Waltham Watch Company: 50 years of Mismanagement

DeweyC

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Introduction. There is a lot to digest and I am still thinking this through. I will not be surprised that given the lack of attention to the business at Waltham, that some will be offended that their favorite company was not a beacon of business success.

N.B. I received an opinion from Harvard that my proposed use of excerpts from Moore’s book falls under “Fair Use”. I will append PDFs of referenced excerpts (BOLD) at the end of this article.

All excerpts taken from Timing a Century, C.W.Moore, 1945 Harvard University Press

Official History Commissioned in 1941. Moore had complete access to the Waltham archives and financial records in 1941 when he started to prepare this history. He interviewed a number of people who were involved 30 years earlier. There is no reason to doubt his accounting of Waltham as a company.

Moore makes it difficult to create a good chronology. His first several chapters present a historical timeline, but then chapters that later present an analysis introduce things that were not discussed in the historical presentation. This is a complex story that has many facets.

Robbins. The true salad days for Waltham were the 20 year period in which Robbins Sr. ran (literally) the company. Today he would be considered a slightly out of date executive who set the strategy and plan and demanded his captains execute that plan. It was this trait that led to Dennison’s release over the Ellery (soldier's watch) even though Dennison was ultimately proven right. The issue was Dennison’s going behind Robbins’ back.

This is poignantly described on Pages 46-47.

By all measures, Robbins led the company to success even during the deflationary period after the Civil War (1865-1896) during his term. At this time he had to cope with Elgin (which did in fact “poach” some of his leading lights), Swiss imports and bringing modern methods to manufacturing.

Pg 68-69

But, as other companies came into the picture, Robbins Sr. realized a new executive was needed and Fitch was appointed to his position as factory superintendent and then President. Fitch would essentially control the fate at Waltham from 1884 to 1921.

The Fitch Era. The story of Waltham for the period between 1880 and 1930 is a story of the continual search for financial survival, entrenched executive staff, provincialism of the manufacturing departments and stockholder change (manipulation?).

The problem of the Departments making unneeded parts was to plague Waltham for decades. The manufacturing departments operated as self contained fiefdoms where parts were produced with no regard to factory requirements in order to keep their people paid. These parts were carried on the books as inventory at inflated values that ultimately had to be written off the books. This is just one example of how poor management impacted Waltham's financial success.

Page 324

There were at least 4 major reorganizations of the capital and business structure. These included control of the majority shareholders, creation of new stock, and attempts to install controllers who did not have authority over executives.

Pg 296-298

As a merchandiser, Fitch tried his best to cope with the financial situation at Waltham. Fitch tried to improve the financial picture by doubling the number of grades between 1881 and 1896, cutting prices by 20% in 1891, creating the watch trust which proved to have no impact in Waltham profits, reorganizing the capital structure in 1906 by selling an additional $4 mil Common and $7 mil Preferred stock (New Company) and trying to diversify into speedometers and artillery fuses. He ultimately secured capital loans that resulted in the banks taking control in 1923. This resulted in issuance of new stock and again a loss to equity holders.

But as the table on page 324 reveals, he could not control the creation of overvalued inventory. This lack of managerial control was to be Waltham’s Achilles Heel.

Where Robbins Sr. had run the company with a firm hand in the control of the entire process (resulting in the dismissal of Dennison), Fitch does not seem to have had such ability.

Some of this can be attributed to the absence of watchmakers on the Board of Directors with the exception of Charles Fogg (ended 1893) and Ezra C. Fitch (President from1882 to 1921) who worked once as a watch repairer. The Board was dominated by lawyers, trustees, family relations and owners of non-allied business. The executives and the Board had no background in the production of a complicated machine like a watch.

While this report is from 1921 (upon Fitch’s release as President), it is likely the culture described was long developed. It depicts a culture of cronyism and family loyalty at the manufacturing department level. This may be familiar to those who have worked in large organizations where the immediate group is valued over the enterprise itself. It results from a lack of effective executive control.

Pg 114-115

It is small wonder that with a Board of entrenched relationships attempts to set the company on a positive track by changing personnel were doomed to failure.

Pg 102-104

During his reign, Fitch did encounter headwinds. The country was in a deflationary period until 1896. There was increased competition from US watchmakers. The company matured during a period in which it was the dominant force in watchmaking and was somewhat complacent.

On the other hand, the population grew as a result of immigration and westward expansion and there were periods of prosperity. And other American Watch companies prospered.

This undoubtedly led to lobbying of Board members, if not outright interference as Moore reveals in other areas. After Robbins left, Loring was brought in by the stockholders to right the ship.

However, he did not have authority over the top executives and he attempted to improve management by appointing lower ranking executives. This inevitably led to those appointees failing.

PAGE 112-115

Fitch apparently actively interfered with Board decisions that would have changed the operating structure of the company. These majority share holders was a block of small investors who bought stock during the time the Robbins brothers liquidated their holdings in Waltham. Royal jr. was the treasurer until his resignation in 1910.

This deteriorating financial picture in the early 1900s led to an attempt to change the management at Waltham by increasing the number of shares and altering the voting pattern of the Board. Several successful executives were brought in to change the balance sheet. A major obstacle for loans was the over valued inventory on the books and Waltham was finally forced to write it down.

Page 300

Another factor was that Waltham needed loans for operating capital. This was virtually unheard of. Banks provided “seasonal” loans that were expected to be repaid within a year.

By the mid twenties, Waltham had approached Elgin, Hamilton and Southbend about a merger. The problem with labor force was in full effect; the administrator complained how employees felt entitled to company assets (taking pencils home for school children, etc.). As noted in another thread, he took the loupes used by people in the balance springing department.

Page 138

The problems were directly related to the inability to control the manufacturing departments.

Page 131

Waltham was unable to fulfill orders for RRG watches because they did not have the required parts or enough skilled workers.

Page 135


Bear in mind that all of this was occurring in the early and mid 1920s. The stock market was exuberant and people were flush with money. The financial prospects in the US were all upbeat before the 1929 crash. Yet Waltham was failing.

Towards the end, one of those brought in to work with Fitch was Simmonds, of crosscut saw fame. He remained for one year and left feeling he had better use of his time. Almost all who were brought in saw it as a civic duty and were frustrated by the entrenched culture.

Finally the banks called for a complete capital restructuring of Waltham (seems like a bankruptcy but is not termed such) that completely changed the stock structure and ensured the major shareholders were part of management.

This initiated the 20 year term of Dumaine who shepherded Waltham thought the Depression and WWII.

The Trust and the 1906 Price Fixing Investigation. This merits a separate discussion. Fitch created the Watch Trust in an effort to deal with the downward spiral in prices that resulted from deflation and “excess” competition. Moore concludes, and presents data that indicate this was not successful. In fact Fitch had to cut prices by 20% in 1891. Moore contrasts this with the Oatmeal Trust which formed at the same time and was successful. He attributes this to the Oatmeal millers actually forming a holding company that withstood government scrutiny. While not mentioned, it is likely the difference is also due to the fact that cereal was a necessity compared to an expensive watch.

The 1906 price fixing investigation was seemingly independent of the Trust, which only survived for 7 years. The US DOJ could not find the smoking gun needed to prosecute, but in those days, and with the working relationships developed during the trust years, it is not surprising that no emails were found on the servers. But Table 10 on Page 81 is relevant to both topics.

Inspection shows that profits at Waltham were not markedly improved as a result of the trust. However, in the 5 years preceding the price fixing investigation profit's doubled and tapered back down after 1906.

Page 81

Source of Fitch’s “Power”. This is somewhat of a mystery. For decades he managed a company that was always in need of operating capital and was losing market share. Tables on Page 344 and 345 are revealing. Counter-intuitively, he was not a major shareholder until 1910!

As the tables show, the Robbins group (Moore’s term) held the majority of shares until the 190 shareholder revolt led by Buckley. Even then, Fitch was retained as President while the shareholders appointed Loring to work with him.

Perhaps a symptom fo how the affairs at Waltham were handled, Buckley had acquired a significant number of shares and yet his attempts to review the books were resisted in strength. When he finally did gain access, a month before the 1910 meeting, he was able to convince enough shareholders to require a change of the Board structure and the appointment of Loring as a Trustee.

Pages 344-345

Unlike Sauers, Moore does not describe the personal interactions among the major players after the Robbins Sr. era. It would seem that for some reason the Robbins group (which did have exclusive distribution rights) wanted Fitch as President.

Conclusion. This started with my interest on why Rood, Perry and Cain were so successful. Moore offers a look not only at Waltham, but at the business conditions at the time. There is obviously a point of comparison between the two companies, as there is a comparison to be made between Hampden and Hamilton.

Waltham’s experience cries out to be contrasted with that of Hamilton. During the period of financial decay at Waltham (1900 to 1910) that saw two new stock issues to raise and redistribute capital, Hamilton prospered and thrived. Rood, Perry and Cain’s formula of keeping the product line simple (936 and 974 based movements), controlling inventory flow to reduce loss, interdepartmental dependence, product and parts distribution controlled from the factory, and the focus on high technical and aesthetic quality seems to explain the difference in outcome.

Much more has been written about business at Hampden than at Waltham! Perhaps this little article provides insight to the complexity that dissuades much interest in exploring the Waltham history.

Hamilton was created under the same business conditions as these companies and had to compete with two established companies that had their retail distribution system and name recognition. During a depression! How is it that by 1910 Hamilton dominated the sales of precision watches and by the mid 1920s was immensely more successful financially than either Hampden or Waltham?

Unlike Rood, Perry and Cain, the two most important Waltham Executives during this period, the President (Fitch) and the Treasurer (Robbins Jr.) had two very different visions for the company between 1903 and 1910. Waltham seems dominated by a contest of wills at every level whereas Hamilton was conceived and matured as an enterprise built on a team approach.

Just 30 years after the factory was started, Hamilton was approached by Waltham for a merger. Given the magnitude and variety of problems at Waltham at the time, it is not a surprise Hamilton declined. And to think, a few years later, Rood once again assumed the Presidency of Hampden Watch Company. He must have felt truly vindicated at that point in his life.
 

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Greg Frauenhoff

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Dewey,

Many many years ago I came across an article in a business journal from 1957 noting the failure (again) of Waltham. As I recall, they weren't too impressed with Waltham as it had failed several times before.

Greg
 

DeweyC

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Greg,

There are two other areas that I need to explore. One is how the business history of Elgin compares to that of Waltham and Hamilton. Was Elgin a more successful business model than Waltham? What explains the differences? To that end, I just purchased a copy of Briska's Elgin Time.

The other area is one that is going to be harder to get a grip on. That is the marketing/merchandising practices in the US during the period of 1880 to 1930. Moore touches on this but does not really get into the details. I.e.; Waltham's advertising, rebates to retailers, and exclusive distributorships and mail order catalogs.

It would be very useful to know the chain of events that occurred to get a watch from the factory inventory to the buyer's hands. I imagine this was different at Waltham, Hamden and Hamilton. I would suppose it also differed based on price point.
 

DeweyC

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I want to thank Clint Geller for bringing to my attention the manuscript by William Keith "A Family Tale" which is a first hand account of early Waltham affairs. This is referred to several times by Moore and offers more details of the Robbins era.

After some searching, I found Richard Watkins made this available in addition to the many fine translations and rare documents. Richard has been doing this for decades and we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Here is the link to Richard's PDF of the manuscript:

http://www.watkinsr.id.au/Keith.pdf
 

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There was a serious recession in the early 1920s. The Go-Go-Go period of the American economy was the middle and late-20s.

Also there was a huge depression during the middle 1890s. It was not all flat water, smooth sailing for Waltham or any American manufacturer.
 

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For more perspectives on Waltham's failure, here are a couple more references.

An article - "Who Killed Waltham?" - by Lawrence M. Hughes was published in the April 15, 1950 edition of Sales Management. I read it some time ago and should re-read it. I found a transcription of the article in the following account of public hearings. ... see p.175 and following

There was also an article on the subject in the NAWCC Bulletin from October 1983 by August Bolino - "Who (or What) Killed Waltham" - starts on p.555 (Bulletin whole number 226).
 

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If the primary purpose of the title of this thread was to be provocative, then it succeeded. However, I have a couple of problems with it. First, the sequence of companies discussed in the OP wasn't actually called the "Waltham Watch Company" until 1907. Did the "50 years" mentioned in the thread title begin in 1907? If so, that isn't clear, because the OP discusses Waltham's earlier history. Second, if we are to view this sequence of companies beginning in 1857 as phases of a single enterprise, as the OP seems to suggest, then we must consider that most commercial enterprises, and especially 19th century American watch companies, didn't last 50 years, and few of those that did, survived that long without encountering some significant problems and existential threats along the way. Thus the phrase "50 years of mismanagement" borders on being self-contradictory. Whereas no one can dispute that there was significant, and in some periods, egregious "mismanagement" at the "Waltham Watch Company," especially as viewed in hindsight, the title of this thread suggests that the history of this sequence of companies should be viewed primarily through the lens of failure. To illustrate the problem with this idea, imagine the following title for a historical article, "The Roman Empire: Fifteen Centuries of Mismanagement."

The fact is that the sequence of watch companies in question that began in 1857 managed in its time to bumble and mismanage its way through numerous technological and commercial firsts, and to have had a significant impact on the trajectory of watchmaking worldwide, which is why some may consider the title of this thread a bit off-putting. Perhaps a clarification as to which "50 years" of history we are discussing might mitigate this problem.
 
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If the primary purpose of the title of this thread was to be provocative, then it succeeded. However, I have a couple of problems with it. First, the sequence of companies discussed in the OP wasn't actually called the "Waltham Watch Company" until 1907. Did the "50 years" mentioned in the thread title begin in 1907? If so, that isn't clear, because the OP discusses Waltham's earlier history. Second, if we are to view this sequence of companies beginning in 1857 as phases of a single enterprise, as the OP seems to suggest, then we must consider that most commercial enterprises don't last for 50 years, and most of those that have, have not done so without having encountered some significant problems and existential threats along the way. Thus "50 years of mismanagement" borders on being self-contradictory. Whereas no one can dispute that there was "mismanagement" at the "Waltham Watch Company," especially as viewed in hindsight, the title of this thread suggests that the history of this sequence of companies should be viewed primarily as one of failure. To illustrate the problem with this idea, consider the following title for a historical article, "The Roman Empire: Fifteen Centuries of Mismanagement."

The fact is that the sequence of watch companies in question that began in 1857 managed in its time to bumble and mismanage its way through numerous technological and commercial firsts, and to have had a significant impact on the trajectory of watchmaking worldwide, which is why some may consider the title of this thread a bit off-putting. Perhaps a clarification as to which "50 years" of history we are discussing might mitigate this problem.
Maybe you are taking this thread too personally.



Rob
 

Clint Geller

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Maybe you are taking this thread too personally.



Rob
Hi Rob,

No, I don't really think so. I haven't really objected to anything Dewey has said. I just wish he had chosen a different title, or had been clearer about which "50 years" he was talking about. I have assisted Dewey's research, as he noted. I doubt that any 19th century manufacturer lived up to all accepted modern management "best practices."
 
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DeweyC

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Compared with my other favorite watch company, E. Howard & Co., Waltham was a paragon of managerial acumen. :)
Clint,

The shops at Waltham DID make some very fine product. But in terms of understanding markets, organization and inventory it was very poorly managed as the Harvard study reveals.

I personally think it was an object lesson taken to heart by Rood when he, Cain and Perry decided on Hamilton. This is kind of like Japan with the steel industry after WWII. Or, the US automobile industry in the last qurter of the 20th century (remember the Citation or Chevette?) US Steel and GM were happy with the old means and tinkered at the margins. The Japanese (under Deming of course) decided to start with the latest and greatest technology. And we know how that turned out.

Like USS, Waltham was stuck with the inertial trajectory of its founding. Started before the Civil War, Waltham used a shop of shops system which was essentially the English craft method except under one roof. And mgt practices were rooted in the days when cash was scarce (in 1830 and 1840s business was actually transacted by trading notes of debt), when communications took days and transportation was anything but reliable. Not until the 1920s was Waltham able to establish "modern" practices.

The history of Reed and Barton provides a very interesting painting of doing business from New England prior to the Civil War. It took fortitude! And it was very primitive.

Like the Japanese, I suspect CPR looked at Waltham, what was happening at Singer Sewing, and their own experience with runnning watch factories and took the time to develop a business that benefited from these examples. They also looked at the technology of measurement at Starret and were likely well aware of the work of Maudsley. Certainly, like the Japanese after WWII, they incorporated the latest techonolgy.

At least, that would explain why Hamilton was so successful out of the gate and had very few (any?) organizational spasms.

Like USS or GM, it seems Waltham never realized that the incremental improvements they watched over 30 years cumulatively resulted in a paradigm shift (to use a well worn phrase).

I think there is an apocryphal difference between Rood and Robbins. Robbins very much believed that markets should buy what he told them to. Rood ensured Hamilton would meet customers halfway (vanity and retailer private labels for example). I think it was Perry's very tight connections with the retailers that established this value. I have not read of an individual at Waltham who worked so hard at establishing direct personal relationships over his career.

In terms of business, the shop of shops approach made parts ordering complicated for Waltham. Hamilton avoided this by standardization of parts across models. Much like modern production designers selecting parts from a pick list when a new product is being developed.

These are the advantages of coming into a field after others paved the way. Waltham was an important part of that process.

OTOH, without near-perfect execution, Hamilton would likely have suffered the fate of many "Johnny come latelys".
 

Clint Geller

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Clint,

The shops at Waltham DID make some very fine product. But in terms of understanding markets, organization and inventory it was very poorly managed as the Harvard study reveals.

I personally think it was an object lesson taken to heart by Rood when he, Cain and Perry decided on Hamilton. This is kind of like Japan with the steel industry after WWII. Or, the US automobile industry in the last qurter of the 20th century (remember the Citation or Chevette?) US Steel and GM were happy with the old means and tinkered at the margins. The Japanese (under Deming of course) decided to start with the latest and greatest technology. And we know how that turned out.

Like USS, Waltham was stuck with the inertial trajectory of its founding. Started before the Civil War, Waltham used a shop of shops system which was essentially the English craft method except under one roof. And mgt practices were rooted in the days when cash was scarce (in 1830 and 1840s business was actually transacted by trading notes of debt), when communications took days and transportation was anything but reliable. Not until the 1920s was Waltham able to establish "modern" practices.

The history of Reed and Barton provides a very interesting painting of doing business from New England prior to the Civil War. It took fortitude! And it was very primitive.

Like the Japanese, I suspect CPR looked at Waltham, what was happening at Singer Sewing, and their own experience with runnning watch factories and took the time to develop a business that benefited from these examples. They also looked at the technology of measurement at Starret and were likely well aware of the work of Maudsley. Certainly, like the Japanese after WWII, they incorporated the latest techonolgy.

At least, that would explain why Hamilton was so successful out of the gate and had very few (any?) organizational spasms.

Like USS or GM, it seems Waltham never realized that the incremental improvements they watched over 30 years cumulatively resulted in a paradigm shift (to use a well worn phrase).

I think there is an apocryphal difference between Rood and Robbins. Robbins very much believed that markets should buy what he told them to. Rood ensured Hamilton would meet customers halfway (vanity and retailer private labels for example). I think it was Perry's very tight connections with the retailers that established this value. I have not read of an individual at Waltham who worked so hard at establishing direct personal relationships over his career.

In terms of business, the shop of shops approach made parts ordering complicated for Waltham. Hamilton avoided this by standardization of parts across models. Much like modern production designers selecting parts from a pick list when a new product is being developed.

These are the advantages of coming into a field after others paved the way. Waltham was an important part of that process.

OTOH, without near-perfect execution, Hamilton would likely have suffered the fate of many "Johnny come latelys".
No argument, Dewey, but please clarify, when you speak of "50 years of mismanagement," exactly when does that fifty years begin?
 
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DeweyC

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No argument, Dewey, but please clarify, when you speak of "50 years of mismanagement," exactly when does that fifty years begin?
Clint,

It has been a while, but IIRC Moore describes problems becoming manifest by 1880. And the final reorg in the mid 1920s. Given that organizational problems do not develop instantaneously, I figure 1875 to 1925 is close. In that period they had an amazing number of corporate reorganizations involving substantial inventory write offs.
 

Clint Geller

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Clint,

It has been a while, but IIRC Moore describes problems becoming manifest by 1880. And the final reorg in the mid 1920s. Given that organizational problems do not develop instantaneously, I figure 1875 to 1925 is close. In that period they had an amazing number of corporate reorganizations involving substantial inventory write offs.
Interesting, I would consider Waltham's golden period, in terms of the watches produced, to extend from about 1862 into the early 1890s. The examples in my own collection extend from 1857 or 1858 to around 1900. I am missing a Premier Maximus, Waltham's most outstanding 20th century effort. but I can't collect everything.
 
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I'm very glad someone prodded this thread again to respond and open the thread again, Kudos to Dewey for the time to assemble the material and write this great article on his research. Thanks!



I have many Waltham's but only 2 predate 1890, while the vast majority lay between 1890 to 1919. Only one from the 20's, and the four from 1940-1952.
Outside of the Geneva striped Vanguards, Crescent Streets, and a few other high grade models, the group from the 1940s are plain, stark, and a bit ugly. Even Elgin's final years production looked better, in general, than Waltham's. You could see they were in decline as a watch manufacturer.

In any event I enjoyed reading about problems that led to Waltham's final demise.
 

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This thread has caused me to reflect on the fact that the watches I love the most emerged precisely from the 19th century struggle between traditional craftsmanship and the imperatives of efficient mass manufacturing, a battle in which the former continually lost ground. It was the two oldest and perhaps least "efficient" American watch manufacturers, Waltham and Howard, who won my heart through the wonderful, often quirky personalities of some of their products. I have observed in the past that Edward Howard still seemed to have one foot firmly planted in the Old World. If so, Robbins and vander Woerd still dipped their toes there. I'm sure that if I had been a stockholder in either of these enterprises, I might have enjoyed the ideosyncrasies of their manufacturing methods and resulting products much less than I do as a modern watch collector, but I was not. However, it offers insight into the nature of the watches produced to know of these management failures and foibles, so I thank Dewey for starting this thread and causing me to revisit some of these issues.
 
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DeweyC

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This thread has caused me to reflect on the fact that the watches I love the most emerged precisely from the 19th century struggle between traditional craftsmanship and the imperatives of efficient mass manufacturing, a battle in which the former continually lost ground. It was the two oldest and perhaps least "efficient" American watch manufacturers, Waltham and Howard, who won my heart through the wonderful, often quirky personalities of some of their products. I have observed in the past that Edward Howard still seemed to have one foot firmly planted in the Old World. If so, Robbins and vander Woerd still dipped their toes there. I'm sure that if I had been a stockholder in either of these enterprises, I might have enjoyed the ideosyncrasies of their manufacturing methods and resulting products much less than I do as a modern watch collector, but I was not. However, it offers insight into the nature of the watches produced to know of these management failures and foibles, so I thank Dewey for starting this thread and causing me to revisit some of these issues.
Clint,

To me, the take home lesson for Waltham collectors is that their high grade Walthams are the work of individuals responsible for hand finish and timing. Moore and others have made it clear that Waltham had problems as late as 1920 meeting high grade demand because of a limited number of qualified watchmakers. I think this elevates the role of those assigned to the high grade work over the factory mgt.

It would be fascinating to learn about these individuals.

Hamilton, OTOH, is really a reflection of the modern factory method where the process was not dependent upon the skills of a few individuals.

Waltham and Hamilton are a fascinating study in compare and contrast.

Just for giggles, I have a Sixis Rounding up tool with an early 20th century motor on a base with a wooden cover that was reputedly used at Waltham. It is marked No. 3 and "minute wheel". If the "provenance" is accurate, it is an interesing item to contemplate.
 

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Clint,

To me, the take home lesson for Waltham collectors is that their high grade Walthams are the work of individuals responsible for hand finish and timing. Moore and others have made it clear that Waltham had problems as late as 1920 meeting high grade demand because of a limited number of qualified watchmakers. I think this elevates the role of those assigned to the high grade work over the factory mgt.

It would be fascinating to learn about these individuals.

Hamilton, OTOH, is really a reflection of the modern factory method where the process was not dependent upon the skills of a few individuals.

Waltham and Hamilton are a fascinating study in compare and contrast.

Just for giggles, I have a Sixis Rounding up tool with an early 20th century motor on a base with a wooden cover that was reputedly used at Waltham. It is marked No. 3 and "minute wheel". If the "provenance" is accurate, it is an interesing item to contemplate.
Hamilton finally realized the original vision of Dennison and some other American watchmaking pioneers of manufacturing quality timekeepers with truly and completely interchangeable parts at prices approachable by the average citizen. Edward Howard never even believed it was possible, and said so. As historical artifacts, Hamilton railroad watches can't be beat. But oh, that wonderful hand work and craftsmanship of the 19th century Howards and high grade Walthams, and the quirky, eccentric, and occasionally arrogant experiments and noble failures delight my collector's heart and make my pulse race. Hamilton is only close to the end of the long and colorful tapestry of American watchmaking.
 
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Bryan Eyring

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Clint,

The Japanese (under Deming of course) decided to start with the latest and greatest technology. And we know how that turned out.
Deming played a very small part, it was sensei's like Taiichi Ohno that really guided Japanese manufacturing, actually starting in the 1950's.

And, if you've read The Toyota Way and the like, you would know that technology actually played a very small part in lifting Japanese manufacturing, it was actually innovation like 1-piece work flow and a focus on the culture & the people.

What exactly is your background again??
 

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What exactly is your background again??
My background is I grew up in public housing in Newburgh NY and my mother worked as a female janitor in public schools. Most of the kids I had to fight are now dead or still digging graves. I was fortunate enough to find a way out and build the wealth that enables me to post here.

Thanks for asking.
 

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Your personal stories and those of the people who built the watches we like complement each other. Yay America.
 

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One thing that has struck me about the Waltham management story is how management's desire to make and sell a product very quickly entwined with the desire to keep their employees, who were their friends and family, working.

Paternalism can be a really strong emotion and can easily overcome rational business calculations. Managers become loyal to the organisation, the people they see every day, rather than to its enterprise, selling watches to strangers. These are constant tensions.

And really, what is the business' mission after all? If you fire half the workers and raise the dividend by $5, have you succeeded or failed? Wasn't there something originally called the Waltham Improvement Company?

I believe that there were several ultimately poor economic decisions at Waltham that were motivated by, or had the effect of, keeping workers at work. I hope that your finished product talks about this too.
 

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One thing that has struck me about the Waltham management story is how management's desire to make and sell a product very quickly entwined with the desire to keep their employees, who were their friends and family, working.

Paternalism can be a really strong emotion and can easily overcome rational business calculations. Managers become loyal to the organisation, the people they see every day, rather than to its enterprise, selling watches to strangers. These are constant tensions.

And really, what is the business' mission after all? If you fire half the workers and raise the dividend by $5, have you succeeded or failed? Wasn't there something originally called the Waltham Improvement Company?

I believe that there were several ultimately poor economic decisions at Waltham that were motivated by, or had the effect of, keeping workers at work. I hope that your finished product talks about this too.
An excellent point. Unless one is an entirely cold-blooded reptiilian investor, production efficiency is not the only measure by which a company's success or value to society should be measured. Royal Robbins succeeded in making himself by many reports the wealthiest man in greater Boston by making watches with innovative machinery and labor organization which offered the best value on the market for the price, while managing to provide a large number of employees with a relatively stable, healthful, and prosperous livelihood. At the cost of greater strife and misery among his labor force he might have made himself even wealthier, though that is not guaranteed, but so what? Robbins likely understood some of the trade-offs he was making. His was not the Walmart business model. According to an article by H. M. Gitelman in the Journal of Economic History, at the start of the Civil War Robbins promised all employees who enlisted to defend the Union that they would have jobs at the same salary waiting for them when they returned home. In one instance a veteran who had been a skilled worker returned after the war with a severe handicap. Robbins reportedly found a job for him on the custodial staff - at his original salary!
 
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I cannot refrain from commenting on my friend Clint's comment to the effect that only "an entirely cold-blooded reptiilian investor . . . [would measure a] company's success or value to society [by its production efficiency]." I would have been entirely comfortable with this statement if Clint had only referred to "persons", but he referred to "investors", implying that "decent" nvestors should primarily or exclusively invest in "good" companies. As a long-time and current member of an investment committee managing $2+ billion, I would never support making an investment for any reason other than securing the best possible investment return relative to risk in that asset class. If "good" companies or sectors happen to be the best investment alternatives, I am fine with that, just as I am with fine with "bad" companies or sectors when they happen to be the best investment alternatives. (What's good and bad is simply a matter of opinion on which there often is substantial disagreement.) I have a fiduciary obligation choose the best investment alternatives, not to support environmental or social goals (ESG), such as by disinvesting from whatever ESG proponents are then demonizing. I don't consider myself cold-blooded or reptilian for only considering investment merits when making investment decisions.

As a retired employment lawyer, I also can assure you that treating employees well often is the best way to attract and retain good employees and to obviate any reason for them to seek union representation. Treating employees well often is entirely consistent with maximizing profits.
 

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I suspect that "owner" might have been a better term than investor.
 

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I cannot refrain from commenting on my friend Clint's comment to the effect that only "an entirely cold-blooded reptiilian investor . . . [would measure a] company's success or value to society [by its production efficiency]." I would have been entirely comfortable with this statement if Clint had only referred to "persons", but he referred to "investors", implying that "decent" nvestors should primarily or exclusively invest in "good" companies. As a long-time and current member of an investment committee managing $2+ billion, I would never support making an investment for any reason other than securing the best possible investment return relative to risk in that asset class. If "good" companies or sectors happen to be the best investment alternatives, I am fine with that, just as I am with fine with "bad" companies or sectors when they happen to be the best investment alternatives. (What's good and bad is simply a matter of opinion on which there often is substantial disagreement.) I have a fiduciary obligation choose the best investment alternatives, not to support environmental or social goals (ESG), such as by disinvesting from whatever ESG proponents are then demonizing. I don't consider myself cold-blooded or reptilian for only considering investment merits when making investment decisions.

As a retired employment lawyer, I also can assure you that treating employees well often is the best way to attract and retain good employees and to obviate any reason for them to seek union representation. Treating employees well often is entirely consistent with maximizing profits.
Hi Ethan, I never meant to suggest exactly what criteria anyone else should use to judge the merits of a commercial enterprise. My point was only that there are other reasonable criteria on which one could base such judgments in addition to profitability, and that only a person with a direct financial interest in a company would tend to ignore anything but its profit potential. None of us are in that category with respect to the AWCo. I completely agree that a contented work force that feels valued and respected promotes greater productivity. That is in fact why my previous post qualified the statement that a more cold-blooded attitude towards his work force only "might" have made Robbins wealthier, but there was no guarantee it would have. I do also understand that people who manage investments for others have a responsibility to place the financial interests of their clients first. Nevertheless, I think we could probably agree that certain investments should be considered beyond the pale, no matter what. For instance, I'm hoping you would agree that in 1940 an investment in a chemical company manufacturing poison gas for use in gas chambers should not have been considered, regardless of its profit potential.

Furthermore, consider that the city of Waltham invested in the AWCo through the improvement company it created to make the watch company possible. I think it would be fair to say that the responsibility of those "investors" was to maximize the benefit of that investment to the residents of the town. It is far from clear that the interests of those particular investors were always necessarily served best by promoting policies that maximized watch company profits. For instance, what if profits could have been increased by moving the company out of town? Similar dilemmas can arise when pension funds own stock, a very common situation, especially when they own stock in the company for which the fund's beneficiaries work or had worked.
 
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hc3

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Of course. But "investor" carries with it the connotation of someone whose ownership is partial, without operational interest, and who buys in purely for return. Owner suggests both equity and management.

I was just saying that at least at Waltham, putting even unprofitable employees out of work generally seemed to be a reluctant choice.
 
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Of course. But "investor" carries with it the connotation of someone whose ownership is partial, without operational interest, and who buys in purely for return. Owner suggests both equity and management.

I was just saying that at least at Waltham, putting even unprofitable employees out of work generally seemed to be a reluctant choice.
Hmm, I need to ponder that, HC3. I recently became a minor owner, i.e., a voting stockholder, of the small privately held company that employs me, with about a 1% stake. We have about 40 employees, mostly technical PhDs like myself. I am not a member of management (more precisely, I manage projects, not people), and I don't serve on the board, but I am given a lot of responsibility and I do consider myself an owner.
 
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Are there Waltham employee testimonials about how well they were treated, ie very well
vs. other local or similar employers. Not looking for management testamonials.
Obviously with all the mismanagement mentioned above they still put out a decent
product and have a fantastic legacy as one of the most important American Watch companies
in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Rob
 
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Are there Waltham employee testimonials about how well they were treated, ie very well
vs. other local or similar employers. Not looking for management testamonials.
Obviously with all the mismanagement mentioned above they still put out a decent
product and have a fantastic legacy as one of the most important American Watch companies
in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Rob
Well, at some point the employees voted to organize a union, I believe, so that is one data point. Then early on, there was the Nashua breakaway group who eventually returned. I believe that for a long time the pay was higher at the Waltham factory than comparably skilled or educated employees could get elsewhere in the area. There were large swings in both employment and salaries in the early, lean economic times, but that was perhaps widely expected back then.
 
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Hopefully I'm not muddying the water, but I'm trying to get a feel for what was going on at Waltham during the early days of what would become Elgin c1864. If I recall correctly....I read that Bartlett and Blake, who were Waltham employees, were in on the founding, and that shortly after the initial meetings and approvals, they recruited 7 key employees from Elgin to help ensure a successful start. Was this prior to the period being discussed? "My Timing a Century..." Waltham book is boxed up right now, so I can't check to see when everything happened.
 

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Hopefully I'm not muddying the water, but I'm trying to get a feel for what was going on at Waltham during the early days of what would become Elgin c1864. If I recall correctly....I read that Bartlett and Blake, who were Waltham employees, were in on the founding, and that shortly after the initial meetings and approvals, they recruited 7 key employees from Elgin to help ensure a successful start. Was this prior to the period being discussed? "My Timing a Century..." Waltham book is boxed up right now, so I can't check to see when everything happened.
Pat, the Elgin National Watch Co. was capitalized in 1864 and its first watches reached the market in 1867, so the founding of Elgin happened quite early in the AWCo's history. I had forgotten that Patten S. Bartlett was deeply involved with Elgin. It is puzzling that Waltham continued to use Bartlett's name, which had become associated with a competitor, on so many of their movements for decades afterwards. Perhaps this fact suggests that the relationship between Waltham and Elgin was never purely competitive, even from the start. Indeed, Bartlett ended up back at Waltham again, later in his career.
 
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hc3

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"Are there Waltham employee testimonials about how well they were treated..."

I believe you can find a good one for every bad and vice versa, often explainable as special pleading.

To me the best testimonial is that Waltham jobs were always in demand, people stuck to them their whole working lives, children followed parents down Crescent Street, and no one seemed eager to quit. Even the famous 5 month walkout was only to protect the pay and hours they had.
 

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Pat and Clint,

According to Elgin Time (Alft and Biska, 2003), Raymond and Adams financed the company. Adams was informed of worker dissatisfaction at Waltham and made a trip to "poach" the Seven Stars (Hunter, Bigelow, Bartlett, Hoyt, Mason , Hartwell and Moseley) from Waltham. (pgs 9-13) Interestingly, both Raymond and Adams were transplants from NY.



Hopefully I'm not muddying the water, but I'm trying to get a feel for what was going on at Waltham during the early days of what would become Elgin c1864. If I recall correctly....I read that Bartlett and Blake, who were Waltham employees, were in on the founding, and that shortly after the initial meetings and approvals, they recruited 7 key employees from Elgin to help ensure a successful start. Was this prior to the period being discussed? "My Timing a Century..." Waltham book is boxed up right now, so I can't check to see when everything happened.
Pat, the Elgin National Watch Co. was capitalized in 1864 and its first watches reached the market in 1867, so the founding of Elgin happened quite early in the AWCo's history. I had forgotten that Patten S. Bartlett was deeply involved with Elgin. It is puzzling that Waltham continued to use Bartlett's name, which had become associated with a competitor, on so many of their movements for decades afterwards. Perhaps this fact suggests that the relationship between Waltham and Elgin was never purely competitive, even from the start. Indeed, Bartlett ended up back at Waltham again, later in his career.
 

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Thanks for your thoughts, Clint and Dewey. I thought I had read about the Waltham departures in Alft & Briska's book, but it's packed away long with my Waltham book, so couldn't confirm names, reasons, etc.
 

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>>Are there Waltham employee testimonials about how well they were treated, ie very well vs. other local or similar employers. Not looking for management testimonials.

(sorry, I'm having trouble with the quote system of the board)

There is a monograph that might be of interest, Howard M. Gitelman, Workingmen of Waltham: Mobility in American Urban Industrial Development, 1850–1890. (Johns Hopkins, 1974).

My sense is that until the 1923 reorganization it was a very paternalistic and tolerable workplace. I've seen reference to company medical care and so forth, and efficiency experts brought in as consultants by the new regime in 1923 seem to have painted a picture of an overstaffed and laid-back workplace.

Things definitely changed under the Dumaine regime, which started in February 1923 — culminating in the massive strike of August 1924, which was the cause for formation of the Watchmakers Protective Association and its later affiliation with the American Federation of Labor. The fact that this was the first strike in the history of the plant is probably indicative of earlier conditions.

I bought a copy of the Moore book and have been working through it, fixing up the Waltham Watch Co. history on Wikipedia. If anybody would like to join in, concentrating on the pocket watch period, please do join in — my personal interest is the 20th Century history of the company.
 
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Carrite

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One thing that I've found interesting is the competitive disadvantage that Waltham found itself in vis-a-vis its main American competitors, Elgin and Hamilton, in the aftermath of World War I. At the start of the European conflict, in 1914, Waltham began development and production of timers for artillery ordinance — not an easy product to make given the technology of the day. Shells experienced enormous force during the firing process and we were still in the days when a pocket watch could easily break if you dropped it.

Hamilton and Elgin largely left the timer business to Waltham and concentrated on watches.

So whereas Waltham benefited greatly from military contracts during the war years, it found itself playing catch up with its competitors, who invested in new facilities and who adapted more readily towards the new consumer preference for wristwatches in the immediate post-war years.

Waltham found itself without its wartime contracts for timers and encumbered by its old, inefficient methods for production of old-style watches, which increasingly fell out of favor with purchasers. In addition, its rather bizarre system of semi-autonomous shops did not produce components efficiently, resulting in huge oversupplies of some parts that were overvalued on the books.

Financial crisis followed, with the 1923 reorganization a direct result.
 
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PatH

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Not trying to derail the thread, but it's interesting to look at US watch companies' advertising during and immediately after the wars. I haven't collected as many WWI era ads as WWII, but below are some observations related to Waltham as compared to Elgin in the WWI era.

Although this doesn't relate directly to management and working conditions, in 1920 Waltham was expending some advertising dollars, and keeping their name before readers, with this 2-page fuse ad.

Waltham's 1917 ad campaign seems to have been focused around the world coming to Waltham for fine railroad grade watches. The last ad below is part of the campaign - it shows representatives from many countries, while the other ads each focus on an individual country.

During this period, Elgin had at least one war production-focused ad in 1918 (below), and they were producing the Captain Tick-Mouse books and poster stamps to be given to children as early as 1917. Of course, parents were likely the ones who read the books to their children, so they were seeing the watch advertising that was woven into the stories of how the the children in the books could help with the war effort.

The WWI era watch company ads are quite different from the WWII ads where the text focused on war production. Often the ads included text asking people to take care of their watches because production was focused on war efforts rather than general watch making.

1920 Waltham fuse p1.jpg 1920 Waltham fuse p2.jpg 1917 Waltham World.jpg 1918 Elgin war essential first rank.jpg
 

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One thing that I've found interesting is the competitive disadvantage that Waltham found itself in vis-a-vis its main American competitors, Elgin and Hamilton, in the aftermath of World War I. At the start of the European conflict, in 1914, Waltham began development and production of timers for artillery ordinance — not an easy product to make given the technology of the day. Shells experienced enormous force during the firing process and we were still in the days when a pocket watch could easily break if you dropped it.

Hamilton and Elgin largely left the timer business to Waltham and concentrated on watches.

So whereas Waltham benefited greatly from military contracts during the war years, it found itself playing catch up with its competitors, who invested in new facilities and who adapted more readily towards the new consumer preference for wristwatches in the immediate post-war years.

Waltham found itself without its wartime contracts for timers and encumbered by its old, inefficient methods for production of old-style watches, which increasingly fell out of favor with purchasers. In addition, its rather bizarre system of semi-autonomous shops did not produce components efficiently, resulting in huge oversupplies of some parts that were overvalued on the books.

Financial crisis followed, with the 1923 reorganization a direct result.
I suspect that in the period you discuss, Swiss competition my have been an even bigger problem for Waltham than its domestic competitors, Carrite. I believe Waltham became a victim of its own prior success, so to speak. In its beginning, Waltham's pioneering production methods, which were radical in their time, provided a sufficient advantage in efficiency over their contemporaneous competition to ensure robust sales growth and a healthy bottom line. However, they became set in their ways, in no small part because the labor organization and the related production system that had enabled their early success supported the stable employment and prosperity of the people responsible for it. By the time that Waltham's competition reached the point that it was able to expose the remaining inefficiencies in Waltham's production practices, a combination of entrenched self interests and complacency prevented Waltham management from responding to the challenge effectively. This was an ironic case of history repeating itself, because something similar happened to the English watchmaking industry half a century earlier.
 
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I suspect that in the period you discuss, Swiss competition my have been an even bigger problem for Waltham than its domestic competitors, Carrite. I believe Waltham became a victim of its own prior success, so to speak. In its beginning, Waltham's pioneering production methods, which were radical in their time, provided a sufficient advantage in efficiency over their contemporaneous competition to ensure robust sales growth and a healthy bottom line. However, they became set in their ways, in no small part because the labor organization and the related production system that had enabled their early success supported the stable employment of the people responsible for it. By the time that Waltham's competition reached the point that it was able to expose the remaining inefficiencies in Waltham's production practices, a combination of entrenched self interests and complacency prevented Waltham management from responding to the challenge effectively. This was an ironic case of history repeating itself, because something similar happened to the English watchmaking industry half a century earlier.
Clint,

Years ago I used to collect the mid century horological journals. At the end of WW11 was a full page ad by Watchmakers of Switzerland. It was kind of snotty. After dumping jeweled wws in the US throughout the war (which could not be made for civilians by US companies), while refusing to supply Lecoulter A/C clocks (which Hamilton had to replace with the 37500), they "thanked" Waltham for all their help and ideas during the 1890 visit (the report of which was kept classified until some time in the last couple decades). They offered condolences for Waltham's situation.

Hence my saying "Swiss. Great if you need em. Better if you don't". My Swiss friends smile when I say this BTW.
 
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Clint Geller

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Clint,

Years ago I used to collect the mid century horological journals. At the end of WW11 was a full page ad by Watchmakers of Switzerland. It was kind of snotty. After dumping jeweled wws in the US throughout the war (which could not be made for civilians by US companies), while refusing to supply Lecoulter A/C clocks (which Hamilton had to replace with the 37500), they "thanked" Waltham for all their help and ideas during the 1890 visit (the report of which was kept classified until some time in the last couple decades). They offered condolences for Waltham's situation.

Hence my saying "Swiss. Great if you need em. Better if you don't". My Swiss friends smile when I say this BTW.
Interesting.
 

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Not trying to derail the thread, but it's interesting to look at US watch companies' advertising during and immediately after the wars. I haven't collected as many WWI era ads as WWII, but below are some observations related to Waltham as compared to Elgin in the WWI era.

Although this doesn't relate directly to management and working conditions, in 1920 Waltham was expending some advertising dollars, and keeping their name before readers, with this 2-page fuse ad.

Waltham's 1917 ad campaign seems to have been focused around the world coming to Waltham for fine railroad grade watches. The last ad below is part of the campaign - it shows representatives from many countries, while the other ads each focus on an individual country.

View attachment 716414 View attachment 716415 View attachment 716417 View attachment 716421
That fuse ad is brilliant, I wondered what their solution to the problem looked like. There is an assumption for us today to gloss over the matter, to say, "oh, yeah, they made fuses" without really thinking about the cutting-edge engineering which that entailed. Waltham put a lot of its eggs into that basket, and when the market dried up in 1919 there was a big hole to be filled, not only in terms of revenue but also in terms of product development. They were three steps behind Elgin and Hamilton in the wristwatch race that began after the war.

I'll see if I have that year of Literary Digest on microfilm, that would make a fantastic Wikipedia illustration.
 
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PatH

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That fuse ad is brilliant, I wondered what their solution to the problem looked like. There is an assumption for us today to gloss over the matter, to say, "oh, yeah, they made fuses" without really thinking about the cutting-edge engineering which that entailed. Waltham put a lot of its eggs into that basket, and when the market dried up in 1919 there was a big hole to be filled, not only in terms of revenue but also in terms of product development. They were three steps behind Elgin and Hamilton in the wristwatch race that began after the war.

I'll see if I have that year of Literary Digest on microfilm, that would make a fantastic Wikipedia illustration.
From what I've read about WWII, all of the American watch and clock concerns were in the same boat. All had restaffed, retooled, and adapted for war production. Their engineering and design groups, as well as production lines, were focused on fuses, chronometers, navigational aids, along with little bits and parts that the horological companies were well-positioned to produce. All of this was done while working around employee departures due to enlistments, spouses relocating to be closer to family, etc.

Some of the Westclox story is well represented in their employee publication "Tick-Talk" (available for research hard copy by appointment onsite at the NAWCC library and research center), and some of the Hamilton story can be found in their "Timely Topics" (available online to NAWCC members). The book "Timex - A Company and its Community" by Kathleen McDermott tells of Waterbury, Ingersoll and Timex involvement, and "The Times of Their Lives" by Philip Samponaro relates the issues at Sessions and Ingraham Clock companies in Bristol CT (can be purchased from NAWCC, with discount for members).
 

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I would like to thank Daveyc , and all the members who have put pen to paper to make this the most interesting thread, for me anyway, of the year.

It's a kind of "Learning by Doing" or learning by reading. I have already printed out the W.H. Kieth 1883 book and will read it later. It is now sitting next to "An Introduction to E. Howard & Company Pocket Watches" by Clint B, Geller, in my American file. The thread though does indicate a small family who has been involved in the American watch history so long that they are part of that history, and long may it go on.

Best wishes to all,

Allan.
 
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