Railroad Watches List of Major Manufacturers

What is most remarkable, about the railroad watches carried by the engineers and conductors on the steam locomotives at the turn of the 19th century is that many of those watches were so good that they are still running today. This is a tribute to the skill and craftsmanship that manufacturers of that era put into their pocket watches.

There were many famous names that produced quality watches that measured up to the high standards demanded by the guidelines of American railroad system. The following is a list of some of the major manufacturers in the railroad watch game. This list is by no means complete, but it does reflect the major watch brands most sought after by today's avid collectors.

Ball Watch CO. - Cleveland Ohio - 1879 -1969
The company that started railroad watches. See separate article - Get on the Ball

Columbus Watch Co. - Columbus Ohio 1874 - 1903
In 1874, Dietrich Gruen founded the Columbus Watch Co. Initially the new company was importing watch movements from Switzerland, but in 1882 decided to manufacture components locally. Hard times forced the company into receivership in 1894, but with new management, and new products it was able to survive. In 1898 operations were moved to Cincinnati, were some of the finest railroad watches ever produced were made. In 1903 all machinery and parts were sold to the South Bend watch company.

Elgin Watch Co. - Elgin, Ohio - 1864 -1964
Elgin was perhaps the largest producer of fine railroad watches. The company started as the National Watch Co, which was incorporated in 1864 by a group of experienced businessmen and watch makers. A new factory was designed and completed in late 1866, and by April of 1867 the companies first watches were being sold. In 1874 the name was changed to the Elgin National Watch Co. Elgin was very competitive in the railroad watches market.

Hamilton Watch Co. - Lancaster, Penn. - 1892 - Present
Hamilton's roots can be traced back to 1874 with the founding of the Adams and Perry Watch Manufacturing Co. In 1893 the first watches began being produced under the Hamilton name. Much of their production was made to conform to the new
standards for railroad watches, and thus Hamilton watches became very popular with railroad men. By 1923, over half of their production was railroad watches. Even though the Hamilton company is still in business today, they discontinued making railroad watches in 1969.

Hampden Watch Co. - Springfield, Mass. and Canton, Ohio - 1877 - 1930
In 1877 John C. Dueber decided to buy the Hampden Watch Co. of Springfield, Mass., formerly the New York Watch Co. John Dueber already had a thriving watch business operating under the name of Dueber Watch company, and this purchase added to his ability to supply his customers with excellent timepieces. In 1889 the entire operation was moved to Canton, Ohio, where it operated under both the Dueber and Hampden names until 1923. In 1891 Hampden introduced the very first 23 jewel watch movement in the U.S., and in 1894 they began selling railroad watches.

E.Howard & Co. - Roxbury, Mass. - 1858 -1903
In 1858, after the failure of the Boston Watch Co., employee and watch maker Edward Howard decided to produce his own watches along with financial backer Charles Rice. Howard's watches where extremely high grade and entirely different from other watches being made at that time. Mr. Howard continued to lead the industry with watchmaking innovations and patents until his retirement in 1882. The company entered the business of producing quality railroad watches in 1895 and flourished right up until it was sold to the Keystone Watch Case Co. of Jersey City, N.J.

Howard Watch Co. (a.k.a. Keystone) - Waltham, Mass. - 1902 -1930
Keystone Watch Case company was in the business of supplying cases for watchmaking manufacturers. In 1902 they acquired all rights to the Howard Watch name and set about to produce both movements and cases under that already well respected brand, from facilities in Waltham, Mass. Their success marketing railroad watches enabled them to purchase both the U.S. Watch Co. and the New York Standard Watch Co. During the great depression, purchases of high quality watches came to a stop and the company was forced to close down in 1930.

Illinois Watch Co. - Springfield, Illinois - 1869 - 1297
The Illinois Watch company was founded in 1869 by a group of business, but lead largely by the efforts of J.G. Adams. The company was a little slow getting off the ground, but by 1875 the quality of their watches began to be recognized by the market and sales became quite brisk. The company was sold to the Hamilton Watch Co. in 1927, but the Springfield plant continued to manufacturer Illinois railroad watches under the new management. The facility was forced to close in 1932 as a result of the depression, however Hamiliton continued to market watches bearing the Illinois name that were made in their Lancaster, Pa. facility, until 1939. Today, some of the most collectible railroad watches are Illinois.

Rockford - Rockford, Illinois - 1873 - 1915
In 1873 the Rockford Watch Company was founded in Rockford, Illinois, 93 miles from Chicago. Three of the major railroads of that era were operating in Rockford at the time, so it was only natural that much of the company's marketing was aimed at railroad watches. This accounts for why Rockford watches were highly popular with railroad men in that area. Compared to some of the other watch making giants, Rockford was rather small, but they produced and sold a good number of collectible railroad watches. The company folded in 1915.

Seth Thomas - Thomaston, Conn. - 1883 - 1915
Yes this is the same Seth Thomas that is famous for its wall and mantle clocks. In early 1883 they made a decision to get into the watch making business, and by 1885 their first watches were being produced at the Thomaston, Conn. facilities. While Seth Thomas didn't stay in the business of railroad watches very long, (they closed this operation in 1915), several of their models became popular as railroad watches. The Seth Thomas company went on to become Western Clock Mfg. Co., better known as Wesclock.

Waltham Watch Co. - Waltham, Mass. - 1851 - 1957
The roots of the Waltham Watch Company go back to 1851 when a group of watch makers got together in Roxbury, Mass. and formed the American Horologe Company. In 1854 a factory was built in Waltham, Mass. and the company's name was changes to the Boston Watch Co. The company went through a series of ownership and name changes over the next few years finally emerging as the American Waltham Watch Co. in 1885. Most widely known under this name, the company produced some of the finest examples of railroad watches ever created. The name was again changed to Waltham Watch Co. in 1907 and they continued to make excellent railroad watches and other fine timepieces in the U.S. until 1957 when operations ceased. When they went out of business, the company had a subsidiary in Switzerland - Waltham International SA. - which continues to produce quality wrist watches bearing the Waltham name.

According to Experts, prices on Railroad Watches are expected to rise even more. Perhaps you should Invest in some yourself. You'll be glad you did!

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