Early American Watchmaking

Early American Watchmaking


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- Colonial watchmaking was very modest compared to clockmaking of the same period. Most colonists with watchmaking skills sold and repaired imported watches instead of making them.


Mid 1770s: Advertisements show that a small number of watches were made in America, with credit for the first natively-produced watch going to Thomas Harland (1735-1807) of Norwich, Connecticut.
Early 1800s: While European craft guilds resisted machinery use, there was no American guild system to block the rise of a factory-based industry. Because of this, the clock industry grew.

Mid 1830s: Henry and James E. Pitkin of East Hartford, Connecticut, experimented with a machine-made watch with interchangeable parts. While the parts were almost all uniform, their machine-made parts still had to be hand-finished and supplemented with imported parts. Their products could not compete with the less expensive imports, particularly those from Switzerland, which dominated the American market through the 1850s.
1849: Aaron L. Dennison (1812-1895) and Edward Howard (1813-1904) were the first to successfully produce watches by machine. With Howard's support, Dennison began developing the necessary machinery, and only a few years later was having success with a thirty-six hour watch.

1857: Dennison and Howard's firm, the Boston Watch Company, was forced to reorganize due to the recession. It served as an inspiration and template for many firms that followed.
1870s: Companies had to work out the difficulties of manufacturing small interchangeable parts. This cost a lot of money, and some firms were short-lived. Others, such as Waltham (a reorganization of the Boston Watch Company), Howard, Elgin, Hampden, and Illinois, were successful and lasted a long time. American watch production largely displaced Swiss imports.