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Brief History: American Waltham Watch Company

Including Waltham Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Waltham, Massachusetts

1851 - 1957

The Waltham Watch Factory on the banks of the Charles River

The American Waltham watch factory on the banks of the Charles River

Click here to view additional historical photos of the Waltham factory.

The American Waltham Watch Company had its beginnings in 1850 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The company was founded by David Davis, Aaron Dennison, and Mr. Howard. Their vision was to form a watch company that could produce high-quality watches at a lower cost using interchangeable parts. With financial backing from Samuel Curtis, the first watches were made in 1850, but problems were encountered. They were exploring new ideas in watch manufacturing, such as using jewels, making dials, and producing plates with a high-level of finish which required extensive tooling and resulted in great financial burden on the company. They also found that even though they were using interchangeable parts, each watch was still unique and had its own set of errors to be corrected. It took months to adjust the watches to the point where they were any better than other widely available timepieces.

Customer Department at the Waltham Watch Company

Customer Department at the Waltham Watch Company

In 1851, the factory building was completed and the company began doing business under the name "American Horologe Company." The first watches produced went to officials of the company, and it was not until 1853 that the first watches were offered for sale to the public. The name was changed to "Boston Watch Company" in September 1853, and the factory in Waltham, Massachusetts was built in October 1854. The movements produced here (serial numbers 1001 - 5000) were signed "Dennison, Howard,& Davis," "C. T. Parker," and "P. S. Bartlett."

The company went through a series of financial reorganizations and renamings over the next decades. The Boston Watch Company failed in 1857 and was sold at auction to Royal E. Robbins. It was reorganized as "Tracy, Baker & Co." and later that same year the name was again changed to "Appleton, Tracy & Co" and watches 5001 - 14,000 were produced. The first movements carried the Appleton, Tracy & Co. marking. The C. T. Parker movement was reintroduced as the model 1857 and sold for $12, no small amount in those days!

Waltham During the Civil War Years

In January, 1859 the Waltham Improvement Co. and the Appleton, Tracy & Co. merged to form the "American Watch Company."

The dial department of the Waltham Watch factory.

The dial department of the Waltham Watch factory.

In 1860, as Abraham Lincoln was elected President and the country found itself in the throes of the Civil War, the American Watch Company was faced with serious financial problems. By 1861, business had come to a standstill and bankruptcy seemed inevitable. The factory was kept in operation through these years by cutting expenses to the lowest possible level... a strategy that proved successful.

According to the biography by Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln owned and carried a Waltham "Wm. Ellery" watch. The watch was an 11-jewel, 18 size, key-wind in a silver hunter case, and was produced in January of 1863.

In 1885, the company became the "American Waltham Watch Company". In 1865 prices for movements only (no case) were: William Ellery $13, P. S. Bartlett $16, Bartlett-Ladies $30, Appleton Tracy $38, A. T. & Co Ladies $40, and American Watch Grade $175!

In 1906 the company was renamed the "Waltham Watch Company". In 1923, they became the "Waltham Watch and Clock Company" reflecting the new importance of clock manufacturing, but then in 1925 the name was changed back to "Waltham Watch Company".

American Horology owes much to the brilliant visionaries of the Waltham Watch Company. Bacon, Church, Dennison, Fogg, Howard, Marsh, Webster, and Woerd all contributed greatly to American watchmaking.

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 continued to sell imported watches using the Waltham name.

Waltham Named Grades

In addition to using grade numbers, Waltham also used many grade names on their watches, often choosing the names of Board members, company investors, or other prominent individuals. The grade name basically designates the model and/or level of finish of the watch. Some of the more popular Waltham named grades were:

P. S. Bartlett, Appleton Tracy & Co., William Ellery, Crescent Street, Colonial, Riverside, Central Park, Broadway, Royal E. Robbins, Vanguard, Bond Street, Sterling, Premier, Royal, and Maximus.

Modern Waltham Watches

It is still possible to purchase modern quartz watches that bear the Waltham name, but these watches are unrelated to the "genuine" American Waltham Watch Company. In fact, a 1961 ruling by the Federal Trade Commission prohibited any inference that a relationship to the original Waltham Watch Company exists.

The bustling traffic outside the Waltham Watch factory at noon

The bustling traffic outside the Waltham Watch factory at noon

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American Waltham Watch Company

Waltham Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Year S/N
1852 50
1853 400
1854 1000
1855 2500
1856 4000
1857 6000
1858 10,000
1859 15,000
1860 20,000
1861 30,000
1862 45,000
1863 65,000
1864 110,000
1865 180,000
1866 260,000
1867 330,000
1868 410,000
1869 460,000
1870 500,000
1871 540,000
1872 590,000
1873 680,000
1874 730,000
1875 810,000
1876 910,000
1877 1,000,000
1878 1,150,000
1879 1,350,000
1880 1,500,000
1881 1,670,000
1882 1,835,000
1883 2,000,000
1884 2,350,000
1885 2,650,000
1886 3,000,000
1887 3,400,000
Year S/N
1888 3,800,000
1889 4,200,000
1890 4,700,000
1891 5,200,000
1892 5,800,000
1893 6,300,000
1894 6,700,000
1895 7,100,000
1896 7,450,000
1897 8,100,000
1898 8,400,000
1899 9,000,000
1900 9,500,000
1901 10,200,000
1902 11,100,000
1903 12,100,000
1904 13,500,000
1905 14,300,000
1906 14,700,000
1907 15,500,000
1908 16,400,000
1909 17,600,000
1910 17,900,000
1911 18,100,000
1912 18,200,000
1913 18,900,000
1914 19,500,000
1915 20,000,000
1916 20,500,000
1917 20,900,000
1918 21,800,000
1919 22,500,000
1920 23,400,000
1921 23,900,000
1922 24,100,000
1923 24,300,000
Year S/N
1924 24,550,000
1925 24,800,000
1926 25,200,000
1927 26,100,000
1928 26,400,000
1929 26,900,000
1930 27,100,000
1931 27,300,000
1932 27,550,000
1933 27,750,000
1934 28,100,000
1935 28,600,000
1936 29,100,000
1937 29,400,000
1938 29,750,000
1939 30,050,000
1940 30,250,000
1941 30,750,000
1942 31,050,000
1943 31,400,000
1944 31,700,000
1945 32,100,000
1946 32,350,000
1947 32,750,000
1948 33,100,000
1949 33,500,000
1950 33,560,000
1951 33,600,000
1952 33,700,000
1953 33,800,000
1954 34,100,000
1955 34,450,000
1956 34,700,000
1957 35,000,000
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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 antique watches made by the American Waltham Watch Company. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your vintage Waltham watch.

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