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Elgin National Watch Company History

The Elgin Company was founded on April 25, 1865. The first officers were Benjamin Raymond, President Philo Carpenter, Vice President Thomas Dickerson, Treasurer and George Wheeler, Secretary. The first movement was produced from the factory on April 1, 1867. It was during that time that watches took six months to complete. That first watch, the B.W. Raymond sold for $117 dollars when pork chops sold for three cents. The watch was purchased several years ago by the city of Elgin at an auction for $15,000 dollars. On May 20, 1869 the first “Lady Elgin” was introduced. On September 8, 1871 the “Francis Rubie” watch was adjusted to temperature by Gail Borden and then again on December 20, 1871 by Dexter Street. Elgin like most watch companies sold their movement to wholesalers who then sold them to retailers. On June 28, 1873 the first stem wind movement was manufactured followed by the movements of Culver, Taylor, Wheeler, LaFlin and Ogden. The name of the company changed to “The Elgin National Watch Company” on May 12, 1874. On August 18, 1877, the first nickel movement hit the market. Stem wind watches were offered on June 11, 1878. Later that same year, “four grades of 16 size, three quarter plate, stem wind movements began production”. They were considered quite the watch being used for hunting or as an open face case. In 1888, the factory manufactured approximately 7500 movements per week. One fifth of them were key wind and one tenth of them were nickel. At the time, women earned $6.00 a week while men earned $3.00 a day. Quite the discrepancy in wages. During World War I, 350 people were trained to make precision repairs required on the battlefield. During World War II, only military watches were made. Chronometers were made for the Navy. “Fuses for artillery shells, altimeters and instruments for aircraft and sapphire bearings used in the aiming of cannons” were produced. After World War II, the Elgin watch was manufactured again along with transistor radios, decorator clocks and wedding bands. “The clock tower of the National Street plant was torn down on October 7, 1966”. In 1921, The Elgin Watchmakers College was opened at 267 South Grove Avenue in Elgin. Plants in Elgin, Illinois were opened in 1866, 1947 and 1950. A 72,000 square foot plant was opened in 1963 but closed in 1968. Another plant, making casings, fittings and used for shipping and service was closed in 1970. New watches holding the names of Elgin, Watham, Benrus and Gruen may look the same as the vintage watches but they may not be of the same quality containing quartz movements instead of mechanical movements.    

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