The American Waltham Watch Company manufactured pocket watches and other timepieces from 1850 to 1957. Based in Massachusetts, the company suffered a bankruptcy and operated under several different names. The company specialised in producing top-quality railroad watches. Waltham pocket watches were generally expensive and remain so today in the collectors' market.
The company was founded by David Davis, Aaron Dennison and financier Samuel Curtis in 1850 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. A fourth founder is only identified as Mr. Howard. Since production with the use of interchangeable parts was only a fledgling technology, the watchmakers initially struggled to develop reliable timepieces. By 1854, company engineers solved those problems and produced a series of quality pocket watches.
The company operated under the name American Horology Company in 1851; the name was changed two years later to the Boston Watch Company. In 1854, a factory was built in the town of Waltham. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1857 and reorganised as the Appleton, Tracy & Co., which merged with Waltham Improvement Company to become American Watch Company in 1859. The name was changed to American Waltham Watch Company in 1885 and remained so until the end of the company in 1957.
The company is best known for producing railroad pocket watches. It produced a long line of railroad watches for the Canadian Railway. Reliability was critical in train schedules to avoid accidents, which were common in the 19th century. Waltham followed the standards of the day: that railroad watches be equipped with 15 jewels and be accurate within 30 seconds per week. Dials were large and constructed to withstand harsh weather.
The C.T. Parker
An early Waltham pocket watch was the "C.T. Parker." It featured seven jewels, which are tiny natural gems that serve as bearings in a watch. More jewels in a watch result in better quality. Many later pocket and wrist watches contained up to 25 jewels. The C.T. Parker featured a porcelain dial with Roman numerals. The plate was fastened to a pillar instead of using screws.
The Wm. Ellery
By 1862 the company developed the "Wm. Ellery M57" watch. It was worn by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The Wm. Ellery, named for the Rhode Island representative William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, accounted for 44 per cent all Waltham sales. President Abraham Lincoln owned an 1863 Wm. Ellery M57 11-jewel watch in a silver hunting case. It featured a button at the 1 o'clock position to set the time.
End of the Pocket Watch
By 1918, the pocket watch was slowly being phased out as the wrist watch gained popularity. Waltham began producing wrist watches in 1914. The pocket watch era ended by about 1930. From 1914 to 1955, Waltham produced 33 million wrist watches.
A Waltham watch was expensive in its day, ranging in price from £7 to £26 in the 1860s. Today, Waltham watches retain their high value among collectors, ranging from £325 for a seven-jewel Wm. Ellery to upwards of £1,300 for a railroad watch, depending on the condition.