American Waltham Watch Co., Waltham, MA

Boston Watch Company

In 1849 Aaron Lufkin Dennison, Edward Howard and David Davis formed a company with a plan to use machinery to manufacture watch movement parts so precisely that they would become fully interchangeable. They initially outfitted space for design and manufacturing in Howard's clock factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a community neighboring Boston. In 1851 they moved to a new factory across the street from Howard's clock factory. Based upon the experience of earlier failed trials, Howard and Dennison eventually perfected and patented their precision watch making machines and create the American System of Watch Manufacturing.

In the spring of 1853 the first Dennison, Howard, & Davis watches were offered for sale to the public. The name was changed from Warren Mfg. Co. to Boston Watch Company in September 1853, and a new factory in Waltham, Massachusetts was opened in October 1854. The company produced gilded full plate pocket watches ranging from 7 to 15 jewels which found acceptance in the industry, the first pocket watch produced in America of standard interchangeable parts, fostering growth until the country began experiencing a recession in 1856. Sales dropped, debts climbed and bankruptcy became inevitable. The Boston Watch Company was sold at auction in April 1857.

American Waltham Watch Company Emerges

Royal E. Robbins and D. F. Appleton, New York watch wholesalers, along with Tracy and Baker, watch case manufactures in Philadelphia, purchased The Boston Watch Company factory and part of the other assets at the auction. As majority owner, Robbins reorganized the company as Appleton, Tracy & Co. (Most of the remaining Boston Watch Company material and watches in progress, Model 1857 Appleton, Tracy & Co. mfg 1865along with some of the watch making machinery were acquired by E. Howard & Co. due to a lien). Aaron Dennison remained in Waltham as the superintendent of the mechanical department.

The Model 1857 Appleton, Tracy & Co. grade was the first pocket watch produced, it was essentially the same movement as was produced by the Boston Watch Company. It was an 18-size, 15-jewel watch which wound with a key on the back side of the watch, and set with a key from the front. By the end of 1857 the company was producing movements at the rate of 365 per month.

Under Robbins leadership the company gradually added less expensive 11-jewel and 7-jewel grade watches to their line. The Civil War provided impetus for growth in watch sales, especially for the American Watch Co. The William Ellery grade (named after William Ellery, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) became the popular Civil War soldier's watch. Available as 11-jewel and 7-jewel versions this grade reportedly accounted for 44.6 percent of watches sold by 1865.

In 1859 the Waltham Improvement Co. and the Appleton, Tracy & Co. merged to form the American Watch Company. In 1862 the American Watch Company absorbed the Nashua Watch Company, including Nashua's superior machinery, creating a separate department to produce high-grade watches.

In 1866 the Pennsylvania Railroad ordered a number of Model 1857 Appleton, Tracy & Co. grade 15-jewels watches from the American Watch Company, the first American watches specifically made for railroad use.

American Watch Co. 1870 Crescent Street, circa 1871Model 1870 Crescent Street designed and marketed for railroad service

The Model 1870 Crescent Street was the first American watch designed and marketed especially as a railroad watch. It was an 18-size, 15-jewel movement, with a chronometer balance, adjusted to "heat and cold" and was among the earliest to include a micrometer regulator. The 1870 Model was introduced as a key-wind key-set watch, with winding and setting from the back. A stem-wind version was introduced in 1871. A product of Waltham's Nashua Deparetment, the Model 1870 Crescent Street was manufactured from 1870 through September 1883, with a total production of 17,900 movements.

The 18-size Model 1877 and Model 1879 Appleton Tracy & Co. and Waltham Watch Co. grades, both stem wind and lever set, with a 15-jewel movement, a chronometer balance and adjusted to positions, replaced the 1857 Model grades and were manufactured to meet railroad time service requirements at the time.

Model 1883 Crescent Street introduced

The 18-size Model 1883 Crescent Street grade replaced the Model 1870 Crescent Street as Waltham's highest-grade full-plate watch with its introduction in 1885. The Model 1883 Crescent Street grade was stem wind and lever set, with a 15-jewel movement, a chronometer balance and adjusted to temperature and positions, a 17-jewel version was subsequently introduced.

Additional Model 1883 grades manufactured to meet railroad requirements at the time, included:

  • Appleton, Tracy & Co. (15-jewel and 17-jewel), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • Riverside (15-jewel and 17-jewel), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • Waltham Watch Co. (15-jewel only), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • No. 45 (17-jewel), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • No. 35 (15-jewel and 17-jewel), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • No. 25 (15-jewel and 17-jewel), adjusted to temperature and positions;
  • No. 87 (17-jewel), adjusted to temperature,
  • No. 85 (17-jewel), adjusted to temperature.

In 1885, after 26 years, the company name changed to American Waltham Watch Co. where it was to remain for the next 22 years.

American Waltham Model 1892 Crescent Street, circa 1901Vanguard Movement Introduced

The American Waltham Watch Co. introduced the 18-size, 17-jewels Vanguard movement in 1894, advertising the new model as "the finest 18-size movement in the world". As other grades were added, the model be came known as the Model 1892. The Model 1892 Vanguard remained Waltham's highest-grade 18-size watch, versions with 19, 21 and 23 jewels were subsequently introduced, all adjusted to temperature and 5 positions.

Other Model 1892 railroad standard grades included:

  • Crescent Street, 19-jewel and 21-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • No. 845, 21-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • Appleton, Tracy & Co. 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions, replaced by the 17-jewel Appleton Tracy & Co. Premier in 1902, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • Riverside, 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions;
  • Railroader, 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions.

The The Model 1892 was manufactured through 1918. The Model 1892 was considered one of Waltham’s most successful watches.

Royal E. Robbins continued to manage the company until his death in 1902. In 1907 the name changed to Waltham Watch Co., in 1923 briefly to Waltham Watch and Clock Company and finally in 1925 to Waltham Watch Company.

Model 1908 Crescent St.Smaller 16-size Watches Increase in Popularity

The American Watch Company is credited with introducing the American 16-size watch in 1863, although the smaller size was slow to be adopted, 20 years later it only accounted for 5% of watch production. The American Waltham Watch Co. continued to develop the 16-size lines with the innovative Model 1888. The Model 1888, 21-jewels American Watch Co. and Riverside Maximus grades, both adjusted to temperature and 5 positions, and the 17-jewels Riverside, Railroader and No. 650 grades, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions, were manufactured to meet railroad requirements at the time.

Popularity of 16-size movements increased after the establishment of railroad standards in 1892, reaching 15% of production by the turn of the century. Production of the 16-size watches grew during the first decade of the new century with American Waltham's very successful Model 1899 and Model 1908 movements, Model 1899 and Model 1908 railroad grade movements included:

  • Riverside Maximus, 21-jewel and 23-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • Vanguard, 19-jewel to 23-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • Crescent Street, 19-jewel and 21-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions;
  • No. 645, 21-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions, mfg. 1892 and 1906-1918;
  • Riverside 17-jewel and 19-jewel, initially adjusted to temperature and 3 positions, later to 5 positions, mfg. through 1926;
  • No. 642, 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions, mfg. 1918;
  • Royal, 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions (lever-set version)1;
  • No 640, 17-jewel, adjusted to temperature and 3 positions, mfg. 1896-1897 and 1923-19261.

Total 16-size watch movement production exceeded 18-size watches by 1915. The last 18-size Model 1892 Vanguard and Crescent Street grades were manufactured in 1914, yielding to the growing dominance of 16-size railroad quality watch sales.

Production of the Model 1908 No. 645 grade continued through 1918. Production of the Model 1908 Riverside grade continued through 19262. Production of the Model 1908 Crescent St. grade ended in 1929. Production of the Vanguard grade continued as the Model 1623 Vanguard through 1953.

The Waltham Watch Company founded a subsidiary in Switzerland in 1954. Waltham continued to manufacture watches (and clocks) until 1957, when they ceased production and became the Waltham Precision Instrument Company. The rights to the name "Waltham Watch Company" were sold to the Hallmark Watch Company of Chicago, Illinois who sold imported watches using the Waltham name.

Waltham railroad grade watches (not all were railroad approved)

The following is from list of railroad grade watches which is general attributed Webb C. Ball. Not all of these were railroad approved even though all are railroad grade.Vanguard 1623, mfg. 1948

  • 18 Size: 1857 KW with Pennsylvania R.R. on dial, Appleton Tracy & Co. on movement.
  • Crescent Street, 17-23J, 1870, 1883 & 1892 Models
  • Appleton Tracy & Co., 1892 Model
  • Railroader, 1892 Model
  • Pennsylvania Railroad
  • Special Railroad, Special RR King, Vanguard, 17-23J, 1892 Model
  • Grade 845, 21J, 1892 Model
  • 16 Size: American Watch Co., 17-21J, 1872 Models
  • American Watch Co., 17-23J, Bridge Models,
  • Crescent Street, 17-21J, 1899 & 1908 Models
  • Premier Maximus, 23 J
  • Railroader, 17J 1888 Model
  • Riverside Maximus, 21-23J
  • Vanguard, 19-23J
  • 645, 19-21J
  • All wind indicators

Waltham Production Dates by Serial Number

Note: These are approximate dates, actual dates may vary by years. The serial number being referred to is the serial number on the movement of the watch, not the case.

1852 - 50 1874 - 730,000 1896 - 7,450,000 1918 - 21,800,000 1940 - 30,250,000
1853 - 400 1875 - 810,000 1897 - 8,100,000 1919 - 22,500,000 1941 - 30,750,000
1854 - 1,000 1876 - 910,000 1898 - 8,400,000 1920 - 23,400,000 1942 - 31,050,000
1855 - 2,500 1877 - 1,000,000 1899 - 9,000,000 1921 - 23,900,000 1943 - 31,700,000
1856 - 4,000 1878 - 1,150,000 1900 - 9,500,000 1922 - 24,100,000 1944 - 32,100,000
1857 - 6,000 1879 - 1,350,000 1901 - 10,200,000 1923 - 24,300,000 1945 - 32,100,000
1858 - 10,000 1880 - 1,500,000 1902 - 11,100,000 1924 - 24,550,000 1946 - 32,350,000
1859 - 15,000 1881 - 1,670,000 1903 - 12,100,000 1925 - 24,800,000 1947 - 32,750,000
1860 - 20,000 1882 - 1,835,000 1904 - 13,500,000 1926 - 25,200,000 1948 - 33,100,000
1861 - 30,000 1883 - 2,000,000 1905 - 14,300,000 1927 - 26,100,000 1949 - 33,500,000
1862 - 45,000 1884 - 2,350,000 1906 - 14,700,000 1928 - 26,400,000 1950 - 33,560,000
1863 - 65,000 1885 - 2,650,000 1907 - 15,500,000 1929 - 26,900,000 1951 - 33,600,000
1864 - 110,000 1886 - 3,000,000 1908 - 16,400,000 1930 - 27,100,000 1952 - 33,700,000
1865 - 180,000 1887 - 3,400,000 1909 - 17,600,000 1931 - 27,300,000 1953 - 33,800,000
1866 - 260,000 1888 - 3,800,000 1910 - 17,900,000 1932 - 27,550,000 1954 - 34,100,000
1867 - 330,000 1889 - 4,200,000 1911 - 18,100,000 1933 - 27,750,000 1955 - 34,450,000
1868 - 410,000 1890 - 4,700,000 1912 - 18,200,000 1934 - 28,100,000 1956 - 34,700,000
1869 - 460,000 1891 - 5,200,000 1913 - 18,900,000 1935 - 28,600,000 1957 - 35,000,000
1870 - 500,000 1892 - 5,800,000 1914 - 19,500,000 1936 - 29,100,000  
1871 - 540,000 1893 - 6,300,000 1915 - 20,000,000 1937 - 29,400,000  
1872 - 590,000 1894 - 6,700,000 1916 - 20,500,000 1938 - 29,750,000  
1873 - 680,000 1895 - 7,100,000 1917 - 20,900,000 1939 - 30,050,000  
American Watch Factory 1854 American Waltham Watch Comany Factory
American Watch Co 1906 by C F Trus American Waltham Watch Factory, Robbins Brothers, Boston
American Waltham Watch Factory at Noontime American Waltham Watch Factory from across Charles River
AmericanWatchCo_acrossriver_1906 American Waltham Watch Facrory

Crescent St Model 83 Links to other sites for additional information:

American Watch Company Web - an organization of watch and clock collectors with an interest in sharing information with other collectors over the Internet.

Waltham Model 1892 Research Website - American Waltham Watch Co. introduced the Vanguard movement in 1894. As the Crescent Street and other grades were added, the model be came known as the Model 1892. It was one of Waltham’s most successful watch models.

Pocket Watch Database: - Serial number lookup and information for Hamilton, South Bend, Illinois, Rockford, Waltham & Elgin.

References, for additional reading:

Abbott, Henry G., History of the American Waltham Watch Company of Waltham, Mass, American Jeweler Print, 1905.

Erhardt, Roy, Waltham Pocket Watch Identification and Price Guide, Heart of America Press, Kansas City, MO, 1976.

Harold, Michael C. American Watchmaking: A Technical History of the American Watch Industry 1850-1930. A supplement to the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., Number 14, Spring 1984, Columbia, PA.

Tom McIntyre and Whit Joyner, The Waltham 1870 Model. Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., July/August 2012, pgs 339-351, Columbia, PA.

The Perfected American Watch, American Waltham Watch Company, Waltham Mass., 1900.

The Story of the Waltham Watch, with Retail Selling Prices, Waltham Watch Coompany, Waltham Mass., 1923.

1  After 1906-1908 17-jewel watches adjusted to 3 positions were often advertised for electric railway service, they were only accepted for service on a limited number of railroads, most major railroads and some interurban electric railways had raised the minimum requirement to 5 positons for new watches entering service.

2  The Riverside name was subsiquently applied to Waltham's 16-size 21-jewels grade No. 1621 which lacked a patent micrometric regulator and was only adjusted to temperature, it did not meet the published requirements of the major railroads.

 

Watch Manufactures:
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DigitalNetExpress.comPart of the material used for research courtesy of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Library and Research Center. Watch photos and text by Richard Boehle, a special thank you to the private collectors for the use of the watches photographed. American Waltham Watch Factory photos are all period post card photographs.
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