Waltham Watch Company: A Firm In Trouble

Check out the second column in a two-part series.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part column about the history of the .


The book gives little information about an 1857 company liquidation and a quick naming of the new firm, Robbins and Appleton. This may require some digging, but I suspect that it occurred because so much was owed to Tracy & Baker. Perhaps they declared bankruptcy for the company and restarted as a new company with Howard reportedly investing $50,000.

The investment didn’t help. Whatever the reason for the liquidation and name change, Tracy & Baker still wanted what was due. Worse, still they wanted the watch company and money to go with it.

The factory was put up for auction, something most of us don’t know. Robbins attended the auction and bought the factory back. All this occurred by 1857.

With little means of communication, one has to wonder how all this was accomplished between owners in Waltham, New York and Philadelphia.

The newspaper, the Waltham Sentinel, “made no mention of the difficulties of the Boston Watch Company, or of the auction. However, in the issue of May 27, 1857, a communication signed by ‘Brother Jonathan’ stated that the failure was due, not to any one cause, but to a combination of several,” according to “Waltham Industries,” by Edmund L. Sanderson.

The article pretty much stated that the company had too many diversified interests and “large investments in other directions.”

By June of 1857, the business would have “Dennison as the mechanical partner; Mr. Stratton as foreman; George Hastings, proprietor and manager of the material department, with other heads of various departments…” and they would remain in Waltham.

Baker and Howard remained too.

Something took hold because by Aug. 7 1857, the Boston Watch Company, Appleton, Tracy & Company began to flourish. More than 100 people worked there.

But Baker, of Tracy & Baker, lost interest in watches and sold his shares to Robbins, which brought about another name for the company. Appleton, Tracy & Company.

Why wasn’t Robbins’ name included? No books or article offers that information, even though we know he was the principal owner and investor and saved the company after buying it at auction.

Tracy then opted out too, selling his shares. They kept the name despite his disappearance. Sanderson suggests it was because Tracy was well known in the trade.

Robbins now has a major interest in the company, and it’s going well – sort of.

Unlike the watches he produced “He had trouble in keeping it running,” Sanderson stated. “Conditions were still uncertain and watches were difficult to sell.”

During this time, Dennison was in England to get materials and skilled workers. He bought the materials but couldn’t find the help.

We know, because Waltham is a melting pot, that eventually the workers found the city.

Robbins was in Waltham trying to run the factory, which was now in trouble once again. According to the book, Dennison and Robbins were not friends, but they couldn’t get along without each other. That may be why there were so many factory problems.

Robbins, in 1857, closed the factory for a month. In a last ditch effort to keep it going, Robbins held a meeting with the employees and told them the situation. Rather than close, he promised to keep it open for the next six months if they would work for one-half wages. They all accepted.

Although Sanderson tells us this was a drastic cut, with a reduction they were on the same level as the mill workers at Boston Manufacturing.


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