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Waltham

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Waltham is one of the most important sites of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, with the Waltham system of textile manufacture pioneered here at the Boston Manufacturing Company (WT5) and Waltham becoming “The Watch City” in the second half of the nineteenth century. Settlers from Watertown moved west into Waltham after 1636, creating an independent town in 1720 on both sides of the Charles River. Enclosed field farmsteads predominated until after the Revolution, when the Boston gentry began to create country estates here. Water-powered industries also proliferated, first paper mills, followed by textile manufacturers, beginning in the 1810s. The Waltham Cotton and Woolen Company (1810) and the soon dominant Boston Manufacturing Company (1812) transformed the nature of American industry, creating an integrated system of production from raw material to finished goods. Villages of worker housing, composed especially of two-family wooden houses, expanded from the mill sites. On the south side of the Charles River, the American/Waltham Watch Company (WT7) rose to establish itself and its industry as the city's economic engine after the Civil War. Aaron L. Dennison, the company's founder, introduced the system of interchangeable, machine-produced parts to the manufacture of watches and clocks. Competitors and related companies soon established factories here as well.

Beyond the Charles River industrial zone, Waltham Common became the town's civic and commercial core, and Piety Corner and the Waltham highlands attracted middle- and upper-class residential development. As old industries declined in the 1920s, the Raytheon Manufacturing Company, builders of radio rectifier tubes initially, moved into Waltham in 1934 to occupy or replace the former textile and watch complexes along the river. In 1948, Brandeis University (WT8) established its campus in the southwest corner of Waltham, bringing new life to the failing industrial city. The construction of the Route 128 corridor at midcentury along Waltham's western border brought renewed opportunities for industrial development.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Keith N. Morgan

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