We're taking a look back at Elgin's National Watch company

Dated: March 19 2021

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Did you know? The Elgin National Watch Factory, one of the biggest watch producers in the U.S. during the early 20th century.
The Elgin Watch Company (also known as the Elgin National Watch Company) was the largest American watch manufacturer in terms of total production volume. In fact, Elgin produced approximately one-half of the total number of better-quality pocket watches manufactured in the United States. Total production over their 100 years of operation reached nearly 60 million watches, which is nearly 50% of ALL the jeweled watches produced by American watch companies! This makes Elgin one of the most commonly collected vintage watches since there are still so many examples available at reasonable prices.
Elgin was a major American manufacturer. The company was first incorporated in August 1864 as the National Watch Company, in Chicago Illinois. Later that year, the founders managed to convince a number of key personnel from the competing Waltham Watch Company to leave Waltham and join the newly-formed company. The company developed their first movement in 1867 and named it in honor of the company president – B.W. Raymond. In 1874, the National Watch Company officially changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company.
The company prospered during the pocket watch era and the facilities grew significantly. By the 1940s, Elgin claimed to have the largest watch manufacturing operation in America. During World War II, all civilian manufacturing was halted and the company moved into the defense industry, converting the factory into the production of military watches, chronometers and various other instruments for military use. At the height of the operation, the factory employed more than 5,500 people making, primarily, munitions timing devices. The company prided itself in domestic production, with ads over the years proclaiming “Thoroughly American!”

In 1951, Elgin produced its 50 millionth watch movement — a testament to the popularity of the brand.

Over time, Elgin opened a number of additional plants, mostly in Elgin, Illinois. Additional facilities were located in Aurora, Illinois, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The original, obsolete factory in Elgin closed in 1964 when the company relocated most manufacturing operations to a brand new plant in Blaney, South Carolina (a town near Columbia, South Carolina which later renamed itself as Elgin, South Carolina).
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Kim Kern

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