nice!!Antique Waltham 18s 17 Jewel Canadian Pocket Watch. Runs And Keeps Good TimeWaltham Pocket Watch, 18-size, 15 Jewels, Sidewinder - Rf18233Vintage Old Waltham Pocket Watch In Working Order Red Digits 9ct Rolled Gold Cas4pc Dealer Lot Waltham Pocket Watches - Various - Parts/restoration *no Res*Waltham Wonderful Power Reserve 10k Gf Size 12 Pocket Watch Blue Hands VanguardAntique Waltham Vanguard 18s 23j Mod 1892 Movement Parts - Incomplete!Lot 6 Elgin Bulova Waltham Pocket Watches For Parts RepairVtg 4 Pc Lot Pocket Watches Parts/repair Elgin Waltham Westclox W/ Tractor Fob Lot Of Two Vintage Antique Pocket Watches Waltham Hampden No Reserve

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Fundraiser for Waltham's Charles River Museum to feature food, wine, craft beer
Wicked Local Waltham, March 19th

The annual Waltham Food & Wine Festival will have a new twist this year. For the first time, the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation's biggest fundraiser of the year features craft beer. The 23rd annual event runs from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on...Read more

3 obiecte care ne fac via?a mai u?oar? ?i povestea din spatele lor
GreatNews, March 12th

fa?ada unei cl?diri ?i care, din când în când, anun?a ora exact?. Unul dintre primele ceasuri de m?n? f?cut de compania numit? Waltham Watch Company, ceasul a fost purtat de solda?i în primul R?zboi Mondial (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Inv. 47-3352)...Read more

Couple turned passion for clocks, watches into business
Winston-Salem Journal, March 6th

David Pardue works on a Cuckoo clock at The Old Town Clock Shop on Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. The shop has been in business with 3 different owners for nearly 39 years. The present owners, Alan & Sandy Moran ...Read more

Three views of dry cask storage at Pilgrim Station
Wicked Local Waltham, February 23rd

PLYMOUTH – While last week's discussion in Plymouth of the merits and drawbacks of dry-cask storage at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant was certainly civil, it was not a debate. All sides had their territories staked out, and there was little give and take...Read more

New Waltham superintendent agrees to contract terms
Wicked Local Waltham, February 10th

Incoming superintendent Drew Echelson has agreed to the terms of a new three-year contract, but could not sign it at a Feb. 4 meeting because he was sick with the flu. email · print. Comment. By Ryan Grannan-Doll rgrannan@wickedlocal.com. Wicked Local ...Read more

Brandeis president to step down at end of school year
Wicked Local Waltham, January 30th

Frederick Lawrence, the eighth president of Brandeis University, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, announced Friday that he will step down as president at the end of the current academic year. email · print. Comment. Wicked Local Waltham. Writer...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