Vintage Hamilton and Illinois Watches

Founded in 1870, the Illinois Watch Company was primarily known for its pocket watches favored by American railroad workers. The Hamilton Watch Company arrived on the scene almost a quarter century later, but by 1900, more than half of all U.S. railroad conductors, engineers, and workers made sure their trains ran on time with the help of a Hamilton. In 1928, Illinois was purchased by Hamilton.

Illinois got into the wristwatch business like most other makers of pocket watches—by producing a wristwatch for women. That was in 1905. An Illinois wristwatch for men would not appear until 1921.

During the 1920s, most men’s Illinois wristwatches were sold to jewelers, who would put their own cases on them. Of the Illinois watches that were cased at the factory, models included the Square, Canby, Cushion, Champion, Special, and Atlantic.

The late 1920s were Illinois’s prime period. Instead of plain and generic names, these new models were called the Picadilly, Marquis, Ritz, New Yorker, Beau Royale, and the top-of-the-line 14-karat gold Consul, which some collectors consider the finest American wristwatch ever made. These were designed in high Art Deco, with silver pinstripe dials, tiny second hands, and cases of two-tone gold.

After the sale to Hamilton, Illinois watches from the 1930s embraced the Streamline Moderne design. Their names leaned to the preppy (Chesterfield, Wentworth, Andover, Rockliffe) and were almost identical to Hamilton watches of this era, which were named after famous explorers (Stanley, Livingstone, Byrd). These antique Hamiltons are quite collectible today precisely because their movements were made by Illinois.

Of course Hamilton has its own history of wristwatch making. It got into the field because of World War I, when it produced wristwatches for servicemen entering the military. In the 1920s it launched a line of modest, Art Deco masterpieces, with names that evoked the Americas—Piping Rock, Langley, Coronado, Spur. Many of these watches feature white-gold cases with enamel inlays.

In the 1936, Hamilton offered the twin-dial Seckron and in 1938, it introduced its own version of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which Hamilton called the Otis. Other collectible antique Hamiltons from the 1930s include the Mount Vernon, Andres, and Oakmont...

The 1940s were largely devoted to making wristwatches for the U.S. military—one rectangular, twin-dial steel watch from this period was even known as the Bomb Timer. Then, in the 1950s, Hamilton proceeded to make a slew of conservatively styled watches named, seemingly, after archetypal American dads—Ryan, Craig, Grover, Brent, Carlton, and Alan, to name but a few.

For Hamilton, the 1950s were only in part about tradition. In 1957, it introduced the world’s first electric watches. Designed by Richard Arbib, whose previous credits had included the fins of both World War II bombs and 1950s automobiles, these new late 1950s-1960s watches had space-age, asymmetrical shapes, with equally space-age names like Ventura, Spectra, Altair, Polaris, and Gemini.

By 1971, Hamilton had embraced the electric revolution so completely that its Pulsar would have no moving parts at all, but that would be the last gasp for the once-proud American watch maker, which was sold that year to the company that is today known as the Swatch Group.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Hamilton E.t.o. Black Flyback Chronograph Men's WristwatchHamilton Khaki Field Action H635160 Automatic Chronograph 200m Valjoux 7753 MintHamilton Khaki Field Automatic - 42mm Military Watch, Lumi Hands And MarkersHamilton Khaki Navy Gmt Swiss Made Automatic Watch H776151 W/ Maratac LeatherMens Mint 1960s Hamilton Thin-o-matic Micro Rotor Automatic 10k Gold Fill WatchHamilton Khaki Field Automatic H001000185Hamilton-khaki-divers-auto Wind-ca.1970.eta-caliber 2834-2-rotating Bezel.-Hamilton Jazzmaster Maestro- H32716839Ladies Mint 1940 Hamilton Solid Platinum Hinged Case 49 Diamonds Art Deco WatchHamilton Khaki Military Stainless Steel Automatic Mens WatchHamilton British Military Watch Circa 1973 Analogue, Mechanical Vintage 1973Hamilton Swiss Mens Khaki Automatic 25 Jewel 2824-2 Wrist Watch In Original BoxVintage Wwii Hamilton H1 987a Mens Military Wrist Watch - Ord DeptIllinois Watch Co Springfield Usa 16 Size 17 Jewels Pocket Watch Movement - 1917Amazing Hamilton Watch Ventura Model 6337 Ss Wrist Watch H600244101 See Pics Rare Vintage 1955 Hamilton Automatic Stainless Steel Fancy Lug Man's Watch Hamilton Military Men's Mechanical Wrist Watch Mil-w-46374b Rad. Waste 1977Hamilton Vintage Men's Automatic Original Dial Solid Ss Case Is Exlt. C.1967Hamilton Watch Co Usa Model 992 16 Size 21 Jewels Pocket Watch Movement - 1914Rare Vintage Hamilton Military Watch Manual WindHamilton Ventura Men's Watch, This Model Is Known As 'men In Black', Very Nice ! Vintage Hamilton Electric Wristwatch Watch Box CaseVintage Hamilton 500 Electric 10k Gf Victor Wristwatch In BoxIllinois "chieftain" Rare Model For The Collector, White Gold Filled, Very Nice!Hamilton Automatic Gmt Mens Large Steel Wristwatch Ref H776950 Large 42mmMens Original 1960 Hamilton 10k Solid Gold Fancy Lug Parker Tutone Dial Watch A+Awesome 1952 Hamilton "sherman" 753 2-tone Dial 19 Jewel Mens Watch!!Vintage 1966 Ss Hamilton Aqua Date Automatic Diver 600 Super Compressor.servicedMen's Vintage Watch Lot Vintage Art Deco Bulova Elgin Hamilton Rose Gold Fill Hamilton Khaki X-wind Automatic H77616133Mens Exc! Vintage Hamilton 17j ,10k Gf Art Deco Running Estate Wrist WatchWorking Early 1930's 14k Gold Hamilton 19 Jewel Adjusted Watch H52209 Grade 401Vintage Working Hamilton Mens Wrist Watch Stainless Steel SwissIllinois Watch Co Bunn Special Usa 16 Size 21 Jewels Pocket Watch Movement 1921Lot 3 Vtg Gold Filled Men's Wind Up Watches Rectangle Case Hamilton Bulova As-isVtg Hamilton Cld 14k Gold W Fancy Lugs Round Mens Mechanical Wind Up Wrist WatchHamilton Khaki X-wind, X- Copter Men's Automatic Watch Orange.... Great!!!Xtra Nice Solid 10k Gold 50's Vintage Neat Lugs High Grade Hamilton ParkerHamilton Automatic Vintage Square Gold Plated Swiss WatchAwesome 1959 Hamilton "arnold" 673 2-tone Dial Mens Watch!!Lot Of 4 Vintage Gold Filled Watches Hamilton Elgin Longines Rare Vintage Watch Collection Girard Perregaux, Hamilton, Bulova, Olympic, NrAwesome 1990s Hamilton Gents Khaki Model 9445 Swiss Quartz Stainless Runs! L@@kHamilton Efa 'engineered For Action' Quartz Men's WatchHamilton Watch, Vintage, Men's, G.f.c. Working, Mechanical, 980 17jVintage Hamilton 987a Kirk 17j Gp Wristwatch,runsGold Filled Lot 400 Grams Vtg Wrist & Pocket Watch Cases 10k 14k Hamilton OmegaHamilton Thin O Matic Automatic Swiss WatchVintage Men's Hamilton Automatic WatchIllinois Hamilton Vintage Wrist Watch Nr1959 Hamilton Gents Classic Round All Stainless Steel Lakeland 17j Ufix- N/r!!Hamilton Military Field Mil-w-46374b Wrist Watch For MenVintage Hamilton 18 Jewel 748 10k Gold Filled Men's Watch.......running1931 Hamilton Greenwich 17 Jewel 987 14k Gold Filled Military Style WatchVintage Hamilton Electric WatchHamilton , Longines Watch Lot For Parts Or RepairAntique 1930 Illinois Wristwatch 10k Rolled Gold Filled 17 JewelVintage Hamilton Diamond 14k White Gold Woman's Watch 20.0 Grams NrHamilton Men's Khaki Scuba Automatic Watch H645150 Includings Free Nato StrapsVintage Hamilton Brock Art Deco 14k Gold Mens Watch Nice Condition And Running

Recent News: Hamilton and Illinois Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Malaysian GP 2015: One by one, the iconic venues fall silent as F1 follows the ...
The Independent, March 25th

Fans of Lewis Hamilton watch their hero on his way to victory at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year (Getty) The Spanish GP, which is the first on the European circuit to stage a grand prix this year, has two other advantages as it fights...Read more

Chuck Sweeny: Tearing down the watch factory has never been in the cards
Rockford Register Star, March 18th

The company had financial difficulties in 1896, and was reorganized as the Rockford Watch Co. Ltd. Two of the principals of the Illinois Watch Case Co., J. Franks and M.C. Eppenstein, purchased the Rockford Watch Co. Ltd. in 1901. The Rockford Watch Co...Read more

Strap A Computer With Flashing Lights On Your Wrist
Popular Science, March 9th

Pulsar (named after puzzling astronomical bodies that emit extraordinarily precise radio pulses) was developed jointly by the Hamilton Watch Co. and Electro/Data, Inc. It will be made available by Hamilton in 1971, for $1,500. This article appeared in...Read more

Building a legacy in Harford and beyond
Baltimore Sun, March 2nd

Interview with Warren Hamilton, president of J. Vinton Schafer & Sons, a major construction firm based in Abingdon. (Bryna Zumer/Baltimore Sun Media Group). Interview with Warren Hamilton, president of J. Vinton Schafer & Sons, a major construction...Read more

Indiana's maple syrup makers tap into tradition
Highlands Today, March 2nd

As their relationship progressed, her father would let Hamilton watch the syrup evaporator for an hour each week. That led to more and more time spent in the syrup shack, and Hamilton gradually took over the operation himself. “It gets into your blood...Read more

Indiana's maple syrup makers are tapping into tradition
The Elkhart Truth, March 2nd

As their relationship progressed, her father would let Hamilton watch the syrup evaporator for an hour each week. That led to more and more time spent in the syrup shack, and Hamilton gradually took over the operation himself. “It gets into your blood...Read more

Hamilton Watch Plays Pivotal Role In Oscar Contender 'Interstellar'
Forbes, November 27th

I am the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Beyond that, I contribute my horological expertise to a variety of magazines, websites and publications all over the world. With more than two decades' experience covering the watch industry...Read more

Pearl Jam Debut New Song 'Moline' in Moline, Illinois
CBS Local, October 20th

Every major city has its own song and last night a small town in Illinois was treated to the same by Eddie Vedder. Before taking the stage in Moline, Ill., the Pearl Jam frontman wrote up a tribute to the Mississippi River-adjacent city. “Moline, it...Read more