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 Military "khaki" Field Automatic - Big Size 42 Mm Out Crown Swiss WatchHamilton Khaki Field Military Automatic Date Black Dial Swiss Made WatchHamilton Khaki Field Automatic Black Dial Date Only Swiss Made WatchHamilton Khaki Field Mechanical Mens Watch H69419933 Hamilton Khaki Field Men's Automatic Watch (great Condition) ServicedHamilton Swiss Made Military Men's Khaki Automatic Stainless St Watch C420Mens Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic H325150 Stainless Steel Automatic Wrist WatchHamilton Khaki King Series Brown Leather Mens Watch H64455533Beaut.v Rare Hamilton Vega Electric Gents Watch.super Asymmetric Case/mint Dial!*very Nice Vintage Hamilton Automatic Men's Wristwatch*Hamilton Khaki Field Black Dial Stainless Steel Men's Watch H70455133Hamilton W10 Army Issue Military Watch Broad Arrow Cal: 649 Vintage 1973** Rare Unusual Hamilton 17 Jewel Automatic Chronograph Great Working ConditionRare Hamilton Khaki Navy Frogman H777160 Automatic Chronopgraph Man's Watch, NrRare Men's Hamilton Lahout's Military 24 Hour Watch W Date As Ll Bean W Box NiceHamilton Military Pilots Caliber 987s Hack Watch Rare Not RunningVintage Hamilton Diver 200m Pan - Europ Automatic Ref 64065-3 Mens Swiss WatchVintage Men's Illinois Silver Art Deco Tank Style Wrist WatchFine Vintage C1955 14k Gold Hamilton Mod. 770 22 Jewel Mens Wrist WatchHamilton Khaki X-wind H776260 Automatic Watch Valjoux 7750 For Repair!Hamilton Khaki Automatic Military 2824-2 Rare Nr!Vintage 1981 Hamilton H3 Mil-w-46374b Military Issued Mechanical Winding WatchHamilton Bailey 1943 Vintage Mens 17j Gold Filled Running WristwatchClean Vintage 1932 Men's Hamilton Webster 17j Cal 987f 14k G/f Watch RunsHamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Gmt Automatic 44mm S/s No Reserve!!!Rare Mens Vtg Hamilton Stainless Steel "automatic K-304"self Winding Dress WatchHamilton Diamond Platinum Cocktail Ladies Most Awesome Watch Ever 8.5 10ctwLadies Hamilton 14k White Gold & Appr. 1tcw Diamonds 22j #757 Wristwatch Mint NrVintage Mens Hamilton Automatic Wrist WatchWw2 Hamilton Military Watch A-11 With Usn Buships Canteen Case Frog ManHamilton Watch Co 972 Model 16 Size 17 Jewels Usa Pocket Watch Movement - 1904Hamilton Electric Van Horn 500 Movement From 1957 In Solid 14 Kt. GoldVintage Hamilton Automatic Wrist Watch Estoril #7Very Clean Vintage 1941 Men's Hamilton Boulton 19j Cal 982 14k G/f Watch Runs Beautiful Rare Hamilton Gents Vintage Watch.super Case,lugs &dial.1946.Hamilton Men's Khaki Navy Frogman WatchWw2 Hamilton Military Watch Usn Buships Whith Canteen Watch Case Frogman Gorgeous Hamilton Flight Ii Men's Wrist Watch OriginalHamilton Khaki Men's Wristwatch - Us Military-issue VersionHamilton Thinomatic Men's Watch, For Restoration, Needs Work, Has Original BoxHamilton Jazzmaster Chronograph Automatic H326460 WristwatchMen's Very Rare All Original 1964 Vintage Swiss Hamilton Winding Wrist WatchVtg 40s Men's Gold Longines Automatic Watch Parts Repair + Hamilton CaseVintage Mens Hamilton Solid 14k Gold Watch With Second Hand WorkingVintage 1950s Hamilton Masterpiece Hourglass 22j Mens Wrist WatchVintage Working Hamilton 14k White Gold W/ Black Face Men's Watch WristwatchHamilton Watch 14k Gf Blue Hands Sub. Second Gold Raised Markers VintageRare Vintage Hamilton Automatic Selfwinding Men's Watch W/ Date Front LoadingHamilton Intra-matic Automatic Black Dial Mens Watch (h38755751) H387550Hamilton Masterpiece Self-winding 10k Gold Filled Presentation Vintage WatchVintage Hamilton 10k Gold Hand Wind Mechanical Watch ~ Working ~ Gorgeous! Hamilton WatchMens Tested Non Working Ll Bean Hamilton Quartz Watch 8 + BandHamilton Wrist Watch G 987 17j Sw Gf Ham. Case 32 Mm Wire Lugs Runs** Vintage Hamilton Electric Dual-color Bulova Quartz Movement Works Great Nos Men's Hamilton Wilshire Reissue Registered Watch W Box Black Dial Nice ! Old Rare Signed Hamilton 10k Auto Thin-o-matic Date Masterpiece Wristwatch Runs!Hamilton Jazzmaster Day Date AutoHamilton 500 Electric 10k Gold Filled Watch - Ready To Restore - N56-hVintage Men's Hamilton “victor” Electric 500 Movement 1957, A-symmetrical