Vintage Ramblings

Great American Watch Companies - Hampden

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The Hampden Watch Company was by no means the largest and best known American watchmaker but its story is indeed one of the most interesting ones.
Hampden has its roots in the Mozart Watch Company founded by Don Mozart in Providence RI in 1864. Mozart's initial commercial attempt was a failure and other investors reorganized the company in 1867 as the New York Watch Company and moved it to Springfield MA.
Things went better in Springfield but eventually the New York Watch Company had to reorganize again in 1877. A series of fires and poor economic times led to the second company's demise.
Finally the company started again as the Hampden Watch Company and had a fair bit of success building large 18S hunter and open face pocket watches. Later Hampden was one of the first companies to make a 23 jewel watch -although the quality didn't always match the jewel count.
Hampden had a friendly relationship with the John Dueber Watch Case Co. of Cincinnati OH. At that time (late 1870s, early 1880s) the local jeweler chose what case he put the movement in, and many early Hampdens ended up in Dueber silver cases.
Things changed in the 1880s when the watch movement makers and case makers organized a Watch Case Trust to reduce competition and basically force the jewelers to buy a completely finished product for resale. Mr. Dueber didn't want to join the Trust and soon he was being boycotted by the movement makers and slowly being forced out of business.
His only solution was to buy his own watch company, and so in 1886 Dueber Watch Case Company took over the Hampden Watch Company. In 1888 both the Dueber and Hampden companies moved to Canton OH. They worked hand in glove (or I suppose movement in case) for the next 40 years.
John Dueber died in1907. The two companies carried on under his son and eventually were combined in 1923. In 1926 Dueber-Hampden was resold to non-family investors, but things were not going well by this point. Dueber-Hampden was basically a pocket watch maker and although it did start making wristwatches it never competed effectively. By the time the Great Depression started the company was in receivership.
However the story doesn't end there. The Soviet Union was interested in setting up a watch industry under its centrally planned economic strategy. The US Government concluded that Dueber-Hampden's assets were not strategic and could be sold to the Soviets. In 1930 the tooling, stock and parts of Dueber-Hampden were packed up in Canton and shipped to Moscow. A bunch of Dueber-Hampden watchmakers went along to help the Russians set up the First Moscow Watch Factory. And so it is that Poljot, Buran and Sturmanskie watches have their ancestral roots in Canton OH, Springfield MA and Providence RI. Go figure.


  1. BlackNomad's Avatar
    Interesting twist
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