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.
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.
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Recent News: Hamilton and Illinois Wristwatches
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Building a legacy in Harford and beyondBaltimore Sun, March 2nd
Under Hamilton's watch, the Abingdon-based company has successfully completed contracts on high-profile building projects in Maryland and other states, including many public buildings in Harford. Hamilton has also achieved another feat of professional ...Read more
Indiana's maple syrup makers are tapping into traditionThe 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
LCD screens allow digital watches to retain usabilityCMU The Tartan Online, March 1st
The first publicly available watch that used not only a digital display but also digital technology in the form of circuits was the Hamilton Watch Company's 1972 Hamilton Pulsar. Plated in gold and using a synthetic ruby as part of its LED (Light...Read more
Watch Lady Gaga, Vince Vaughn take the plunge in ChicagoSTLtoday.com, March 1st
Lady Gaga and Vince Vaughn made plunges into the icy waters of Chicago's Lake Michigan at a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. Special Olympics Chicago President Casey Hogan said Sunday that Gaga did the plunge with more than 4,500 other ...Read more
LETTER: Hamilton is not a 'representative democracy'Wicked Local Hamilton, February 26th
We have learned that Planning Board member Ed Howard also signed an affidavit and that Planning Board members Rob McKean and Claudia Woods have been involved with the Hamilton Watch Dog Group and there is evidence they are following the legal ...Read more
Lancaster That Was: This 1963 Trojan Boat fast-pitch softball team was among ...LancasterOnline, February 22nd
There were the top-notch Armstring industrial teams of the 1930s and 1940s and some stellar Hamilton Watch squads of the same era. Then there was this 1963 Trojan Boat fast-pitch softball team, which won the “A” division of the Lancaster Industrial...Read more
Inside the Shop of the Last Great American WatchmakerPopular Mechanics, February 18th
On the corner of a nondescript block in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a bank, or what used to be a bank. Now it is the home of Roland G. Murphy Watch Company, the country's only truly independent elite watchmaker. Inside, Murphy's son-in-law, Adam ...Read more
Hamilton Watch Plays Pivotal Role In Oscar Contender 'Interstellar'Forbes, November 27th
I am the editor-in-chief and co-founder of QuillandPad.com. 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