Elgin National Watch Company
ENWC "Father Time" logo
|Predecessor||National Watch Company|
Edward H. Williams
|Headquarters||Elgin, United States|
|Products||Pocket watches, wrist watches, bomb sights and precision instruments|
The Elgin National Watch Company, most commonly known as just the Elgin Watch company, was a major US watch maker from 1864 until its closure in 1968. The company sold watches under the names, Elgin, Lord Elgin, and Lady Elgin.
The company was first incorporated in August 1864 as the National Watch Company, in Chicago, Illinois. The founders of the original company were Philo Carpenter, Howard Z. Culver, then-Chicago mayor, Benjamin W. Raymond, George M. Wheeler, Thomas S. Dickerson, Edward H. Williams and W. Robbins. In September of the same year the founders visited the Waltham Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts, and successfully convinced seven of Waltham's makers to come to work for their new company.
The growing young city of Elgin, Illinois, some 30 miles to the northwest of Chicago, was chosen as the factory site. Initially, as part of the deal, the city was asked to donate 35 acres (142,000 m²) of land for construction of the factory. A derelict farm was selected for this, however the owners refused to sell the property unless the city purchased their entire 71 acres for $3,550 (roughly $50,000 in 2010). Four Elgin businessmen agreed to purchase the property and then donated the required 35 acres to the new watch company. The company was re-organized in April 1865 and the factory was completed in 1866. The first movement, delivered in 1867, was named the B.W. Raymond in honor of Benjamin W. Raymond. The watch was an 18 size, full plate design. In 1869, the National Watch Company won "Best Watches, Illinois Manufacture" at the 17th Annual Illinois State Fair, for which it won a silver medal. The company officially changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company in 1874, as the Elgin name had come into common usage for their watches.
The company built the Elgin National Watch Company Observatory in 1910 to maintain scientifically precise times in their watches. The company produced many of the self-winding wristwatch movements made in the United States beginning with the 607 and 618 calibers (which were bumper wind) and the calibers 760 and 761 (30 and 27 jewels respectively).
During World War II all civilian manufacturing was halted and the company moved into the defense industry, manufacturing military watches, chronometers, fuses for artillery shells, altimeters and other aircraft instruments and sapphire bearings used for aiming cannons.
Over time a number of additional plants were operated, mostly in Elgin. However, additional plants were located in Aurora, Illinois and Lincoln, Nebraska. The original, obsolete factory in Elgin closed in 1964, after having produced half of the total number of pocket watches manufactured in the United States (dollar-type not included). In 1964 the company relocated most manufacturing operations to a brand new plant in Blaney, South Carolina, a town near Columbia, South Carolina which renamed itself Elgin, South Carolina. A leased building in Elgin that housed offices as well as casing, fitting, shipping, service, and trade material departments was maintained until about 1970.
All US manufacturing was discontinued in 1968, and the rights to the name "Elgin" were sold and subsequently resold multiple times over the years. The rights eventually were purchased by MZ Berger Inc., which company manufactures its watches in China and distributes them outside traditional watch dealerships. Elgin-branded watches produced after 1968 have no connection to the Elgin Watch Company.
- Robert Johnson, pre-eminent Delta bluesman, sang "She’s got Elgin movements/ from her head down to her toes" in his 1936 recording of "Walkin' Blues".
- Elgin American, maker of watch cases and compacts, sponsored the original radio version of Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life from October 1947 to January 1950. (The TV version started in October 1950.) Elgin American was a different company from Elgin National Watch Company (see Allen Gellman).
- NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor was named after the Elgin National Watch Company.
- Daniel Beard's sketches of an angel at the end of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are based on the Elgin National Watch Company's logo.
- The Steeleye Span album Bloody Men contains a track titled "Lord Elgin", which is superficially a standard love song, but in fact is about the Lord Elgin Watch.
- The watch company is referenced in the video game L.A. Noire, which takes place in post-World War II Los Angeles.
- R&B group The Temptations originally wanted to use the name "The Elgins" in honor of the company, Elgin watches being considered a status symbol. Another, later Motown group called The Elgins chose their name for the same reason.
- Aft, E.C. Elgin: An American History, ElginHistory.com, 2000 http://www.elginhistory.com/eaah/ Accessed September 16, 2013
- John P. Reynolds. Transaction of the Illinois State Agricultural Society with Reports from County and District Agricultural Societies. Illinois Journal Printing Office, 1871, p 45
- Charlotte Chandler. Hello, I must be going: Groucho and his friends. Doubleday, 1978, p 190
- Groucho Marx. The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. Simon & Schuster 2007 p 311
- Elgin Baylor bio at NBA website
- Complete Watch Guide, by Cooksey Shugart, Tom Engle, Richard E. Gilbert, Edition 1998, ISBN 1-57432-064-5