Hamilton Watches: How the Company Started

Hamilton Watches

Hamilton Watches started life back in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It is famous for good quality wristwatches and pocket watches, and is still a major player today. Although it has roots and close ties with the USA, it is essentially a Swiss watchmaker and is now part of the Swatch Group.

Hamilton Logo

Hamilton Logo

Hamilton Watches have a long history, with a close association with America, although manufacturing has been done outside of the USA for some time. As a company it has been in many mergers and acquired by a number of companies and is today part of the Swatch Group. It’s quality has always been high.

In 1892 the Keystone Standard Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania went bankrupt and was purchased by the Hamilton Watch Company. The company was named after Andrew Hamilton, a Scottish born lawyer who originally owned the site of the Hamilton factory in Lancaster during the previous century.

Hamilton Khaki

Hamilton Khaki

The company expanded rapidly thanks to the boom in the railroad business, where Hamilton supplied more than 50% of all the pocket watches used by the rail companies. The watches were marketed as as the “Watch of Railroad Accuracy”.

In 1914, the first World War meant that all troops needed accurate watches and as pocket watches were unsuitable for soldiers crawling and lying in trenches, Hamilton switched production to wristwatches and became supplier to the US Armed Forces. During WW2, all consumer production was halted while Hamilton produced more than one million watches for the military. Hamilton also supplied the US Navy and some of the other allied armies.

Hamilton Ventura image attrib Museumsfoto (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum) (CC BY 3.0)

Hamilton Ventura (Image attribute: Museumsfoto Deutsches Uhrenmuseum. CC BY 3.0)

In 1957 Hamilton made the World’s first electric watch, the Hamilton Electric 500. The watch sold in various case shapes, including the triangular shaped Ventura which was worn by Elvis Presley in the film Blue Hawaii. As the electric watches were being more popular Hamilton faced increased competition from Japan and even outsourced some of the work to Japan. This period marked the beginning of the end of US manufacturing operations and in 1969 the Lancaster factory closed and manufacturing moved to the Buren factory in Switzerland.

In 1970 Hamilton had another first – the first LED digital watch.

In 1971, the Omega & Tissot Holding Company Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) purchased the Hamilton brand. With further corporate shifting, Hamilton became part of the Swatch Group in 1984.

Today, Hamilton still talks about its American Spirit. You can see Hamilton watches being worn in many films like as in The Martian. These watches (as new) are in the £400 to £2000+ range so are reasonably affordable (see the Amazon UK Hamilton Watches or Amazon USA Hamilton Watches page).

Company Website: hamiltonwatch.com