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 Lot Of Great Antique Pocket Watches, Inc' Omega, Waltham, Minerva, Fusees, EtcRare Waltham 18's 21j 2 Tone Crescent St. Coin Silver Hunting Case Pocket Watch**rare Antique 1902 Waltham Riverside Maximus 23 Jewels Gentleman's Pocket Watch14k Solid Gold Pristine O'hara Dialed Waltham Hunter ~ Runs Well ~ $1 Nr!Antique Waltham Appleton Tracy 459418 18s Coin Silver Key Wind Pocket WatchMens Unique 1909 Waltham - American Vintage Magnificent Watch Classic StyleAntique Waltham Canadian Railway 16s 21 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch.Huge Watchmaker Job Lot Of Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Illinois Waltham HampdenHi Grade Waltham Crescent St Rail Road Pocket Watch 21j 5 Adj Ls Vintage 191521 Jewel 18 Size Waltham Vanguard In Near Mint Gf Case, Pocket WatchExcellent Gents Waltham 1908 Model 19jewel Vanguard+ald Silver Case. Runs Well.1891 Waltham "seaside" 14k Gold Filled Case & Multi Colored Gold Inlaid Dial1896 Antique Waltham Gold Leaf 18 Size Pocket Watch 17j Applelton Tracy 20y CaseVery Rare Waltham Chronometro Supremo 21 Jewel Pocket WatchUnmolested 1904 Waltham Hallmarked Sterling Silver Key Wound & Set Pocket Watch Antique Rolled Gold 10ct Waltham Mass Full Hunter Pocket Watch In Dennison Moon23 Jewel 16 Size Waltham Vanguard In Spectacular Gf Case, Pocket WatchAntique 1907 Waltham No. 225 14k Gold Filled Ornate Hunter Case 17j Pocket WatchAntique 1892 Waltham No. 20 Gold Filled Hunter Fahys No. 1 Case 16s Pocket Watch1911 Elgin 14k Gf Multi Color Pocket Watch & Mc Dial 14k Solid Gold Designs 38gAntique 1899 Waltham No. 820 Gold Filled Hunter Case 18s Railroad Pocket WatchBeautiful 10ct Rolled Gold Full Hunter Waltham Traveler Pocket Watch Dated 1909Antique Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Railroad-grade Pocket Watch - Scarce DialRare Antique 1923 Waltham 1235 14k Solid Gold Colonial 17j Case Pocket Watch16s17 Jewel Waltham Dress Hunter Nickel Silver Extra Fine Condition18s Waltham 17j "santa Fe Route" Open Face Nickel Display Case Pocket WatchNear Mint Classy Running 18s American Waltham 17j Open Face Pocket Watch Clean Stellar 1900 Waltham Appleton Tracy Pocket Watch 18sz 17j Adj Gold Star Regulatr18's Acid Etched Flowers U.s. Watch Co. Waltham Pocket Watch G.f 15j 2-star Antique 1885 Waltham Broadway Key Wind Argentine Silver Case 18s Pocket WatchAntique Waltham 18s Model 1857 Key Wind Pocket Watch. Made 1870. Coin SilverWaltham Gold Filled Full Hunter Pocket Watch Sovereign Gold Filled Case18 Size Waltham Model 1857 Key Wind Pocket Watch Circa 186616's Ball American Waltham Pocket Watch 21jewel Official Standard Ls, Adj, 5 PosWaltham 23 Jewel Vanguard 16 Size Railroad Grade Gold Filled CaseVintage Lot Estate Pocket Watches/fob/chains Hamilton Waltham 1914 Simmons Part Coin Silver 1864 Civil War Waltham WatchVintage Waltham Vanguard 23 Jewel Railroad-grade Pocket Watch - No Reserve !1903 Waltham Riverside 17j In 14k Gold Filled Ornate Hunter Case Mint Dial RunsPre- Civil War Appleton Tracy Waltham Mov't & DialExceptional Waltham 16s Signed Salesman Pocket Watch Case 1885 Waltham P.s.bartlett Key Wind Pocket Watch Original Sterling Case 18s Runs1897 Waltham 14kt Gf 18 Size 21 Jewel Model 1892 Pocket Watch-needs RepairAntique Waltham 14s Chronograph Pocket Watch, Model 1884. Runs. Coin SilverExcellent Antique Gold Plated Waltham '1899' 625 Pocket Watch.Waltham 18 Size Non-magnetic Interesting Gold Filled CaseAntique 1904 Waltham 17j No. 625 14k Gold Filled 16s Crescent Case Pocket WatchAntique Mens Trench Pocket Watch Sterling Silver Waltham Early Wristwatch WwiAntique Waltham Pj Bartlett Gold Plate Full Hunter Case Working Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Vanguard 16s 23 Jewel High Grade Rail Road Pocket Watch. 191118s Watham Md 92- 23 Jewel Vanguard-hunting-no Reserve-ends Sunday 9:30 Pm EstHeavy Antique 1871 Waltham Ps Bartlett Coin Silver Pocket Watch 18sz Key Set/wndAntique Waltham Vanguard 18s 21 Jewel Rail Road High Grade Pocket Watch 1899Antique Fattorini 1899 Silver Pocket Watch Case A M Waltham Key Wind Movement18s Waltham 17j "canadian Pacific" Open Face Unusual Train Case Pocket WatchRare 1902 Waltham Mint Fancy Dial Pocket Watch In Special Pair Case Size 18 Runs1918 Waltham 12 Size Mod 1894 15 Sapphire Jewel 20 Yr Gold Hunting Pocket Watch18s Waltham Md92,case W/boston Triennial/natick Porcelain Insert By O'hara Dial17 Jewel Size 18 Waltham Watch Runs Strong & Timed Sn 17680818High Grade 625 Waltham Gold Plated Pocket Watch.

Recent News: Waltham Pocket Watches

Source: Google News

Cheshire TV continues to thrive
The Keene Sentinel, November 28th

It seems quite a bit of what Cheshire TV has on its schedule, shows such as “White House Chronicle,” “Maine Social Justice” and “Waltham's Watch,” are simply filler programs from elsewhere. And that's not even counting the B (and C and D) movies that ...Read more

Cool watches, real jobs: How makers are reshoring American know-how
Quartz, November 20th

Giants like the Hamilton Watch Company and the Waltham Watch company, which “produced tens of millions of watches and clocks from 1854 to 1957” according to a post on the watch blog Hodinkee, invented an assembly line system, like Ford did with cars, ...Read more

Downsizing, but not sure where to move? Check these towns
Boston Globe, November 14th

Once a center of manufacturing — the Waltham Watch Co. operated in the town for more than a century starting in 1854 — Waltham has shed its blue-collar image but still retains significantly lower housing prices than Belmont, Newton, and Weston, with...Read more

Watch Waltham Company's Robot As 'The Karate Kid'
Patch.com, November 13th

Waltham-based Boston Dynamics recently posted a video of its Atlas robot acting out a famous scene from “The Karate Kid.” The Google-owned company's robot, aka “Ian,” performs the “Crane Kick” from the 1984 movie. Even more impressive, the 6-foot-2, ...Read more

The Political Power Watch Stops Ticking
New York Times, October 31st

Bob Beauprez, the Republican challenger for Colorado governor, stumps in a cheap Waltham watch he bought for his father around 1970. Fred DuVal, a Democrat running for Arizona governor, opts for a hand-me-down Bulova Caravelle that may cost less ...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

Graduate students move to historic Waltham Watch Factory
The Brandeis Hoot, September 6th

This fall, university officials found a small, yet clever solution to the growing housing crisis by offering eight graduate students housing in Waltham's historic Watch Factory. These eight graduate students have the unusual luck of being neighbors...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