Watch movement, Waltham


This is one of the earliest watch movements manufactured in the United States. Made at what eventually became the Waltham Watch Company, it is part of the firm’s third run of watches in Roxbury, Massachusetts, about 1853. The movement bears the serial number 531 and the name Samuel Curtis, one of the firm’s first investors.

In the 1850s, watchmakers at the firm began to develop the world's first mass-produced watches. They completely redesigned the watch so that its movement could be assembled from interchangeable parts made on special machines. They also developed a highly organized factory-based work system to speed production and cut costs of watches. Although it would be well into the 20th century before the watch industry achieved a very high level of interchangeability, the Waltham designers started the innovations that would eventually lead there.

Launched in 1849 in a corner of the Howard & Davis clock factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the company’s early years were financially unsteady. The company name changed repeatedly as investors came and went. Operations moved from Roxbury to Waltham in 1854, where the company settled, optimistically poised for expansion, on a tract of land with nearly 100 acres. The watchmakers at Waltham helped spawn an American industry that by 1880 had ten firms making nearly three million watches a year.


Movement: spring going-barrel, full plate, gilt finish, 18 size, 15 jewels, key wound at back and key set at front, steel three-armed balance, lever escapement, regulator with index on back plate; marked: “Roxbury/ No. 531/ Samuel Curtis”

Dial: White enamel dial, Roman numerals, black hands (minute hand is replacement), separate seconds at 6


Henry G. Abbott, History of the American Waltham Watch Company (Chicago: American Jeweler Print, 1905).

Charles Moore, Timing a Century: History of the Waltham Watch Company (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945).

Donald Hoke, Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

Date Made: 1853

Maker: Howard & Davis

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Massachusetts, Boston, Roxbury

See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanisms, Measuring & Mapping


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Abraham Burnstine

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: ME.222557Catalog Number: 222557Accession Number: 41705

Object Name: pocket watch movement with dial and handswatch movementOther Terms: pocket watch movement with dial and hands; watch movement; Mechanical, Spring-Driven

Measurements: overall: 1/2 in x 1 13/16 in; 1.27 cm x 4.60375 cm


Record Id: nmah_851193

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