Company History Highlights
Hamilton is one of the most popular vintage watch brands in today’s market. The company enjoyed a long and successful lifespan, and was key in the development of American watchmaking technologies.
The Hamilton Watch Company was established in 1892 when the Keystone Standard Watch Company was forced into bankruptcy and sold to a group of Lancaster, Pennsylvania entrepreneurs whose objective was “to build only watches of the highest quality.” The company was named after James Hamilton.
Hamilton Watch Company was housed on a 13-acre (53,000 m2) complex at 917 Columbia Avenue, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The first watch made under the Hamilton name was an 18-size 17-jewel pocket watch in 1893. Over the next six years, Hamilton developed a reputation for creating pocket watches of the highest caliber. During Hamilton’s first fifteen years, only two size movements were produced — the 18-size and the smaller 16-size.
The Watch of Railroad Accuracy
Hamilton became a leading player in the production of pocket watches and was used heavily by the railroad, earning Hamilton their claim to be “The Watch of Railroad Accuracy.” When it came to the wristwatch market, Hamilton was a bit slower to market than both Elgin and Bulova, who moved early into wristwatch production. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that wristwatches were offered in a variety of models.
During World War II, Hamilton production of consumer watches was stopped, with all watches manufactured being shipped to troops. More than one million watches were sent overseas. Hamilton was also extremely successful in producing marine chronometers and deck watches in large numbers to fill the needs of the United States Navy, and other Allied navies as well.
After the war, it was business in usual, with Hamilton benefitting from the increase in American prosperity and from the general popularity of the wristwatch in society. Hamilton positioned itself at the forefront of the American watchmaking industry. During the 50s, Hamilton lead the industry in design and technical innovation. Hamilton watches produced in the 1950s showed some of the most distinctive styling and some of the highest quality engineering.
Another area where Hamilton distinguished itself was in the creation of the tone of gold used for the finish of the watch cases. Often referred to as “Hamilton gold,” the tones Hamilton achieved were different from the “brassy” yellow American standard gold colors used on jewelry of the day. A typical Hamilton watch utilized a “pale” yellow gold finish that had an understated, but distinctive warm character.
In 1951, Hamilton rebuffed a hostile takeover bid by the Benrus watch company. The fallout from the failed takeover action culminated in a Federal court ruling that is considered to be landmark in the realm of Federal anti-trust case law.
In 1957, Hamilton introduced the Hamilton Electric 500, the world’s first electric watch in regular production. It was available in a variety of non-traditional asymmetrical case styles including Elvis’ favorite, the Ventura.
- Traditionally Hamilton designed and manufactured under the signature “Hamilton” name.
- In 1928 Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company. Hamilton continued to release watches under the “Illinois” brand through the 1950s.
- In 1966, Hamilton acquired the Buren Watch Company and began to issue watches under the “Buren” brand.
- In 1927 the “Howard” name was purchased by Hamilton. In 1931, Hamilton acquired the goodwill and the trademarks of the E. Howard Watch Company. Between 1942 and 1949 Hamilton released approximately 1,000 wristwatches under the brand “Howard,” making Hamilton Howards some of the rarest of the vintage Hamilton watches.
Ownership Changes & The End of an Era
In 1971, the Omega & Tissot Holding Company Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) purchased the Hamilton brand and utilized the Hamilton name for a number of products, including numerous quartz watches in the 1980s. The Hamilton Watch Division became a subsidiary of HMW. The Hamilton Watch Company changed their name to HMW at the time they sold their Watch division to SSIH. Through the enforced merger of SSIH and ASUAG Groups in 1984, Hamilton has become a subsidiary of the now denominated The Swatch Group Ltd.
The old Hamilton Watch Factory has been officially recognized as historically significant and placed under the protection of the National Registry of Historic Places. The factory halls are still used today as condominiums; the Research & Engineering Lab, the birthplace of many Hamilton innovations, is today a ballroom.