The Company

“The east clock tower of the Hamilton Watch Complex on Columbia Avenue in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The buildings are the former factory and headquarters of the Hamilton Watch Company.” Photograph, July 2010. from Wikipedia.

It’s hard to discuss the history of watch-making in America without mention of Hamilton Watch Company. The superior accuracy of their pocket watches solved time-related catastrophes of rail road travel during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A Hamilton timepiece accompanied pilots on the first U.S. Airmail flight in 1918. During WWII, they created an award-winning marine chronometer, and equipped the U.S. military with a range of timepieces and precision instruments. They produced the first electric watch, The Ventura (1957), followed by the first digital watch, The Pulsar (1972). Hamilton timepieces have appeared in over 500 films including Men In Black, Die Hard, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

With such a reputation, I’m surprised Hamilton was never synonimous with other Pennsylvania-based companies like Hershey and Heinz. While this is in part due to differences in the products they produced, it is mainly because there was never a stakeholder by the name of Hamilton. The company was named after Andrew Hamilton, a scottish born annorney who founded Lancaster in 1729. His son, James, was the original owner of the land upon which a factory was constructed in 1875 by The Adams & Perry Watch Co. In 1892, following two decades of unsuccessful local watch-making ventures, a group of individuals from various watch-making companies, including Adams & Perry, merged to form Hamilton.

Movement of 1950 Hamilton Grade 922B Railway Special. From the collections of the National Watch and Clock Museum. Photograph, 2018.

Over the years, Hamilton made additions to the original factory, constructed a complex of buildings, and took ownership of other companies. A lot of this work is documented by maps, blueprints, and photographs in the collection. Manufacturing at the factory in Lancaster ended in 1969, however, Hamilton’s subsidiaries occupied the space until the 1980s, which is when the records I processed were discarded by the new owners. Thankfully, a group of locals salvaged them from a dumpster and donated them to the NAWCC.