This watch, made about 1870, was manufactured at what eventually became known as the Waltham Watch Company, Waltham, Mass. The movement bears the serial number 520977 and “Crescent Street,” a grade named for the firm’s address. The Crescent Street was advertised as a railroad watch, “specially recommended to railway engineers and constant travelers.” [advertisement, The Missionary Herald 67(June 1871), n.p.]
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: factory identification--model 1870, spring going-barrel, full plate, gilt finish, 18 size, key wind and set from the back, bimetallic compensation balance, C.V. Woerd patent regulator (US 110614); marked: American Watch Co/Crescent Street/Patent Pinion/No 520977/WALTHAM, MASS.”
Dial: white enamel, Roman numerals, blued hands (hour hand missing), separate sunk seconds at 6; marked: “American Watch Co”
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).
Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.