View Full Version : Aaron L. Dennison

Greg Davis
05-02-2003, 03:03 PM

- Greg

Greg Davis
05-02-2003, 03:31 PM
Aaron L. Dennison has been called "the Father of the American watch factories". He was born in 1812, the son of a shoemaker of Freeport, Maine. Aaron was the oldest of eight children. In 1824 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, and in 1830 Aaron was apprenticed to a local watchmaker named James Carey.

In 1833 he went to Boston where he worked, first for Currier & Trot, and later for Jones, Low & Ball; improving his skill at watchmaking all the time.

He opened a watch repair and jewelry store of his own in 1839 and took on a line of watch materials and tools; also cards, tags and jewelry boxes which he imported. Finally he got the idea that instead of importing the tags and boxes he could take his father away from the shoemaker bench and have him manufacture these items. He made some simple machines and set his father up in a business which proved successful. The Dennison Manufacturing Co. is still in extistence.

Incidentally, Mr. Dennison invented the Dennison Standard Gauge in 1840 and his gauge is still widely used in the U.S.A. for mainspring measurement.

About 1850 Dennison became associated with Edward Howard, famous watch and clockmaker, and the two men decided to build a watch factory where watches would be mass-produced of interchangeable parts. Such a venture required more money than the two men had so they took Mr. Samuel Curtis of Boston in as a partner. Mr. Curtis put in $20,000.

Before starting operations Mr. Dennison went to England where he visited some of the watch factories to study their methods.

At the time Mr. Howard already had a clock factory in Roxbury, Mass., and a small room in his factory was set aside for making the first model watch and the necessary tools. When they were ready for production they built a small factory across the stree from Howard's, and the firm name at first was "The American Horologe Company."

The first watch made was an 18 size full plate and seemed to give trouble. It was not until 1853 that they were producing watches in quantities for sale. By this time the name of the company had changed to the "Warren Manufacturing Co." After they made 100 watches with the name Warren the used the name Samuel Curtis on the next 600 watches. The name of the firm was changed to "The Boston Watch Co." and the factory was moved in 1854 to Waltham. The movements were now engraved "Dennison, Howard & Davis" and production was about 5 watches per day.

The firm was employing about 90 people and the production of only 5 watches daily that sold for $40 each did not bring in sufficient income to cover expenses and in 1857 the factory was sold for $56,000 to Mr. Royal E. Robbins who acted as agent for Tracy, Baker & Co. The new name of the firm was Tracy, Baker & Co., and Mr. Dennison remained with the firm as superintendent until 1862.

In 1864 Mr. Dennison helped to found the Tremont Watch Co. which later changed its name to Melrose Watch Co. and the factory was moved to Melrose, Mass. The Tremont and Melrose watches were constructed with balance wheels and escapement parts that were purchased in Switzerland.

Mr. Dennison went to Switzerland to supervise the manufacturing of the escapement parts but the firm decided to manufacture the entire movement in this country and in 1866 Mr. Dennison resigned from the firm. Two years later the firm failed and the machinery and tools were sold to the English Watch Company of Coventry, England.

In 1870 Mr. Dennison went to England and settled in Birmingham where he started a factory for the manufacture of watch cases. The firm was at first known as "Dennison, Wrigley & Co." The venture was successful and the firm is still in existence in Birmingham. It is now known as the "Dennison Watch Case Company, Ltd." and is probably the most important watch case factory in England today.

Aaron L. Dennison died in Birmingham January 9, 1895.

- Greg

11-17-2003, 09:29 AM
Thank you, Greg, for postimg this info--hopefully others will locate the thread and enjoy reading it!

Jon Hanson, NAWCC #8801
Founder & President Chapter 149. 46 year collector, researcher and lecturer of early American pocket watches

12-25-2003, 06:19 AM
Early Waltham history is absolutely the best--so much happened with so many wonderful watches to inspect, view and collect!

Jon Hanson, NAWCC #8801
Founder & President Chapter 149. 47 year collector, researcher and lecturer of early American pocket watches

02-09-2004, 02:43 PM
Another piquant part of the history is that Jubal Howe, a foreman in the firm where Dennison was employed in Boston, had been one of the apprentices of Luther Goddard in 1809-12 or so.

By the way, I find it fascinating, and a bit disturbing, that the first interchangeable, machine-produced commodity in this country was guns. We seem to have been in the forefront of weapons manufacture (and been weapons-supplier to the world) since our inception as a country, almost.

There are other coincidental meetings of this sort, mentioned (as the one above) in Harrold's "American Watchmaking." It was a small world back then--literally--and the world of watch and clock-making must have been even smaller. These coincidences may be less startling than we find them.

What sort of publication was this "Watchmaker's Journal" by the way?


02-09-2004, 02:59 PM
The earliest made American watches on American made machinery were by Henry Pitkin and his brother James Flagg Pitkin, circa 1838 in East Hartford, Conn. (They began work in 1834). This was also the first attempt at interchangeability in watches.

There is just one Henry Pitkin known (50 made) serial no 46 in it's orignal case with matching serial number. Thius is the earliest American made watch made on American made machinery and was on display at the 1976 centennial exhibit in Abnahein at the natiuonal covnention, arguably the finest watch exibit ever in American horology!

Jon Hanson, NAWCC #8801
Founder & President Chapter 149. 47 year collector, researcher and lecturer of early American pocket watches

Dave Chaplain
10-08-2005, 11:40 AM
I see someone has noted the 1st use of machine made interchangeable parts was in gun making. Well, I learned recently (on the History Channel) that our government in the early 1800's made any patent having to do with the manufacture of guns "free" for use by all makers - without license - so that the art would progress more quickly, and the USA would learn to be self-sufficient in the art, so Eli Whitney and others rushed in and interchangeable parts for guns and more importantly the machines that made them, came sooner for this industry.


10-09-2005, 01:01 AM
I thought the development of mass production methods was originally done by the Federal Government in the Armory in Mass., prior to the Civil War, and perhaps in preparation for it--or its possibility--and was not actually terribly economically efficient--

if only because the Gov. was willing to invest massive resources to do it--

and these methods, or some of them, were adopted by Waltham (first) and others, as has been noted in the accounts we all read--

but that s ome of the inefficiencies weren't ironed out of the system for quite a while afterward, and therefore one problem for Waltham was that, as the first company, it also suffered from having the least evolved system--

But I'd be interested in knowing what program you saw Dave. The History Channel has lots of fascinating shows on American Production--and I'd love to see that one--I don't watch as many as I should--too busy watching SciFi Friday and all that...