Aurora to Lancaster: The Origin of the Hamilton Watch Co.

Greg Frauenhoff

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I had intended for this to be an encyclopedia article, but for various technical reasons it seems to be simpler to make it a message board thread. I will add to it as time permits. Virtually all of the news articles, etc., are ones that I gathered over many many hours spent in the dusty stacks of libraries or are from originals in my collection. The internet has certainly made research easier these days but many of the items in this thread will be from documents not yet available on the world wide web.

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Hamilton is arguably American's most revered maker among collectors of pocket watches today. And in the interest of documenting the history of this Company it seems worthwhile to present what came before Hamilton.

Did Hamilton spring from a vacuum fully formed? Of course not! It arose after a lengthy period of experimentation, development, rises, falls, personal successes and travails, financial gains and losses, etc., in America's watchmaking industry. But it is not the intention herein to begin at the very beginning, so to speak. Rather, this page will look at what happened beginning about 1889 that lead to the formation of the Hamilton Watch Co. in late 1892. The modus operandi will be through the period news articles and notes of their time, with a little comment from today.

The Aurora Watch Co., of Aurora, Illinois, was organized in the late spring of 1883 and finished its first movement about Oct. 10, 1884. After operating at varying degrees of capacity and weathering several financial difficulties, the Company was forced into an assignment on Sept. 9, 1889.

From the Chicago Daily Interocean, Sept. 10, 1889:


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So here begins our tale. Onward to Hamilton!

After T. H. Day completes an inventory of the Company, H. H. Evans replaces him as assignee and prepares to reopen the factory. Evans is a longtime Aurora booster and was instrumental in getting Aurora a watch factory. He also donated land for the factory.

H. H. Evans (photo courtesy of Robert E. Brown):




Evans, as assignee, reopens the works. The following lengthy article gives a good overview of the Company's current situation. Aurora Weekly Herald Express Sept. 20, 1889.


 

Andy Dervan

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Greg -

Nice research and documentation on Aurora and Hamilton connection. Two key Aurora executives (former Hampton) Henry Cain and Charles Rood were important getting Hamilton established and starting off on solids footing.

Andy Dervan
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Greg -

Nice research and documentation on Aurora and Hamilton connection. Two key Aurora executives (former Hampton) Henry Cain and Charles Rood were important getting Hamilton established and starting off on solids footing.

Andy Dervan
Andy,

There are many more period news items to come. My plan is to post them roughly chronologically, with some back and forth between the goings on in Aurora and Lancaster. Stay tuned.

Greg
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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At the annual stockholders meeting it is decided to try and sell the Company. An offer of $100,000 is made by Eppenstein of the Chicago Watch Case Co.. (Incidentally, Eppenstein would later gain control of the Rockford Watch Co..) Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Oct. 11, 1889.

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Assignee Evans threatens to close the factory unless some recalcitrant bond holders agree to sell their holdings for 50 cents on the dollar. But the threat becomes irrelevant as the employees quit, having not received their pay. Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Nov. 1, 1889.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Negotiations with Eppenstein reach an impasse. Rumors of other offers are in the air. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Nov. and Dec., 1889.

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Meanwhile, in Lancaster, Pa., superintendent H. J. Cain of the Keystone Standard Watch Co. is readying new movements for the market. Cain will feature prominently in the saga that follows. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1889.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Rood makes an offer for the Aurora watch factory plant. Protracted negotiations with Evans, the assignee, ensue. Aurora Daily News, Dec. 5, 1889, Dec. 7, 1889, Jan. 1, 1890, Jan. 15, 1890, Jan. 21, 1890, Jan. 22, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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In other news, H. J. Cain is still superintendent of Keystone and Charles Rood is still an officer with the Hampden Watch Co.. Together they visited the Aurora plant several times during Rood's failed negotiation for it. The two of them have been "collaborators" in the watch business since their days together with the Hampden Watch Co starting about 1876. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Mar., 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Pictorial digression. c. 1885 photograph of the Aurora watch factory. This picture appears in several publications during the 1960s and 70s (Aurora Beacon News, Aurora Story by Vernon Derry, Thrift Corner Yarns) but without any attribution. The origin of the original is unknown. This print is from the author's collection.

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Besides the famous and monied big wigs, regular Joes were important to the American watch industry. Here's a regular Jane: Anna Lacy. According to information related to Robert E. Brown from Kathyrn Cordell she worked in the Aurora jewelling department beginning around 1884 (having previously been with the Rockford Watch Co.). Here is her picture along with her loupe (author's collection).

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Rood makes an offer for the Aurora watch factory plant. Protracted negotiations with Evans, the assignee, ensue. Aurora Daily News, Dec. 5, 1889, Dec. 7, 1889, Jan. 1, 1890, Jan. 15, 1890, Jan. 21, 1890, Jan. 22, 1890.

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Greg,

Thank you for the original research. Your efforts to track down contemporaneous accounts provides a much more complete picture than repackaging research by others that is often incomplete and inaccurate.

Regards,

Dewey
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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Hard feelings (and libelous language) abound following the breakdown of negotiations between Rood and Evans. Rood makes it clear that "he would complete the purchase only if no conditions whatever in regard to the location or time of running the factory were stipulated." Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Apr., 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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There are still attempts to persuade some of the local Aurorans to get money together and take over the works, especially if T. H. Day will take charge, but nothing comes about. There are also rumors of other interested parties: one from Pueblo, Colo. (The Pittsburgh of the West) and a Mr. Newton Perry. But H. H. Evans is disgusted and "will make no further effort to save the factory for Aurora". Aurora Daily Express, May 8, 1890, and Aurora Daily News, Mar. 24, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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The various creditors reach an agreement and the assignee is ordered to pay the employees 1/2 in cash and 1/2 in watch movements. The banks are authorized to sell the movements held as collateral. Aurora Daily Express, June 13, 1890, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, July and August, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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To satisfy the outstanding bonds, etc., the Aurora watch factory is ordered to be sold at auction and on Aug. 30, 1890, it falls to the hammer at $34,000. The purchasers are a syndicate fronted by James O. Mason, E. W. Trask and S. D. Seamons. Chas. Rood is a bit coy about his involvement (probably because of his continued involvement with the rival Hampden Watch Co.) but it will soon become clear that the new majority owners are Rood and H. J. Cain. Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Sept. 5, 1890, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Sept., 1890, The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 7, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Hmmm.......Considering that there were two offers to buy Aurora for $100,000 (free of any encumbrances) and that T. H. Day's inventory showed approx. $100,000 in finished movements and material for same (see below), the Rood syndicate got one helluva deal at $34,000! H. H. Evans insistence that the factory stay in Aurora dearly cost the bond holders, etc..

T. H. Day's inventory figures (far right column). Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Sept. 20, 1889.

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Even though some of the finished movements were used to settle the wages owed workers, there must certainly have been quite a few left over, for in November (just a month or so after work at the factory resumed) there were a large number of finished movements and ones in process. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Nov. 11, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Exactly how the ownership of the new Aurora Watch Co. was divided up in 1890 isn't known to the author, but the figures below from late 1892 are probably a good reflection of the split. Rood and Cain were majority owners. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 4, 1892.

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Interestingly, E. W. Trask held a substantial share ($5,000) in the new Aurora company. Trask was an early major investor in Aurora (the first one, that is) and became its first company president. Photo of E. W. Trask (believed to be at far left) in front of his jewelry store Trask & Plain in Aurora. 1889, photo courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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We're not there yet (Hamilton, that is) but it should be obvious that, contrary to what has often been asserted in print and on the internet, the Hamilton Watch Co. did not buy the Aurora Watch Co. in 1890. In 1890, there was no Hamilton Watch Co..
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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New owners, new president (Rood) and superintendent (Cain). Cain moves quickly to reopen the Aurora works, even ordering new machinery. Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1890, Aurora Daily Express, Sept. 26, 1890, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Oct., 1890, The Manufacturing Jeweler, Oct. 7, 1890, Oct. 21, 1890, and Oct. 28, 1890.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Meanwhile, in Lancaster, Pa., things aren't very rosy. In April, 1890, the Keystone Standard Watch Co. (successor to the Lancaster Watch Co.) is forced into an assignment under D. Ramsay Patterson. Similar moves are underway to dissolve the Keystone Watch Club Company. And the sheriff takes possession of the Atkinson Bros. watch dealer establishment. The three firms are separate but interconnected: William J. and George H. Atkinson are involved with all.

In a rather bizarre admission, D. Ramsay Patterson claims "that the company (Keystone Standard) is not altogether insolvent. We have no connection with Atkinson Brothers, or the Keystone Watch Club Co., of this city, beyond the fact that the jewelry concern had contracted for the entire supply of the company" (emphasis added).

Incidentally, Henry J. Cain, superintendent of Keystone Standard, has a claim of $520 against the company.

The Keystone, May, 1890.


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Greg Frauenhoff

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Back to Aurora. "Well-defined rumors" indicate Rood has an interest in moving the Aurora works back east, probably to the old Hampden plant in Springfield, Mass.. The Manufacturing Jeweler, Dec. 9, 1890, Dec. 16, 1890, Aurora Weekly Herald-Express, Dec. 26, 1890.

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John C. Dueber nixes the idea of Aurora occupying the factory buildings in Springfield, Mass.. He owns the pertinent property there. Tension is brewing between Dueber and Rood, who are both officials with the Hampden Watch Co.. It seems likely that the Hampden people are not "amused" with Rood, an owner of a rival firm, wearing "two hats". Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Jan., 1891.

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Rood continues to look for somewhere east to move his Aurora Watch Co.. The Western Jeweler, Mar. 28, 1891, Jewelers Circular and Horological Review, Apr. 15, 1891.

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Greg Frauenhoff

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A little summary so far. Chas. Rood and Henry Cain (majority owners) purchased the defunct Aurora Watch Co. at auction for a song. Cain takes on the superintendency at Aurora, ordering new machinery, hiring workers and preparing to reopen the plant. Rood begins looking around for an eastern locale for his new enterprise. The Keystone Standard Watch Co. has also failed.
 
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