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Brief History: Hamilton Watch Company

Including Hamilton Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

1892 - 1969

Hamilton factory:  Using a precision scale to fit balance screws to a balance.

Hamilton factory: Using a precision scale to fit

balance screws to a balance.

Hamilton Watch Company: Early Days

In 1874, General Grant was President of the United States and Conestoga wagons creaked along the Lancaster Turnpike, as citizens heeded the call of Horace Greely to "go west." Another form of pioneer was building a factory in the pastoral community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Adams and Perry Watch Company went up right beside the turnpike. Its founders possessed a good combination of skills:  Mr. Perry was a watch designer, and Mr. Adams was an organizer and promoter. Hamilton Railroad Watch AdThey brought skilled watchmakers to Lancaster and began production in 1875. Like so many infant industries, Adams and Perry did not have enough capital to market their product. Lancastrians came to their rescue in 1877, raising $225,000, and the reorganized company was renamed the Lancaster Watch Company. The Lancaster Watch Company continued to suffer growing pains and was reorganized again in 1884, this time as the Keystone Standard Watch Company. Nevertheless, the financial problems persisted until 1892.

In that year, the Hamilton Watch Company came into existence as a result of yet another reorganization. The name, Hamilton, was selected to honor Andrew Hamilton, original owner of the Lancaster site on which the factory was situated. Hamilton was granted the land by William Penn's heirs and is credited with founding the city of Lancaster with his son James. Hamilton Watch was founded by merging Keystone with the Aurora (Illinois) Watch Company. Aurora machinery was moved to Lancaster in summer of 1892. Among the leading business and professional men of Lancaster who founded the Hamilton Watch Company were J. W. B.Bausman, John F. Brimmer, Harry B. Cochran, Frank P. Coho, C. A. Fondersmith, George M. Franklin, John Sener, John C. Hager, J. F. McCaskey, H. M. North, Martin Ringwalt, J. Frederick Sener, William Z. Sener, James Shand, Peter T. Watt and H. S. Williamson. Charles D. Rood and Henry J. Cain of Springfield, Massachusetts represented the Aurora interests.

Hamilton Railroad Watches

The Hamilton Watch Company was founded in 1892 and set out to serve the railroad market with accurate timepieces. Hamilton - The Railroad Timekeeper of AmericaThe rugged, precision watch that Hamilton produced became a favorite among railroad watch inspectors and personnel. In fulfilling the railroads' requirements for accuracy, it also filled the needs of the general public for a timepiece of high quality. By the turn of the century it came to be known as "Hamilton – The Railroad Timekeeper of America."

In 1927 Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company of Springfield, Illinois and Robert E. Miller, vice-president, left Lancaster to become its general manager. The Hamilton-Sangamo Corporation was formed in 1929 by the Hamilton Watch Company and the Sangamo Electric Company of Springfield, Illinois to market a new line of electric clocks. The Hamilton-Sangamo Corporation was sold in 1931 to General Time Instruments, Inc. Trademarks of the E. Howard Watch Company were acquired by Hamilton in 1931. Although never extremely active in the manufacture of "Howard" watches, Hamilton has produced small quantities under this brand name.

Hamilton Military Watches

American soldiers during World War I preferred the smaller size and convenience of the wristwatch to the "old-fashioned" pocket watches. This trend caused a major shift in American watch production, with a new emphasis on producing wristwatch models for both men and women. During World War II, Hamilton ramped-up production of several models of chronometer to meet the US Armed Forces (particularly the US Navy's) need for an extremely accurate timepiece which could be used for navigation at sea. Prior to WWII, such highly accurate instruments were only produced abroad. The first Hamilton chronometers were delivered to the Navy in February 1942, and at their peak Hamilton was making 500 chronometers per month!

Hamilton Model 23 Military Chronograph was widely used during WWII as a navigator's "stop-watch". Based on the super-reliable 992B with Elinvar hairspring and mono-metallic balance, the Mod 23 adds a chronograph mechanism, making it one of the most complicated watches produced by Hamilton.

Hamilton Model 23 Military Chronograph was widely used during WWII as a navigator's "stop-watch".

Based on the super-reliable 992B with Elinvar hairspring and mono-metallic balance, the Mod 23 adds a chronograph mechanism, making it one of the most complicated watches produced by Hamilton.

Hamilton has always been on the forefront of horological innovation. The Elinvar hairspring was patented in 1931 and used in all movements thereafter. The name Elinvar was derived from the term "Elasticity Invariable" and was the first alloy to resist the changes in elasticity that occur with changes in temperature.

Hamilton Electric

Hamilton Ventura

Hamilton Ventura
(modern repro)

In January 1957, Hamilton introduced the world's first electric wristwatch, a breakthrough for the industry and the first basic change in portable timekeeping since the early 16th century. Powered by a tiny 1.5 volt battery guaranteed to run the watch for more than a year, the new watch completely eliminated the need for a mainspring. The electric current necessary to operate one 100-watt bulb for one minute could run an electric watch for 20 years. The Hamilton Electrics featured not only a revolutionary movement design, but also were known for their avant garde styling, making them among the most collectible watches today.

Also during the mid-fifties Hamilton embarked on a program of expansion and diversification. As a result, the company produced watches under three brand names – Hamilton, Vantage and Buren – in six plants in this country and abroad, manufactured sterling and plated silverware, fabricated and processed rare and exotic metals, and produced mechanical and electronic measuring devices and components. Hamilton also produced rocket fuel alloys, special metals for the Apollo program, missile timers and safety and arming devices for military applications.

Hamilton continued to produce some of the finest American watches until 1969, earning them the distinction of being the only American watch company to survive global competition will into the 20th century. They truly represent the pinnacle of American watchmaking.

Modern Hamilton Watches

If you own a modern, battery-powered quartz Hamilton Watch, you should know that it has no connection to the original Hamilton Watch Company. Watches bearing the Hamilton name can still be found today, but the brand is now owned by the Swatch Group, one of the largest Swiss watch conglomerates. Any Swatch service center can perform repairs on your modern Hamilton watch.

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Hamilton Watch Company

Hamilton Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Year S/N
1893 1 - 2000
1894 5000
1895 11,500
1896 16,000
1897 27,000
1898 50,000
1899 74,000
1900 104,000
1901 143,000
1902 196,000
1903 260,000
1904 340,000
1905 435,000
1906 500,000
1907 580,000
1908 680,000
1909 750,000
Year S/N
1910 790,000
1911 860,000
1912 940,000
1913 1,000,000
1914 1,100,000
1915 1,200,000
1916 1,300,000
1917 1,400,000
1918 1,500,000
1919 1,600,000
1920 1,700,000
1921 1,800,000
1922 1,900,000
1923 2,000,000
1924 2,050,000
1925 2,100,000
1926 2,150,000
Year S/N
1927 2,200,000
1928 2,250,000
1929 2,300,000
1930 2,350,000
1931 2,400,000
1932 2,440,000
1933 2,480,000
1934 2,520,000
1935 2,560,000
1936 2,600,000
1937 2,900,000
1938 3,200,000
1939 3,400,000
1940 4,000,000
1941 4,250,000
1942 4,500,000
IMPORTANT:

Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the case.

Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.

Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.

Hamilton also used serial numbers preceded by a letter on certain grades from about the late 30's until the late 60's. The following tables can help in identifying these watches. It is sometimes necessary to interpolate to estimate the particular year of a watch.

992B with C Serial Number & 4992B with 4C Serial Number

950B with 2B or S Serial Number

Grade S/N Year
992B C001 1940
992B C40,000 1941
992B C60,000 1942
992B C90,000 1943
992B C120,000 1944
992B C170,000 1946
992B C215,000 1947
992B C255,000 1948
992B C350,000 1949
992B C390,000 1950
992B C420,000 1954
992B C455,000 1956
992B C500,000 1959
992B C520,000 1964
992B C529,200 1969
- - -
4992B 4C0001 1941
4992B 4C40,000 1942
4992B 4C90,000 1944
4992B 4C120,000 1950
4992B 4C135,000 1960
4992B 4C145,000 1968
Grade S/N Year
950B 2B001 1941
950B 2B400 1942
950B 2B800 1943
- - -
950B S001 1941
950B S1500 1944
950B S2800 1945
950B S4000 1946
950B S4500 1947
950B S6500 1948
950B S7500 1949
950B S10,000 1951
950B S25,000 1955
950B S28,000 1962
950B S30,000 1965

Partial List of Other Grades and Serial Numbers

Grade S/N Year
401 H50001 - H57500 1930 - 1933
747 Y001 - Y453800 1947 - 1954
748 CY001 - CY232000 1948 - 1954
750 001A - 914000A 1949 - 1954
752 001E - 48000E 1951 - 1954
753 001F - 103400F 1951 - 1954
754 001H - 43900H 1952 - 1954
979 2900001 - 2931900 1934 - 1951
980 G101 - G669400 1934 - 1951
980B A001 - A8900 1937 - 1946
H980 HW001 - HW1075 1942 - 1949
980I W001 - W1050 1942 - 2948
982 J1001 - J670600 1935 - 1951
982M M001 - M201900 1941 - 1951
986 2100001 - 2191300 1922 - 1926
987 001 - 0486300 1937 - 1948
987E 4025301 - 4523000 1928 - 1937
987S SS001 - SS87400 1940 - 1948
IMPORTANT:

Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the case.

Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.

Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.

At Renaissance Watch Repair, we are experts in the repair and restoration of Hamilton watches, and they are one of our personal favorites to work on! We are also always looking for Hamilton watches to purchase. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your vintage Hamilton watch.

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