Automatic Screw Making Machine

Charles Vander Woerd, a superintendent at the American Watch Co. in Waltham, Mass., invented this machine in 1871. It was the first automatic lathe to make watch screws. Fed rod stock by a machine operator, the machine worked on a single screw at a time, passing the stock through a succession of different cutting tools. The earliest machines produced minute screws to hold watch jewels, but, after 1874 improvements, the machines could make watch screws of other sizes.
By one count, one worker could tend six or eight machines, with an output between 1200 and 1500 screws per day. The watch company displayed two machines at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, according to a Swiss observer, who reported that one machine could make 800 screws per day with only 5% waste.
The nickel-plated finish on this example indicates it was a demonstration piece, not a factory production machine, and it may have been one of those at the Exposition.
Waltham tool makers continued to improve Vander Woerd’s designs and kept automatic screw-cutting machines in use at both American Watch Company and other watchmaking firms well into the 20th century.
Church, D. A. The Evolution of Automatic Machinery as applied to the manufacture of watches at Waltham, Mass., Chicago: G. K. Hazlitt, 1896.
David, Jacques. Rapport a la Société Intercantonale des Industries du Jura sur la Fabrication de L’horlogerie aux Etats-Unis, Saint-Imier, Compagnie des montres Longines Francillon SA, 1992. [available in translation at, retrieved 24 Jan 16]
Currently not on view
Object Name
automatic screw machine
date made
ca 1875
Waltham Watch Company
Woerd, Vander
Physical Description
nickel plated cast iron (overall material)
overall: 10 3/8 in x 20 7/8 in x 20 1/4 in; 26.3525 cm x 53.0225 cm x 51.435 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Measuring & Mapping
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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