Brief History: Burlington Watch Company

Chicago, Illinois & Winnipeg, Manitoba

1909 - ca. 1925

The Burlington Watch Company, was a mail-order sales company. By selling directly to the consumer, they were able to eliminate the costly sales and distribution channel. Watches were sold on the "installment plan," which allowed them to be paid off at $2-$3 dollars per month, thus making high-quality watches available to those who otherwise might not be able to afford them..

The majority of watches sold by Burlington were "privately labeled" movements made under contract by the Illinois Watch Company i.e. they are Illinois watches. Some contend that the Burlington Watch Company was a subsidiary of the Illinois Watch Company, but this claim has not been documented. Burlington also sold a small number of movements made by Henry Moser & Co, in Switzerland. These movements may have been sold only in Canada and appear to have been cased in Canadian-made cases. Most American Burlington watches were sold in Burlington-signed gold-filled cases of good quality.

Burlington watch

Typical Burlington pocket watch produced by Illinois Watch Company.
This watch is an Illinois Mod 9, grade 107, 16-size, 21 jewels.

Early Production

In the early years, most of the watches sold by Burlington were 16-size, 19-jewel movements, based on the Illinois Model 5 and Model 9. Many were designated "Burlington Special" and were so signed on the dial. It is curious to note that the "Burlington Special" designation only appeared on the dial, and not on the movement. The 19-jewel watches were discontinued in 1917 when the company began selling a complete line of 21-jewel watches, adjusted to temperature and positions. The most common of these was based on the Illinois Model 9 (photo above).

Fighting the "Trust"

Burlington claimed that the sales and distribution practices of the major watch manufacturers were unfair to consumers because they "fixed prices" and forced consumers to pay too much to the "middlemen." Whether this was just a marketing ploy is unknown, but Burlington often advertised their watches as "Anti-Trust" watches because they were sold directly to the consumer with "no middleman." Burlington's direct-sales, installment payment model was intended to put "... the highest watch value within reach of all."

Burlington Watches in Railway Service

Burlington also contracted with Illinois to produce a small number of 16s, 21-jewel movements in Sangamo grade, which was widely accepted for use in railway service. It is unclear how many other Burlington models were actually accepted for railway service (some certainly were), though Burlington advertised heavily in Railroad Brotherhood Journals, and other publications which catered to railway employees.

In Canada, Burlington sold a Swiss made 16-size, 21-jewel watch which met Railroad Time Service requirements. The watch appears to have only been used for railway service in Canada, and was approved by the Canadian Railroad Time Service. Many American railroads required approved watches to be American-made, so these Swiss-made watches do not appear to have been used in America..

The Burlington "Bull Dog"

One of the more popular Burlington watches was the 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington Bull Dog. It was sold in a Burlington-signed heavy railroad case made by NAWCO, and was signed "Burlington Bull Dog" on the dial. Otherwise, it's identical to other 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington watches and has no additional markings on the movement.

In our opinion, Burlington watches still represent good value to the watch collector. You are essentially buying a higher-grade Illinois movement, but Burlington watches can sometimes be found at lower prices than an equivalent Illinois watch.


Illinois Watch Company

Illinois Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Total Production: Approx. 5.7 Million Watches

Since the majority of Burlington watches were made by the Illinois watch company, we have included the Illinois serial number table here for convenience. For further information on Illinois watches, please refer to the Illinois Company History Page of this site.

Year S/N
1872 5000
1873 20,000
1874 50,000
1875 75,000
1876 100,000
1877 145,000
1878 210,000
1879 250,000
1880 300,000
1881 350,000
1882 400,000
1883 450,000
1884 500,000
1885 550,000
1886 600,000
1887 700,000
1888 800,000
1889 900,000
1890 1,000,000
1891 1,040,000
1892 1,080,000
Year S/N
1893 1,120,000
1894 1,160,000
1895 1,220,000
1896 1,250,000
1897 1,290,000
1898 1,330,000
1899 1,370,000
1900 1,410,000
1901 1,450,000
1902 1,500,000
1903 1,650,000
1904 1,700,000
1905 1,800,000
1906 1,840,000
1907 1,900,000
1908 2,100,000
1909 2,150,000
1910 2,200,000
1911 2,300,000
1912 2,400,000
1913 2,500,000
Year S/N
1914 2,600,000
1915 2,700,000
1916 2,800,000
1917 3,000,000
1918 3,200,000
1919 3,400,000
1920 3,600,000
1921 3,750,000
1922 3,900,000
1923 4,000,000
1924 4,500,000
1925 4,700,000
1926 4,800,000
1927 5,000,000
- Sold to Hamilton -
1928 5,100,000
1929 5,200,000
1931 5,400,000
1934 5,500,000
1948 5,600,000
- -

Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the watch case.

Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.

Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.

At Renaissance Watch Repair, we are experts in the repair and restoration of Burlington watches. We are also always looking for high-quality Burlington to purchase. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your vintage Burlington watch.