Hamilton Watch Gallery

Pocket watches enabled people to tell time wherever they went, and the Early American Watchmaking Gallery features an extensive collection, including pieces from the Lancaster, PA, Hamilton Watch Company. The gallery also includes period factory machinery that still works.

The history of watchmaking goes back centuries. In the late 1400s, Italian clockmakers introduced the watch, a miniaturization of the small table clock. By the early 1500s, the Italians began producing clocks small enough to be worn. As watchmaking spread during the 1600s and 1700s, London, Paris, and Geneva flourished as manufacturing centers. Early watches were poor timekeepers and remained so until the introduction of the balance spring in 1675. Better escapements further improved watch performance, as did “jeweling,” the use of jeweled bearings to reduce friction.

Established in 1892, the Hamilton Watch Co. was founded when Keystone Watch Co. merged with the Illinois-based Aurora Watch Co. The factory opened in the summer of 1892 after machinery from Aurora was moved to Lancaster, PA.

Hamilton 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 railroads. By the turn of the 20th century, Hamilton’s product was widely known as the Railroad Timekeeper of America.

With the onset of World War II, the Navy needed chronometers in great quantities, and Hamilton began delivering them in February 1942. During the next year, Hamilton increased production to 500 chronometers per month—an amazing achievement and a triumph of US enterprise.

Hamilton has the distinction of being the only US watch company to survive global competition well into the late 1900s. The efforts and talents of Hamilton employees and management combined to create high-quality products that are still appreciated by collectors all over the world. Today, watches with the Hamilton brand continue to be produced by the Swatch Group, a Swiss watchmaking company.

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