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 Khaki Field Black Automatic Men's Military Date Watch! H70455733Ww2 Hamilton Military Watch Usn Buships Whith Coriginal Case Frogman 1963 Hamilton W10 Military 17 Jewelled Wrist Watch In Working Order.Platinum 9 Cttw Natural Diamond Fancy Flip-top Hamilton Cal 911 Wrist Watch NrHamilton Khaki Field Automatic Black Dial Swiss Made Excellent Condition WatchMens Vintage Swiss Hamilton "thin-o-matic" Wristwatch Cal.663 Micro Rotor 17 J'sSuper Rare 1959 Mint Hamilton *spectra* Retro 14k Solid Gold Mens Watch Cal 500!Hamilton Khaki King Scuba Watch (h64515150) - Day/date, Automatic, Great Deal!Hamilton Khaki Field Blue Automatic Men's Military Date Watch! H70455733Very Stylish Hamilton Ventura Watch - Ltd Edition - Elvis Presley Interest - Vintage 1954 Solid 14k Men's Hamilton "bradford" Wristwatch One Year WarrantyHamilton Khaki Automatic Black Dial Men's Watch H644550Vintage Hamilton Chronograph Lemania 1873 SteelHamilton Jazz Master H326120 Stainless Sapphire Crystal Men's Watch (s03019378)Hamilton Khaki Aviation 44mm Automatic Qne - Unworn - Box And Papers H76515533Ww2 Hamilton Military Watch A-11 Usn Buships Frogman StylePlatinum 1/2 Cttw Natural Diamond Fancy Lugs Hamilton Cal 911 Wrist Watch NrRrp$1700 Auth Hamilton Seaview Day Date Black Swiss Made Automatic Divers WatchC.1960s Vintage Hamilton Automatic Stainless Steel Mens Wristwatch - ExcellentMens Hamilton WatchHamilton Alarm Wristwatch Vintage Model Running!!Vintage Mens Wrist Watch Collection Wittnauer Hamilton Vulcain Certina Gold NiceRare Hamilton Lwo 283 Automatic Chronograph1950s Hamilton “pacer” Electric – Runs – No ReserveHamilton Men's H32546781 / H325460 Jazzmaster Auto Grey Dial Chronograph WatchHamilton Khaki Field Automatic Mens Stainless Steel Watch  1936 Hamilton '"sutton" Wrist Watch Boxed Nice!! Hamilton Khaki X-patrol Chronograph Automatic H765560Collectible Hamilton Ventura Ltd Edition Gold Mens Watch $1Wristwatch Hamilton Thin O Matic Swiss Automatic 17 J Cal 628 Micro Rotor + BoxHamilton Ventura Automatic Black Dial Swiss WatchHamilton Khaki Automatic Silver Face Rubber Strap Fully Working Crown Stem ProblVintage Hamilton Thin-o-matic Watch 1960'sHamilton Khaki Pilot Black Dial Men's Watch- H600704110Hamilton Khaki Below Zero (black Pvd)Hamilton. Ventura Wristwatch Registered EditionHamilton Khaki Military Field Watch - 42mm, Eta 2824-2 Automatic Movement, Mint!1¢ Auction Gents Vintage Hamilton Thin-o-matic 819 Automatic Watch Runs GreatHamilton Masterpiece Electronic Watch With Date 14k Yellow Gold CaseIconic 14k Gold-pacer (ventura Ii) By Hamilton In Box Hamilton Ventura Watch Registered Edition 18k Electro Gold Plate 35 Mm QuartzMens Mint Hamilton 18k Solid Gold Gordon 19j Usa Medallion 982 Art Deco Watch A+Hamilton Watch Co 992 Model 16 Size 21 Jewels Usa Pocket Watch Movement - 1909Hamilton Watch H7445111962 Mens Hamilton “everest Ii” Black Dial Case/move/dial~not Running Ham. 10kgfHamilton H3 Army/navy/raf/m.o.d Mechanical Watch, British Military, 1978Rare Piping Rock Hamilton 14k Gold Manual Wind With Black Bezel Men's WristwatchHamilton Khaki Field Titanium H70575733 LnibHamilton Cld K-400 Automatic Wrist Watch Ca. 1950's- No ReserveHamilton Khaki Pilot Automatic Stainless Steel H647150 Wrist Watch With BoxWorking Hamilton Ventura Watch, Asymmetric Classic, Quartz, Mib Men In Black, NrHamilton Khaki Automatic Watch - H705450 - 42mmHamilton Chronograph Quartz Vintage Wristwatch #8808Illinois Telephone Dial - Vintage Sterling Trench WatchHamilton Thin-o-matic 10k Solid Gold Presentation Mens Wristwatch With CaseVintage Ll Bean - Hamilton Men's Wrist Watch Vintage Hamilton 10k Gold Filled Electric Men's Wristwatch Pat. Pend. Parts/fixVintage Hamilton Automatic Khaki WatchBurlington (illinois) Watch Co Usa Men's 19 Jewels 16 Size Pocket Watch MovementVintage Hamilton Self-winding 10k Rgp Men's Watch With A Leather Band...running