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    

Civil War Era Waltham Pw/model 1857/circa 1862/coin Silver Hunter Case/runningSuperrare 1865 Tremont-boston Mass Civil War Era Keywind Antque H.c.pocket WatchC.1900 Waltham Hunting Case Ornate Antique Pocket Watch - 16 Size - ExcellentStunning Waltham Moon 10ct Gold Plated Working Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Keywind Hunter Cased Pocket Watch Runs NrMega Rare 1830s Vacheron Constantin Ladies Gold Pocket Watch, Key, Enamel DesignAntique Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch. Gold Plate Case.traveler. Running.Antique 1899 Usa Waltham Traveler Gold Plated Cased Pocket WatchLovely Old (1898/99) Gold Filled Crown Wind Waltham Fob Watch In Working OrderAntique 18 Size 17 Jewel Salesman Display Case Pocket Watch Waltham 1892 Gents Large Gold Filled Fancy Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch Good ConditionB 195.  waltham 18 Size Kwks Broadway Coin Silver Hunting Case Pocket Watch.Mint Dial Ww2 Era Waltham Cal 16s 9j Cpscrew Covers Case Pocket Watch - 1944Antique Waltham Model 1888 14k Solid Gold Pocket Watch. Very Nice. Ruby JewelsRare 1918 Waltham P.s.bartlett 17 Jewels Original Canadian 24h Dial & Case RunsWaltham Riverside Maximus 23j 16s 14k Gold Beautiful High Grade Pocket WatchImmaculate Super Accurate Waltham 16s Vanguard M1908 Wind Indicator Waltham CaseAntique Waltham 18s Model 1892, 17j Canadian Railway Pocket Watch. Made 1906117 Yr Old, 17 Jewel, Size 18, Adjusted Watham Runs Strong/timed Sn 8864019Antique Waltham Broadway Key-wind Pocket Watch 18 Size 7 Jewels Silver Case RunsBall Official Standard (waltham),16s, 21j, Railroad Grade, Strong Running!B 183.  waltham 16 Size Vanguard 23 J Adjusted To 5 Pos. Fahys 25 Yr G.f. Case.Antique Waltham 18s Key Wind Pocket Watch. Model 1857 Made 1871. Coinsilver.runsAntique Waltham Hunter Case Gold Filled Pocket Watch. Made 1800's. Very NiceRare 1912 Waltham Solid 14k Multi Colored Gold Hunter Case Lady's Pocket Watch!Gorgeous Waltham Pocketwatch Hunter 16s Crescent Street Model 21j Yr 1908 Goldf Nice 1901 Waltham 21 Jewel 5 Adj. Crescent Street Railroad G/f Pocket Watch RunsSm Antique 1904 Ladies 15-jewel 0s Waltham Pocket Watch, Fahys Montauk CaseAmerican Waltham Watch Co Vanguard Pocket Watch 23j 1906 14k Gold Filled WorkingWaltham Traveller Usa Made 1909 Ww1 Era Pocket Watch Serviced Working Well A.w.co. Waltham Fahys Coin Silver Pocket Watch And Case Key Wind Appleton TracyFabulous "waltham" Rolled Gold Full Hunter Pocket Watch Winding Working 1906/07 Antique Waltham Mass Full Hunter Pocket Watch Gold Plated V.g.c WorkingB 193.  waltham 16 Size Riverside 17 Jewels Mint Porcelain Dial Pocket Watch.Waltham Model '83 Tu-tone Appleton Tracy Of Waltham 18s Bartlett Model 57 Key Wind Pocket Watch Movement Running – Good Dial108 Yr Old, 17jewel, Size 18 Waltham Runs Strong/timed Sn 16064278Antique 16 Size 17 Jewel Salesman Display Case Pocket Watch Waltham Vintage 21 Jewel 18k Solid Gold Waltham Pocket Watch, Fine Working ConditionWaltham Fancy Hunters Case Large Size Running Pocket WatchPretty Antique Waltham Usa Gold Plated Fob / Pocket Watch American Watch Co Waltham Size 18 15 Jewel Hunter Case Gf1882 Waltham Ellery 11 Jewels Coin Silver Ornate Engraved Hunter Case 18s - Runs130 Yr Old, 13 Jewel, Size 18, Re Robbins Watham Runs Strong/timed Sn 9905408Very Rare 1859 Model "reverse Pinion" A.t.& Co Antique Kw/ks Pocket Watch C1860Waltham 18s Model '83 Appleton Tracy Coin Silver Hunter CaseAntique Waltham Hunter Pocket Watch. Gold Plate Case. Running. 1919.Antique Massive Open Face Keywind Waltham Broadway Mens Pocket WatchKeywind 18 Size Waltham & Hampden Pocket Watch Movements Nr 1899 Antique Multi-color Waltham Hunting Case Ornate Pocket WatchAntique Solid Silver Waltham Pocket Watch. 1916. Running With Key.Antique 1899 Waltham 14k Solid Gold Small Ladies Double Hunter Pocket WatchWaltham Model '83 18s Crescent St. Of Beautiful Nickel DamaskeenWaltham 845 21j Railroad Pocket Watch No ReserveWaltham Vanguard 16 Size Up/down Indicator Montgomery Enamel Pocket Watch DialB 186.  waltham 16 Size 7 J Mint Movt. Fully Engraved Hunting Case Pocket WatchAm Waltham 18s Of Home Watch Co Coin Silver Pocket Watch For Parts 1867Waltham Canadian Pacific Pocket Watch, 18s, 17 Jewels, C.1890 - In Working Order1891 Antique 14k Elgin Pocket Watch Solid Yellow Gold 7j Size 6 Not WorkingWaltham 23 Jewel Wind Indicator 16 Size

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Claremore woman accused of stealing from disabled veteran
Claremore Daily Progress, November 17th

In addition to cash, the affidavit notes an antique Waltham pocket watch was also missing from the safety deposit box. According to court records, information provided to the Rogers County District Attorney alleges Garrison obtained $55,000 belonging...Read more

Artist creates Waltham coloring book ...
Wicked Local Waltham, November 13th

Kids across the city have the chance to add to Waltham's colorful history in the new City of Waltham Activity and Coloring Book. The free book features 10 uncolored drawings of historical buildings and monuments across the city, including the Waltham...Read more

Spend a Sunday in Waltham
WCVB Boston, October 14th


3 Civil War Cannons Pulled from River
Discovery News, October 1st

A community in the southern United States reclaimed an important part of its history Tuesday (Sept. 29), when three Civil War-era cannons were pulled up from the Pee Dee River in Florence, South Carolina. OppenheimerFunds®. oppenheimerfunds.com...Read more

Monday Morning Find: A Rare Naval Dive Watch With Big Deal History
Bloomberg, August 3rd

The history of Waltham Watch is confusing. The company was founded in 1850 under a different name in Massachusetts, then a big watchmaking and clockmaking hub. The name changed a few times over the years as the company continued to make nice, ...Read more

Waltham's WATCH celebrates anniversary, community work
Wicked Local Waltham, May 12th

On a warm, spring evening at the end of April, WATCH Community Development Corporation celebrated its 27th anniversary with a gathering of over 120 people. email · print. Comment. Wicked Local Waltham. Writer. Posted May. 12, 2015 at 1:00 PM...Read more

Waltham's WATCH to hold Anniversary Celebration
Wicked Local Waltham, April 24th

Waltham's WATCH to hold Anniversary Celebration. WATCH members will celebrate the organization's 27th anniversary at a community celebration and dinner on Tuesday, April 28. email print. Comment. Wicked Local Waltham. Writer. Posted Apr. 24, 2015 ...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