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    

Fine Antique 14k Solid Gold Waltham Watch Co Hunter Case Pocket Watch W Case 1920's 10k Gold Plated Waltham Full Hunter Pocket Watch In Working Order14k Gold Scarce Diamond Model Waltham Gargoyle Miniature Pocket WatchVeryfine American Watch Co Waltham Royal 14k Solid Gold Hunter Case Pocket WatchAntique Solid 14k Gold Waltham Hunter Case Ladies Pocket Watch 15j Runs Great Nr(sd61) 1882 18s Waltham Wm Ellery M:77 11j Kw Silver Hunter's Pocket Watch** Antique Solid 14k Gold Fancy Case Waltham 15 Jewel Size 6 Watch 64.6 Grams~*~estate Find~*~ Vintage Waltham 15j Pocket Watch & Chain **working**1857 Waltham Key Wind, Key Set 18 Size Awesome Designed Gold Filled Hunter Case** Antique Waltham Vanguard 21 Jewel Size 18 Watch Gold Filled Case Ex ConditionAuc9 Antique Usa Waltham Pocket Watch Dennison Sterling Silver Case C1900sP 566.  waltham 18 Size Vanguard 21 Raised Gold Jewel Settings Diamond End Cap,Beautiful 10 Ct Rolled Gold Waltham Full Hunter Pocket Watch Dated 1924.** Antique Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Size 18 Lever Set Rare Excellent ConditionAntique Civil War Era 1864 1865 Waltham Wm Ellery Silver Pocket Watch Model 18574 Gold & Silver Pocket Watches-omega,gruenverithin Adj 5 ,waltham,swiss Longines** Antique Waltham Vanguard Railroad 23 Jewel Size 16 Rare Up/down Ex ConditionAntique Ball Waltham Official Railroad Standard Pocket Watch 21jewels,running...Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel 18 Size Canadian 24 Hour Dial Railroad Pocket WatchA Working Silver Open Faced Painted Dial Waltham Mass Pocket Watch Ref Jac195Strong Running Dead Accurate Waltham "vanguard" Wind Indicator 16s 23j 5p Got RrAntique American Waltham Gold Filled Full Hunter Pocket Watch1866 Waltham Wm. Ellery Pocket Watch Model 1857 Key-wind Size 18 Works Good.A Working Gold Plated Waltham Railroader Open Faced Pocket Watch Ref Loc626American Waltham Antique Pocket Watch Ps Bartlett Model # 1857 Post-civil War Kw(sd87) Nice Patina 53mm 2.5 Oz. Coin Silver 18s Waltham Lc Pocket Watch Case** Antique Waltham 7 Jewel Size 18 Watch Coin Silver Hunting Case, Works Great1902 14k Gold Plated Waltham Pocket Watch / Fob Watch In Working OrderAmerican Waltham Watch Co. Pocket Case #81674 Stamped 14k Gold U.s. Assay Royal Civil War Era-1864 Waltham M-57 P.s.bartlett Pocket Watch Keystone Silver CaseFlawless Dial - 18s Waltham P.s. Bartlett 17j Adjusted Pocket Watch Movement1921 Ball Waltham Railroad Pocket Watch Lever-set 1899 Gold Filled Antique Runs1925 Waltham Silver Cased Pocket Watch In Full Working OrderShowpiece 14kgf 16s Waltham M-88 15j Pocket Watch ** Vintage Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel 6 Position Railroad Watch Ex Condition4-rare Antique Mens Elgin-waltham-hafis-ww1-military Transition Trench Watch LotWaltham Gold Plated Traveller Pocket Watch 1913Vintage Waltham Vanguard Pocketwatch 23 Jewels From Small Estate CollectionA Waltham Usa Ensign Pocket Watch - Marked Coin Silver - For Spares/repair1903 Waltham Crescent St. 19j Pocket WatchStunning Waltham 18 Size Key Wind Pocket Watch With Key. Rare CaseP 569.  waltham 18 Size 11-13 J Fahys 4 Oz Coin Silver Case Porcelain Dial PockeUs Watch Co Waltham 18 Size 17 Jewel Scarce Acid Etched Pocket Watch1867 Waltham Coin Silver Model 1857 Pocket Watch 15j 18s Hunter Case18s Waltham Antique Pocket Watch 15j 1883 Frosty Running 18 Size Display Case18s, 15j Waltham Pocket Watch Ca. 1890/adjusted/train Case/good Dial/running Three Nice 12s Vest Pocket Watches By Waltham, South Bend, Elgin, Lot No 3Perfect Late-model Waltham "vanguard" 16s 23j 8p Rr-grade Mvmt Collector Got Rr!Old Vintage Waltham Pocket Watch Fahys Montauk 20 Year Case 17 Jewel Movement18-size Waltham Pocket Watch/ca. 1883/good Case/thick Crystal/runningAntique Waltham Vanguard Watch Co. Pocketwatch - 23j - 6 Adj.** Antique Ball-waltham Railroad Watch 17 Jewel Size 16, 5 Positon Runs GreatP 554.  waltham 18 Size 17 J Fully Engraved Leader Coin Hunting Case Pocket WatcAntique Waltham 21 Jewel Pocket Watch, Crescent St.Illinois Chalmer's Regulator 18 Size Key Wind Pocket Watch With Key Nickel PlateRare Hunting Model 17j 16s Waltham Antique Pocket Watch, Made In 1908 Good Vintage A.w.w Co Waltham Mass Gents Pocket Watch Mens Gold Plated Waltham Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Watch Co. 21 Jewels 18s Run Well No Reserve. VanguardVintage Waltham P.s.bartlett Pocket Watch Movement Key Wind.