Pocket watches Historical
I got interested in clocks in 1967, and I started collecting watches fairly seriously in the early ‘80s. I ran out of room for clocks. Pocket watches are a little bit more manageable, and in some ways more interesting, too. I collect precision clocks, clocks that are very accurate timekeepers, and marine chronometers; things like that.
When the American watch industry first began, the first successful company was called the American Watch Co., and it was founded out of the Boston Watch Company, which had failed in 1859. So in 1859, the American Watch Co. was formed, and it’s generally considered to be the first successful company. It had many name changes over the years and a couple of small reorganizations and eventually became the Waltham Watch Company in the early 1900s. The very best, most expensive Waltham watches for all of that roughly 50-year period, from 1859 until maybe 1915 or so, were always labeled American Watch Co.
Collectors Weekly: Why did they change the name to Waltham?
McIntyre: There were lots of reasons. The town of Waltham had become well known, and the name appeared on all of their watches as the location anyway. They got into a trademark dispute with another company that started building watches in Waltham, so they wanted to protect that name, and I think that is the main reason. Also, American Watch Co. couldn’t really be protected as a brand name because America was the country. You can’t own the name America if the United States owns the name America.
The company that everybody calls Elgin was originally the National Watch Company. That was the second company that started up. It’s almost like the American League and the National League in baseball. They were always the two biggest.
At that time there was nobody manufacturing pocket watches like we manufacture automobiles and appliances and various other things today. That whole manufacturing process was invented by Waltham for precision goods. It was just beginning to be developed. Everything was made by hand before that. An individual would sit down and work on pieces of metal until they had built all the pieces for a watch. Then they would assemble it and have the watch run. But having an assembly line with lots of people working on it and putting things together in large volumes had never been done before.
The first experiments were at the Springfield Armory for the Civil War. The Springfield Armory built lots of rifles. Those techniques were adopted and adapted by the people at Waltham to build pocket watches.
Collectors Weekly: Before that, were people making pocket watches in America at all?
McIntyre: There were some brothers in Connecticut called the Pitkins who made some watches before that, and there was a family near Worcester, Mass. called the Goddards. Luther Goddard and Benjamin Goddard and Parley Goddard made watches, but they were handmade watches. The Pitkin watches used some machinery and were a first stab at doing it, but they didn’t do it all that well, so it didn’t really take off, and one of them went insane trying and killed himself.
Collectors Weekly: Once Waltham introduced precision manufacturing, how did the quality of the watches change?
McIntyre: The point of manufacturing them was that if you made the same part over and over again, you could make it better than if you had to make each one from scratch each time. They had special machinery that would make gears and special machinery that would make shafts and plates and little springs and all the various pieces of the watch, the screws and so forth, but it took a long time to develop all those machines.