The Many Faces Of Waltham's Watch Company
The company has a long a rich history.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part column about the history of the Waltham Watch Company. Check Patch next Tuesday for the second part.
Last week we learned that five watches a day were coming out of Waltham around 1853. These were gold-gilded, jeweled watches.
A few decades later, railroad watches followed and no good railroad man was without one of the nickel or steel-plated Waltham time keepers.
We talked about the company’s various names, but here’s the entire list as it grew and changed through the years: Dennison, Howard & Davis; American Horologe Company; Warren Manufacturing Company; Boston Watch Company; Tracy, Baker & Company; Appleton, Tracy & Company; Waltham Improvement Company; American Watch Company; Waltham Watch and Clock Company; and finally what we know as the Waltham Watch Company.
Edmund L. Sanderson tells us in "Waltham Industries" the soon-to-be-built Crescent Street factory, actually, the Bemis Farm, with lots of investors who had loads of money, became a corporation on March 23, 1854.
“…Edward Howard, James Brown and William H. Keith were incorporated as the Waltham improvement Company for the purpose of establishing the manufacture of watches and the finer articles of brass, steel and iron and with the power to purchase property from Jonathan Bemis and George Lawton to sell or lease it,” Sanderson writes.
Shares were divided among various owners and interests. So Waltham Watch, or whatever it was first called, had its hands in a few enterprises. Too many, in fact, and it would cause early problems.
The first Crescent Street buildings were completed in the “latter part of 1854. The buildings, in the form of a hollow square, were protected on the north by the river and by open country on the other sides,” according to Sanderson.
Can you imagine — open country on the other side. It’s anything but open country now.
Yes, five watches a day were produced, but eventually there was a sales decline and not enough money to keep 70 employees paid.
In 1855 they borrowed money from the Improvement Company, a part of watch-making share-holding corporation. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay it back in time and “a chattel mortgage on the machinery was placed with Charles Rice, a friend of Howard.”
By 1856 and 57 conditions were “too difficult to overcome.” Howard returned to Roxbury and Royal Elisha Robbins, of Philadelphia’s Tracy & Baker, bought the remaining shares of the factory.
“Dennison remained the only link between the old and new” and that was only because Tracy and Baker promised to keep him as superintendent, according to the book.
It’s worth noting that R. E. Robbins remained a “vital factor in the Waltham watch industry for 45 years.
Daniel Fuller Appleton, who studied under a watchmaker, entered the scene a few years later when Robbins advertised for a clerk. He was hired and the two began a lifetime association.