The Hamilton Watch Company came into existence in 1892. The name Hamilton was selected to honor Andrew Hamilton, original owner of the site of Lancaster. Hamilton was granted the land by William Penn’s heirs and is credited with founding the city of Lancaster with his son James.
Companies preceding the Hamilton Watch Co. on the factory site were: the Adams and Perry Company, founded in 1874; the Lancaster Watch Co., founded un 1877 as a result of an infusion of capital and the reorganization of Adams and Perry; and the Keystone Watch Co., the result of yet another reorganization.
The Hamilton Watch Co. was founded by merging Keystone with the Illinois-based Aurora Watch Co. The factory opened in the summer of 1892 after machinery from Aurora was moved to Lancaster. By 1893 the plant was enlarged with the addition of a new “East Wing”. Charles D. Rood and Henry J. Cain represented the Aurora interests and joined the company at this time.
Starting with the first Hamilton watch movement, designed by Henry J. Cain in 1892, the company had manufactured 143 distinct and separate grades of watch movements by 1967. The first Hamilton watch was a large railroad model manufactured to meet the specifications of the Time Inspection Rules established by the railroad. By the turn of the century Hamilton’s product was widely known as the “The Railroad Timekeeper of America.”
Prior to 1909 Hamilton sold uncased watch movements exclusively. After 1909 the company converted to a completely cased line and expanded to include dress watches for men and women. The million dollar mark in sales was reached in 1911; the pre-Depression peak occurred in 1929 with sales of $5,769,000. The 1932 Depression sales figure of $1,558,000 contrasts sharply with the mid-60s sales of $55,000,000.
During WWI American soldiers found the small wristwatch a much greater convenience than pocket timepieces. This trend caused a shift in American watch production, with a new emphasis on marketing wristwatch models for both men and women.
Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Co. in 1928. Goodwill and trademarks of the E. Howard Watch Co. were acquired by Hamilton in 1931. Hamilton produced small quantities of watches under this brand name.
The chronometer is a portable timepiece of extreme accuracy used for navigation at sea. Before WWII such instruments were only made abroad. With the onset of WWII, the Navy needed chronometers in great quantities, and the Hamilton chronometer was delivered to the Navy in February 1942. During the next year, Hamilton production increased to 500 chronometers per month—an amazing achievement and a triumph of American enterprise.
In January 1957, Hamilton introduced the world’s first electric wristwatch an industry breakthrough. Powered by a tiny 1-1/2 volt battery guaranteed to run the watch for more than a year, the new watch completely eliminated the need for a mainspring.
The Hamilton Watch Co. has the distinction of being the one American watch company to survive world competition well into the 20th century. The efforts an talents of Hamilton management and employees combined to create products of very high quality that are appreciated today by collectors all over the world.