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.
Interviews & Articles
I got interested in pocket watches from working on mechanical things. I had an old car, and working on it gave me immediate satisf… [more]
I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I didn’t have any particular interest in clocks or watches as a kid; that came after I started … [more]
I started with pocket watches as a child, watching old movies on television, watching the cowboys occasionally pull out an old poc… [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
American Watch Company Web
National Watch and Clock Museum
Clubs & Associations: Wristwatches
Discussion Forums: Wristwatches
Other Great Reference Sites: Wristwatches
Top eBay Auctions
Recent News: Hamilton and Illinois Wristwatches
Source: Google News
Speak Out: Don't nix city stickersElgin Courier News, May 19th
Curious about Case site: I have a question about the land where the old Illinois Watch Case Company factory was located. They tore the building down and enclosed the property with a chain link fence. There are signs that say it belongs to a Native...Read more
The illusions of advertisingSalon, May 16th
According to the New York Times, the Hamilton Watch Company was among the first to set its products to 10:10—in the 1920s. The previous standard setting was 8:20. Some advertising executives now assume that the switch occurred to turn the watches'...Read more
Individual Advantages Moving World Headquarters to Elgin, IllinoisWatch List News (press release), May 13th
Individual Advantages to centralize business operations in Elgin, Illinois to support continued growth of its onsite business consulting services and the recent decision to build its 40-node YourBizDr.Com Network Operation Center in Austin, Texas...Read more
Bethany Hamilton: Biography, Latest News & VideosTV Guide, May 8th
VIDEO: The Biggest Loser: Week 12. Feb 12, 2013 02:16 PM. click to play · The Biggest Loser: Week 12. Subscription | Hulu Plus Aired: 3/20/2012. A trip to the island paradise of Hawaii includes a lesson with soul surfer Bethany Hamilton! watch...Read more
The Stylish Pulsar WatchesBushGreenwatch, May 5th
History of Pulsar Watches Pulsar Watches came into being in 1972, when the Hamilton Watch Company decided to produce a different kind of watch. It was named Pulsar, meaning the remains of a star, because of increased interest in space age technology...Read more
Fairfield Ludlowe edges rival Fairfield WardeFairfield Citizen, May 3rd
Emma Johnson, 7, of Fairfield, and her grandfather, Rich Johnson, of Homewood, Illinois, watch the Fairfield Warde baseball game against Fairfield Ludlowe High School at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport on Friday, May 3, 2013. Photo: Amy Mortensen...Read more
Watches on the RhineWall Street Journal, April 26th
Hamilton Watch Co., an American brand established in Lancaster, Penn., in 1892 to produce timekeepers for American railroads and marine chronometers for navies, reached a height of popularity—and a measure of celluloid immortality—when Elvis Presley...Read more