Starting up a precision business like watchmaking was not easy. Investors had to be secured, factories and machines built, workers recruited, designs perfected, and a profit turned. Several factories lasted less than a year, some failed before the the new century, and only a few survived the Great Depression and both World Wars.
Here are histories of nearly every American watch company, including production totals, places and towns, dates, facts and trivia, and the talented and driven men who made it all happen.
The Aurora Watch Co was formed in Aurora, Illinois in 1883 with the unusual strategy of offering small-town jewelers a stake as investors. Production began in 1884, turning out a little over 100,000 watches during their 7-year run, including ladies' sizes. The factory cleverly designed a single 18-size plate layout and simply added a 5th pinion for the seconds hand when used for open-face. Their highest grade was the two-tone snowflake pattern, marked 15 Ruby Jewels but containing seventeen in the open-face variant. Aurora went into receivership in 1889 and 200 workers were out of a job, so the company re-organized with different investors, failed again a year later, and the equipment was finally sold to the upstart Hamilton Watch Co in 1890.
Webster Clayton Ball, a successful jeweler and store owner in his own right, was given authority as Chief Time Inspector in 1891, overseeing thousands of miles of track after the deadly crash in Kipton, Ohio between locomotives from the Lake Shore and the Michigan Southern Railways. Existing American watch companies quickly adopted Ball's strict new guidelines, turning out watches under the Ball name and creating a list of approved models. Railroad workers were required to submit their watches for monthly inspection and carry cards showing service records, and the expression "on the ball" is attributed to those accuracy standards. The Ball Watch Co purchased movements from other companies, re-selling them under that name, along with the Brotherhood line. Ball himself became vice-president of the Hamilton Watch Co, dying in 1922.
27-year-old German-born Dietrich Gruen started the company in Columbus, Ohio in 1874, finishing Swiss-made movements for several years and receiving a patent for the invention of the safety pinion. Investors contributed fresh capital and a new factory was built in 1882, allowing the company to start making their own complete watches, including the first 16-size watch in America. Gruen left in 1894 to form the Gruen Watch Co with his son, and Columbus re-organized under new management as the New Columbus Co, introducing the 25-jewel Railway King as their highest grade. After making a little under a half-million watches in twenty years, the Studebaker brothers bought the factory and all the tooling in 1903 to form the South Bend Watch Co.
The National Watch Co was founded as the Civil War raged by several Chicago businessmen. Production began as soon as the new factory was completed, eventually turning out roughly 54 million watches, equaling the total output of all other American brands combined.
1864 - 1874
Former Chicago mayor Benjamin Raymond and watchmaker John C Adams helped choose the small Illinois town of Elgin as the site for a new watch company, luring several key workers away from Waltham. The first watch was finished in 1865, a 15-jewel keywind BW Raymond, named after their first president and retailing for $115. Investors raised an additional $500,000 and construction began on a huge brick factory. Success followed, with new departments, buildings and watch models being added until 1869, when the capital was increased to $2,000,000.
1874 - 1966
The stockholders voted to rename the business Elgin Watch Co in 1874. Many smaller grades were added and in 1876 the demand was so great that the London office was closed and the workers transferred. By 1880 some of the men who built the company began to pass away, and new officers were elected. The firm employed over 2,000 workers producing 7,500 watches a week in a factory covering 169,000 square feet with its own gas system, fire brigade, carpenter shop, and generating station. The company began selling wristwatches after the turn of the century and built the National Observatory in 1910 to measure celestial time.
1966 - 1970
By the mid-1960s sales had dropped off, with the last of some fifty million watches being assembled from leftover stock, and in 1966 the huge original factory was demolished. By 1970 all remaining material and parts had been sold off, and all distributorships terminated.
The Hamilton Watch Co was incorporated in 1892 from the remnants of the Aurora, Lancaster, Keystone, and Adams & Perry companies. The venture was briefly named the Columbian Watch Co before buying the equipment from the failed Aurora Co and reorganizing as Hamilton.
1874 - 1876
After helping to found the Elgin, Cornell, and Illinois companies, John C Adams partnered with E H Perry to form the Adams & Perry Co and a new factory was constructed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Plagued with cash flow problems from the start, Adams split with the patent-holding Perry over a dispute the following year, and after producing only a few hundred watches the business failed in 1876. Adams would go on to work for the Independent, Fredonia, and Peoria firms.
1877 - 1884
A syndicate with new investors re-organized the failed Adams & Perry Co in 1877 as the Lancaster Watch Co, using the same building. After re-structuring twice more, the bulk of the company stock was sold to shareholder Abram Bitner, who had donated the land for the factory. Only a few thousand watches had been produced and once again new investors supplied capital to form the Keystone Standard Watch Co.
1886 - 1892
Over the next several years the Keystone Watch Co turned out some 200,000 watches with jewel counts as high as twenty on their famous "dustproof" model, which had a mica window over the balance wheel. Mr Bitner, who donated the original tract of land for the Adams & Perry factory, stockholder and treasurer of the Lancaster Watch Co, was now superintendent of Keystone, but in 1892 the firm went bankrupt, and the business was sold to the new Columbian / Hamilton Watch Co.
1892 - 1969
Hamilton was incorporated in 1892 from the remnants of the Aurora, Lancaster, Keystone, and Adams & Perry companies, named for the Scottish attorney who founded the Pennsylvania town of Lancaster, where the factory was located. Widely recognized as the benchmark for accuracy standards, Hamilton claimed over 50% of the market during the railroad era, producing some 4 million pocket watches, as well as chronometers for the US Navy. After purchasing the Illinois Watch Co in 1928 the company concentrated on the growing wristwatch trend, making their first battery-powered model in 1957. Hamilton paired with the Japanese firm of Ricoh in 1962 and then the Swiss Buren in 1966 before closing its US factory in 1969 and moving to Switzerland.
Combining the origins of both the Mozart Watch and New York Watch companies, Hampden was officially named in 1877 in Springfield, Massachusetts. A decade later case-maker John C Dueber bought a majority interest in the company and moved it all to Canton, Ohio.
1864 - 1867
The Mozart Watch Co was founded in 1864 with $100,000 and a factory was built in Providence, Rhode Island. Production began on a 3-wheel movement designed by Don Mozart before the stockholders balked in 1866, convinced that the venture was a poor one. The firm changed the name to the New York Watch Co, bought two buildings on property in Springfield, Massachusetts and relocated the machinery the next year.
1867 - 1877
After relocating the business to Springfield, the operating capital was raised to $300,000 and James Gerry was hired away from the US Watch Co as superintendent. The factory burned in 1870, stalling work until it was rebuilt several months later. The company did well with their first full-plate design until the Panic of 1873, forcing them to cut workers until closing completely in 1875. Reorganizing as the New York Watch Manufacturing Co didn't help, and in 1877 the firm restructured again under new investors with fresh capital as the Hampden Watch Co.
1877 - 1930
Hampden was officially named in 1877 in Springfield, Massachusetts and a new brick factory with a separate engine room was built a few years later. In 1886 case-maker John Dueber bought a majority interest in the company and relocated the entire operation to Canton, Ohio. Turning out watch cases and movements from adjoining buildings brought on one of the first anti-trust lawsuits in history, but Hampden was most famous for introducing the first 23-jewel watch in America until Dueber himself died in 1907. The watch works merged with the case factory in 1923 as the Dueber-Hampden Watch Co. The company produced roughly 3 million watches in all sizes before going bankrupt during the Depression and selling out to a Russian interest in 1930.
Edward Howard started as a clockmaker's apprentice and founded what would eventually become American Waltham in 1850, along with partners David Davis and Aaron Dennison. Using tooling and leftover material from the failed Boston Watch Co, he started designing his own split-plate layouts in 1858 with financial backing from Charles Rice. He created his own Howard Watch and Clock Co in 1863 after splitting with Rice, and is given credit for introducing the "quick" gear train of 18,000 BPH and inventing the stem-wound mechanism on watches a decade later.
Howard himself retired in 1881, but the company continued as E Howard & Co before selling out in 1902 to the Keystone Case Co, which continued production with entirely different designs out of the defunct US Waltham factory as Keystone-Howard until 1930.
The Illinois Watch Co started as the Springfield Co, surviving two name changes, one financial panic, and the death of two of its presidents to make 5 million watches in more named grades than any other brand.
1870 - 1885
The first incarnation was the Springfield Watch Co, organized in 1870 by a group of local businessmen led by John C Adams with a startup capital of $100,000. Watches began selling within a year, but the Panic of 1873 left the company with surplus material and little demand. The business was reorganized twice in the next five years, raising the stock up to $250,000 and installing Jacob Bunn Sr as president in 1879. New offices were opened in Chicago and New York, and things began to roll.
1885 - 1927
The venture grew steadily as the Illinois Watch Co under Jacob Bunn Sr until his death in 1891, when control passed to his eldest son Jacob Jr. 4-size ladies' watches were launched in 1896, the smallest available at the time. The Sangamo Electric Co was formed in 1899 as a subsidiary of Illinois to make electric utility meters using Lud Gutmann's design. In 1903 the company made the decision to produce only higher-grade watches, including the popular Bunn Special and Sangamo lines, and the factory made limited amounts of 26-jewel variants, the highest production count of any American company. At its peak the factory employed 1200 workers and produced roughly 5 million watches in more named grades than any other brand. The death of Jacob Bunn Jr in 1926 led to the sale of the factory to the Hamilton Watch Co the following year, which kept making Illinois-brand watches until 1932.
Rockford, Illinois was a natural choice to headquarter a watch company, since three rail lines converged on the small town. Local investors put up $150,000 and production began in 1875, as workers in the new factory on the Rock River turned out watches using tooling from the failed Cornell Watch Co. The factory made a remarkable array of grades and models, including wind-indicators, eventually producing around 800,000 watches marketed almost exclusively to railroad personnel. After re-structuring under new owners in 1896, the factory endured the death of its superintendent, lightning, fire, and employee layoffs until the company closed its doors in 1915.
The Seth Thomas Clock Co, established in Connecticut in 1813, ventured into pocket watch production at the urging of founder Seth Thomas's grandson in 1885, constructing a giant 4-story factory for the new line. For the next 30 years the company produced roughly 2 million watches in all the popular sizes of the day, including 0-size movements that could be used for wristwatches. Their highest railroad grade was the 25-jewel Maiden Lane, and at their peak in the 1890s the factory made more two-tone pattern variants than any other American brand. Eventually, the cheap "dollar-watch" trend proved too much and the firm went back to making clocks in 1915.
When the Columbus Watch Co failed in 1903, the Studebaker brothers bought it and transferred all the tooling and most of the workers to a new factory in South Bend, Indiana. Famous for freezing their watches to demonstrate their accuracy, the factory produced roughly a million of them in sizes 6 through 18, including the popular 16-size Studebaker, which could be had via mail-order. The interruption of military contracts in WWI, selling watches on credit with little money down, backing them with a lifetime guarantee, and the failure to recognize the rising popularity of wristwatches all contributed to the company's decline, and the end came in 1929 with the Great Depression, though the factory continued to service watches well into the 1950s.
Our namesake brand, the United States Watch Co, was organized by F A Giles and William Wales, jewelers in New York City. Although staked by a large startup investment of $500,000, the venture did not last long.
1864 - 1872
Production began when the huge iron and glass factory was finished, making 18-size movements with a distinctive butterfly-shaped cutout on the upper plate and named for employees or investors. They were the first American company to mill damaskeen patterns on their plates to catch the eye, with a total output of roughly 60,000 watches. Their highest grade was the 19-jewel US Watch, which was marketed for the astounding price of $425. Not surprisingly, the firm was beset by fiscal troubles and was assigned to Wm Muirhead, a creditor in Jersey City.
1872 - 1874
Despite the large increase in capital stock to the unheard-of price of $1,000,000 in 1868, the company ran short of funds a few years later. The venture re-organized as the Marion Watch Co to mirror the Marion Building Co, the parallel real-estate firm that owned the property, but sales didn't pick up and the mortgage was sold in 1874. The machines and tooling were sold to Auburndale, Independent, and others.
The Waltham Tool Co was created in 1879 as a subsidiary of American Waltham, and re-organized as the US Watch Co of Waltham in 1885 under the direction of patent-holder Charles Van Der Woerd, the man famous for inventing the automated screw-making machine. A new factory was constructed, and the first marketed design was the Dome watch, a 16-size model that was too wide to fit into a standard case, which didn't sell. The total production was roughly 800,000 in the four most popular sizes, including the 21-jewel President, which claimed an impossible accuracy of within 6 seconds a month. In 1899 legal suit was brought against the firm by the American Waltham Co for design similarity and for the use of the Waltham name on the rival movements. Bankruptcy eventually followed, and the factory was sold to the Philadelphia Case Co in 1901.
The Waltham Watch Co traced its roots back to 1850 with three Massachusetts businessmen who would apply Honoré Blanc's method of gunsmithing in the late 1700s to the American cottage industry of watchmaking - the concept of interchangeable parts.
Convinced that mass-production would result in better and cheaper watches, Aaron Dennison first visited the Springfield Armory and then traveled to Europe to observe British watchmaking methods. After he returned home, friend and clock maker Edward Howard and partner David Davis allowed Dennison to outfit a part of their Roxbury shop to begin experimenting, eventually perfecting the machines that would one day become the foundation for the American Watch System.
1850 - 1851
With Boston investor Samuel Curtis backing the venture with $20,000 in blind faith, a small factory was built across the street from Howard's shop and the name American Horologe was chosen, though Dennison would deny that in later years. In the summer of 1850 the first watch was completed, a larger 8-day piece, which was deemed impractical, and after making fewer than twenty for those involved with the firm, the design was scrapped in favor of an 18-size 30-hour movement.
1851 - 1853
Still in the same building, the company name was changed to Warren Manufacturing after local Revolutionary War hero Maj General Joseph Warren, and partly to conceal the factory's purpose. It wasn't until 1853 that the first watches were put on the market, the first ones to ever be machine-produced in quantity by a factory, with the first eighty or so with "Warren" engraved on the plates, and then with Samuel Curtis's name (Howard's father-in-law) on the next nine hundred movements.
1853 - 1857
Growing cramped in the small factory, Dennison found a new location on Crescent Street in Waltham, Massachusetts, ten miles from Boston. Investors formed the Waltham Improvement Co to fund the new locale, which was completed in 1854. The first watches produced by the new Boston Watch Co were named for Dennison, Howard & Davis, but sales were slow, the machines kept breaking down, and the country was in a recession, so the business was put up for auction in the spring of 1857.
The winning bid of $55,800 was tendered by New York businessman Royal E Robbins on behalf of Philadelphia creditors Elias Tracy and Theo Baker, who had supplied the Boston Co with gold watch cases. Charles Rice, who would eventually back Edward Howard in his solo venture, was the underbidder. Aaron Dennison remained as the new superintendent, but Howard left with Rice to form his own company in the old Roxbury shop that had housed the Warren Co.
1857 - 1859
Tracy and Baker, with a factory of their own to run, quickly sold their interest to James Appleton to form the Appleton, Tracy & Co, with R E Robbins staying on as treasurer. Ambrose Webster was the first mechanic hired, inventing the automated machines that would transform the factory, and would eventually leave to establish the American Watch Tool Co. The Model 57 was launched, their first major model and the platform for many grades, starting at SN 5001. In 1859 the business was joined with the real-estate holding firm Waltham Improvement Co to found the American Watch Co.
1859 - 1862
Several of the company's best left with the goal of producing the most precise watches in America, including Charles Van Der Woerd, James Gerry, Josiah Moorehouse, and master mechanic Charles S Moseley, inventor of the split chuck, interchangeable stems, and the spindle lathe, and who would go on to help set up the Elgin Co. Funds ran short and the company was bought back by Robbins, and the thousand unfinished watches made by the failed venture were completed with the Waltham name.
1859 - 1885
With control firmly in the hands of Dennison and Robbins the capital was raised to $300,000 with a dividend of 5% paid to the stockholders. At the outbreak of the Civil War production ground to a halt, forcing the company to operate with a skeleton crew, but demand picked up with armies on the move and by 1865 the stock had increased to $750,000. The next decade saw rapid growth with the expansion of the nation's railroads, and the factory was greatly improved and enlarged, which would become the largest building in the world for the next fifty years.
1885 - 1923
The business was renamed American Waltham and abandoned case manufacture to produce movements alone. Construction began on an observatory to record celestial time, connected with a transit to a pair of master clocks on embedded piers in an environmentally-controlled basement room. Royal Robbins died in 1902 and trouble began for the firm with shutdowns, workers on strike, shipments of watches stolen, and many hours spent defending their patents and practices in court.
1923 - 1957
The name was briefly changed to the Waltham Watch & Clock Co and then back to Waltham Watch in 1925, becoming a classic example of a good company ruined by bad management. In 1941 the company was investigated by the Department of Commerce, and by the end of World War II was $4,000,000 in debt, unable to pay the workers. Bankruptcy was delayed by a federal bailout, but in 1950 the factory closed, only to re-open from demand caused by the Korean conflict. Several attempts were made to restart the factory, but the end came in 1958, though the Waltham name would be trademarked and future spin-offs created.
1901 - 1903
Ten years after the Cheshire Co failed, Orpheus E Bell established the Remington Watch Co and transferred Cheshire's machinery to the new factory in Appleton, Wisconsin. Despite the Remington name, watches were produced with Appleton on the movements, which was leftover Cheshire stock. After making some 3,000 watches the business failed, and O E Bell moved the equipment to Lima, Ohio to start over.
1876 - 1883
Jason R Hopkins invented an 18-size movement that rotated once an hour and with financial backing from W B Fowle began producing them in a new factory in Auburndale, Massachusetts in 1877. After most of these were returned as defective the company re-tooled and launched two 18-size keywind models instead, the Bentley and the Lincoln, both of which failed. The company then turned to the production of horse timers and dial thermometers until the firm went bankrupt in 1883.
1905 - 1913
Archibald Bannatyne was master mechanic at the Waterbury Clock Co, which was incorporated in 1857 by Benedict & Burnham, the nation's largest brass supplier. Bannatyne is believed to be the inventor of the "Jumbo" dollar watch, made by Waterbury for the Ingersoll Watch Co. Bannatyne organized his own company with $100,000 from investors and began producing his own smaller version of the Jumbo for $1.50 before going bankrupt and bought by clockmaker E Ingraham & Co.
1879 - 1882
Ezra F Bowman, a jeweler in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, bought several watchmaking machines from Geo Hart in New Jersey in 1879. With help from W H Todd, former superintendent of the Lancaster Co, Bowman succeeded in producing a small amount of high-grade 16-size watches. By 1882 he had lost interest, so the equipment was sold to J P Stevens.
1876 - 1877
After the death of Cornell Watch Co president William C Ralston the California Co was formed with $250,000 and a new factory was built in Berkeley. Cornell's machinery was transferred but management was unsure if new machines were worth the cost. They evidently decided to do nothing and the business closed, selling the old equipment to the Independent Watch Co of New York. The remaining unfinished watches went to Albert Troller, the superintendent of the Rockford Watch Co.
1883 - 1891
The Cheshire Watch Co of Connecticut was organized with $100,000 by George Capewell, with D Azro Buck as superintendent, who invented the Waterbury long-wind design five years earlier. The first watches were offered in 1885 in special factory cases before going to standard sizes. Some 90,000 were produced before the company failed in 1890.
There are two stories about Columbia. One is that the Waltham Watch Co claimed it never existed, and in 1898 brought suit against E A Locke, alleging that Locke bought cheap Columbia-grade watches from the Waterbury Watch Co, inscribed "of Waltham" on them and then sold them at a higher price. The other is that Locke left his job at Waterbury to make 0-size watches in his own shop in 1896 and turned the work over to his son-in-law after the lawsuit, who renamed it the Suffolk Co.
1870 - 1875
Chicago real-estate mogul Paul Cornell paired with John C Adams to form his own watch company, which was seeded by the failure of the Newark Watch Co. His new factory escaped the Great Fire of 1871, but watch sales were poor and in 1874 the entire operation was relocated to a rented building in Grand Crossing, California to make use of cheap Chinese labor. This new venture also failed for a variety of reasons and in the fall of 1875 company president W C Ralston committed suicide.
1920 - 1925
Canadian William Dudley worked for Waltham, Illinois, South Bend, and finally Hamilton in his long career, where he was superintendent. He developed an early interest in Freemasonry and was a member of several Orders, so at 69 he retired from Hamilton to open his own shop to make watches that incorporated Masonic symbols: a level, square, trowel, compass, and a Bible. Sales slowed after only a few thousand watches were made and a bankruptcy was filed. Dudley had invested everything and so went back to Hamilton, working until the age of 80.
1851 - 1878
German-born Charles Fasoldt emigrated to America around 1851 and opened a small shop in Rome, New York. He was a mechanical genius who experimented with many designs, but was most famous for his coaxial escape and the "duo-in-uno" hairspring. It was said that no two of his hand-made watches were alike, and after making roughly 50 pieces he moved to Albany in 1861, where he produced some 300 more while dabbling in chronometers, microscopes, and tower clocks.
1875 - 1878
H J Lowe, former superintendent for the US Watch Co, paired with S R Sawyer of the Sawyer Watch Tool Co to form the Fitchburg Watch Co.
Sawyer's idea was to design the watch, build the machines, and then attract investors. It didn't work, and after Lowe withdrew because of poor health the equipment was absorbed into Sawyer's tool business.
1884 - 1885
The Fredonia Watch Co operated for a year in New York after the name change from the Independent Watch Co, marketing a grade named for and endorsed by Mark Twain. Sales continued to slip and J C Adams was recruited to help sell the remaining movements and broker a deal to offer the business and equipment to the Peoria Watch Co in Illinois.
1874 - 1875
The Freeport Watch Co began in Freeport, Illinois, building a factory and purchasing the machinery from the failed Mozart Co when the Rock Island Co failed to pay for it. After producing only a few watches the factory burned several months later in 1875 and the insurance was not enough to cover the loss, so the firm dissolved. Several company officers and stock-holders were tried for arson but were acquitted.
1809 - 1872
The Goddard Co spanned some 60 years through four generations, starting in 1817 when clockmaker Luther Goddard began hand-making verge watches with his son Daniel in Worcester, Massachusetts, until Luther's retirement in 1825. The business continued through the Civil War under Daniel's grandson, producing roughly 500 watches total.
1879 - 1884
The Howard brothers of Fredonia, New York founded the Independent Watch Co for $150,00 with equipment from the California Watch Co and leftover material from the US Watch Co of Marion. The brothers were not the most honest of businessmen and found sales to be difficult. The factory re-tooled with new equipment in 1883 at the urging of J C Adams and renamed the business the Fredonia Watch Co a year later.
1882 - 1921
Robert H Ingersoll and younger brother Charles began as a New York mail-order business, selling watches made by the Waterbury Clock Co. The Ingersoll Yankee was invented in 1896, a cheap watch with a paper dial and stamped parts, selling 40 million of them at a dollar apiece. After buying the Trenton Co in 1908 and the New England Co in 1914 the company went bankrupt in 1921. It was bought by Waterbury, who introduced the famous Mickey Mouse wristwatch in the 1930s.
Little is known about the Kelly Watch Co except that Joseph Bachner of Chicago convinced citizens of Sterling, Illinois to back his watch firm, which soon failed and sent him back to Chicago, where he found new investors and was named manager of the company. Very few examples are known to exist, and Bachner filed suit in 1896, citing conspiracy in Superior Court before moving on to form the Manistee Co in Michigan.
1883 - 1891
The Manhattan Co produced factory-cased watches with a sweep center hand in both open-face and hunter. Organized in 1883 with $100,000, a factory building was rented in New York City to produce roughly 150,000 watches before sales fell and the company failed.
1908 - 1912
The common council of Manistee, Michigan agreed to allow Joseph Bachner and W R Rath to build a watch factory, with the town holding the mortgage, provided the factory employ 250 people for five years. The company produced roughly 60,000 low and mid-grade watches in men's sizes and distributed by the Star Case Co before going bankrupt and being sued by Star for the non-payment of a note for $5,994.
1866 - 1868
The stockholders of the Tremont Watch Co changed the name to match the Massachusettes town of Melrose, bought an existing building and transferred the tools and machinery. All unfinished movements were completed using the new Melrose name. Aaron Dennison's prophecy of failure came true when funds ran out and the company folded in 1868, and the equipment was sold to the English Watch Co of Great Britain.
1866 - 1870
Donald Mozart moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan after being ousted from the New York Springfield/Hampden venture and together with William Benedict rented a small factory and tried again. After three years fewer than fifty watches had been produced and the shareholders pulled out. A stock company from Rock Island, Illinois bought and transferred the equipment and machinery but failed to pay for it, which eventually ended up in the ill-fated and short-lived Freeport Watch Co factory.
1863 - 1870
After leaving the Boston Watch Co, Napoleon Sherwood partnered with New York investor Louis Fellows and began making watch machinery. Sherwood left when his wife died and was replaced by Art Wadsworth, who designed the movements in a rented shop in Newark, New Jersey. After six years they had produced only 3,000 watches, so the business was sold to Paul Cornell, a real-estate agent in Chicago for $125,000.
1898 - 1914
The Waterbury Co continued to produce D A Buck's long-wind design, a low-cost watch with few parts and a very long mainspring that became an industry joke. They renamed their firm the New England Watch Co to distance themselves but failed to produce the dollar watch that the Ingersoll Co would make famous, the same company that bought the New England Co when bankruptcy ensued just prior to World War I.
1883 - 1886
Patent-holder W E Doolittle organized the New Haven Watch Co of Connecticut with $100,000 in 1883, renting a two-story brick factory early the following year. Work commenced on building the machines, but the initial movement design was soon dropped in favor of a more traditional one. Funding ran low and Director J H Brewer traveled to nearby Trenton, New Jersey in hopes of attracting investors. Capital was raised, new officers elected, and the business was moved in 1886.
1885 - 1929
The New York Standard Watch Co, organized in 1885 in Jersey City, New Jersey, turned out millions of low-grade watches under many different names. Several models were equipped with an interesting straight-line worm-gear escapement, backed by the advertising slogan of a "Watch With A Worm In It". While their highest grade was arguably the 15-jewel flyback chronograph, the vast majority of their output were low-grade 7-jewel movements. The business was bought by the Keystone Case Co in 1903, which failed with the Great Depression.
1887 - 1910
The Non-Magnetic Watch Co had offices in Geneva and New York, fitting Swiss movements with Charles-Auguste Paillard's patented alloy hairspring, which worked so well that it was endorsed by Thomas Alva Edison himself. In early 1888 the Non-Magnetic Watch Co of America was formed with $500,000 and bought the American half of the Geneva operation, selling watches made by the Peoria Watch Co. The venture went bankrupt in 1890 and was reorganized several times under Alfred Smith as the Paillard Co, Non-Magnetic Co and AC Smith Co until 1910.
1893 - 1895
After the San Jose Co folded the equipment sat under guard for a year before being sold and shipped to Osaka, Japan, where a factory was built and production resumed. At least one example was made using our English alphabet instead of Japanese Kanji, which is an interesting mystery. Run totals are not known, or what happened to the company.
1889 - 1891
Investors from San Diego built a factory in Otay, California but soon ran out of funds. Local resident Frank Kimball paid for the machinery and production commenced with the first watches named for Kimball, who was made general manager. Sales were so low that some of the tools were sold to pay the workers, and the business failed with some 1,200 watches produced. The remaining equipment was claimed by Kimball.
1885 - 1895
When the Fredonia Co ceased operations John C Adams visited Peoria, Illinois to attract investors, convincing several to return to Fredonia to inspect the equipment. After a price of $150,000 was negotiated a new factory was erected by 1886, and Adams secured so many orders that product quality suffered. Peoria was briefly saved by making 40,000 watches for the Non-Magnetic Watch Co, but failed anyway in 1895.
1868 - 1886
Eugene Paulus organized the company based on "intelligent thinking and American machinery", but imported Swiss-made parts anyway and had them finished in their small Philadelphia shop at 714 Chestnut St. In 1870 the Jacott brothers, serving as the company's secretary and treasurer, embezzled several thousand dollars and fled the country. Paulus was awarded at least two patents before starting his company, which made roughly 12,000 high-grade pieces before going bankrupt.
1838 - 1841
Brothers James and Henry Pitkin began manufacturing the first-ever machine-made American watches in Hartford, Connecticut in 1838, producing some 800 slow-train 16-size movements before their factory burned in 1841. They relocated to NY City but were unable to compete with cheaper Swiss imports, and the company failed soon after.
1871 - 1872
The Rock Island Watch Co of Illinois was a shell company comprised of stockholders who purchased the Mozart Watch Co and built a factory in the nearby town of Milan. After the equipment was moved those same investors decided to renege on what was owed the Mozart Co and the venture failed without having produced any watches.
After the failure of the Otay Co several of the same investors tried again in another building erected in nearby Alviso, California. The equipment was purchased back from Frank Kimball and work started in the spring of 1891. Fewer than a dozen watches had been produced before legal suit was brought by one of the original Otay investors. Unable to pay, the company closed in December, leaving Kimball with very little.
Very little is known about the Sterling Co of Illinois except that it was started by Joseph Bachner, who was sole owner of an existing watch business in Chicago when he talked the citizens of Sterling into putting up $26,000 in capital stock, a third of which he kept. It is not known if any watches were produced, but Bachner would return to Chicago to found the Kelly Watch Co, and after failing at that, go to Michigan and form the Manistee Watch Co using public funds, and fail again.
1882 - 1885
Josiah P Stevens, a jeweler in Atlanta, Georgia, had for years bought movements from the Hampden Co and finished them in his shop after adding his own patent regulator. In 1882 he bought machinery offered to him by Ezra Bowman and found investors willing to build a factory, retaining W Todd as superintendent from Bowman. In 1885 the largest shareholder, J C Freeman, died, leaving his heirs to fight over the will. Stevens sold his interest to the new Freeman Co, which failed in 1887.
1898 - 1901
Whatever origins the Suffolk Co may have had with the Columbia Co, the factory continued to make low-jewel-count 0-size watches under Renton Whidden, the son-in-law of Waterbury employee E A Locke. Roughly 25,000 pieces were made in the few years the factory was operational before being bought by the Keystone Case Co and the equipment moved to the defunct U S Watch factory building.
1864 - 1866
After leaving American Waltham, Aaron Dennison went to Boston to partner with A O Bigelow and raise funds for the new Tremont Watch Co in Massachusetts. He was named superintendent and traveled to Zurich to secure a parts source for the new venture. Dennison left the outfit in 1866 when the stockholders decided to move the business to Melrose and attempt to manufacture the entire watch here in America.
1887 - 1908
After finding new investors willing to put up $250,000, the failing New Haven Watch Co relocated to Trenton, New Jersey in 1887 and a new factory was built in nearby Chambersburg. Several big names from rival factories were recruited and workers produced roughly 2,000,000 watches in all sizes until the company was sold to R H Ingersoll in 1908.
1878 - 1898
The Waterbury Co formed around the idea for a low-cost watch and D Azro Buck's "long-wind" design, which required fewer than 60 parts. The factory was built in Waterbury, Connecticut and the tooling was provided by Charles Benedict of Benedict & Burnham Mfg, the nation's largest producer of brass and copper. By the mid-1880s the company employed 300 people and was producing 1,500 watches a day, and in 1898 the firm was renamed the New England Watch Co.
Albert Troller, who would become superintendent of the Rockford Watch Co and die at his desk in 1913, bought the unfinished watches from the California Co and founded the Western Watch Co of Chicago with Paul Cornell, whose interest was bought by the California group. A very small number of watches were produced, which were based on the original 18-size 15-jewel Cornell design, before the business failed.
1887 - 1888
The Wichita Watch Co was organized with a start-up capital of $250,000 in Wichita, Kansas. A new factory was constructed to turn out 18-size movements, but after only a few watches were produced the business failed the following year in 1888. Total production is not known, nor is it certain where the watchmaking machinery came from or ended up.