The rich history of the Elgin National Watch Company (originally the National Watch Co.) began in August 1864 when a group of investors traveled to Waltham, Massachusetts, home of the Waltham Watch Company. Hoping to give their new company a jump start, the investors promised seven of Waltham Watch Company’s best watchmakers and machinists $5,000 per year, plus bonuses. The company began operation two years later in 1866 in Elgin, Illinois, with Waltham-transplant Charles Moseley as factory superintendent.

National’s first watch, its original workhorse, was introduced in 1867. The B.W. Raymond, as it was called, was a relatively large-numeral, 18-size pocket watch that cost $117, a high price for the era. Like all National watches, the movement was sold without a case—customers would have a jeweler or watch repairman complete that task. Known for their accuracy, the timepieces were in such high demand they were marketed as railroad grade.

While other watches of the era were affected by changes in temperature, the B.W. Raymond was accurate in varying climates, a vital feature for a person working on traveling trains. It was also isochronous, which meant it kept time accurately down to the last minutes before another wind was needed.

More affordable models soon followed, each named for different directors or investors in the company. The J.T. Ryerson, the G.W. Wheeler, and the H. H. Taylor were all released in 1867—the Matthew Laflin appeared in early 1868. All of these early models were key-wound and most came in the railroad-standard 18-size. Following the success of Waltham Watches ladies’ model, the "Lady Elgin" was released in 1869. The 10-size watch was a hit, and helped put Elgin into competition with Waltham for the middle-priced watch market. National’s rate of production grew tremendously through the 1870s.

In the 1880s, Elgin moved into stem-winding mechanisms, a novelty compared to its key-wind mechanisms of the 1860s and ’70s. This new feature, along with affordable interchangeable movements, helped Elgin give Waltham a run for its money in the mid-range market. Elgin thrived through the turn of the century. In an experimental move, in 1909, it even built an observatory at the main plant to set its watches by celestial movement.

Many watch companies felt the strain of wartime thriftiness during the World War I. Not Elgin. Thanks to a contract with the U.S. Army, Elgin trained employees to make quick, precise watch repairs in the field. After the war, wristwatches became the norm, but some consumers still wanted famous pocket watch lines like Elgin’s Father Time, which was popular during both World Wars; the Veritas, made with as many as 23 jewels; and the Lord Elgin, a high-end model produced through the ’50s and featuring gold backplates and 21-jewel movements.

Like many other designs in the 1920s and early ’30s, Elgin watches embraced Art Deco. Roman numerals were exchanged for stylized Arabic-type, and the numerals were dropped altoge...

After the war, the company shifted from pocket watches to wristwatches, decorative clocks, wedding rings, and transistor radios. In the 1950s, foreign and less-expensive domestic watches dominated the market, forcing Elgin to depend less on watches for its income. The company eventually gave up the watchmaking side of its business entirely, ceasing production in 1970.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Barry S. Goldbergs Pocket Watch Collection

Barry S. Goldbergs Pocket Watch Collection

Barry Goldberg’s excellent collection of pocket watches, mostly American models from the late 1800s and early 189… [read review or visit site]

American Watch Company Web

American Watch Company Web

Tom McIntyre’s reference site on antique watches, especially those made by the American Watch Company (later know… [read review or visit site]

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1898 Elgin 0s 14k Solid Gold Hunter Case Pocket Watch Not Scrap L@@k No Reserve Elgin B.w. Raymond Up Down Power Indicator Private Label Railroad Grade Pocket.Elgin Father Time 21 Jewel Wind Indicator Pocket Watch..gorgeous Luster, RunningVintage Mermod And Jaccard 14k Gold Pocket WatchElgin Veritas Pocket Watch 23jewel Railroad Approved Excellent ConditionElgin 19 Jewel 16s Bw Raymond With Up/down Indicator Movement Only!!!! PartsVintage Big Watchmaker Lot Of 26 Waltham Elgin Pocket Watch Movements Dial PartsVintage 1924 Elgin 478 B.w.raymond 12k Ygf 21jewel Railroad Grade Pocket Watch!!23 Jewel, 18-size Elgin Veritas Rr Gr.214/nice Gold-filled Case/ds Dial/running 1905 Antique Ornate Elgin Hunting Case 16 Size Pocket Watch - 25% GoldVintage 18s Elgin #349 21j Sterling Silver Pocket Watch Runs U-235Vintage 14k Gold Lord Elgin Dress Pocket Watch & Box16s Elgin Father Time 21j Rr Watch16s,21j Elgin Watch Pocket Watch, Father Time Model.Antique All Original 16s Elgin B.w.raymond Rail Road Pocket Watch 1940 23 JewelsAntique 18s Elgin Bw Raymond Hunter Coin Silver Key Wind Pocket Watch PartsBw Raymond Elgin Pocket Watch 21 Jewel Railroad Grade - Working1911 Elgin Veritas 23 Jewel L.s Monty Dial Adj 5 Postions R.r Grade Pocket Watch1955 B.w. Raymond Elgin 571 10k Gf Pocket Watch 16s -21j -9 Adj. Railroad Grade1900 18s Elgin 17j Indian Motorcycle Theme Dial & Case Runs Well.Antique 1902 Elgin 20 Years Gold Filled Hunter Pocket Watch 16s For RepairElgin Father Time Railroad Pocket Watch 16 Size 21 Jewels Gold Filled Case RunsAntique 16s Elgin Bw Raymond 21j 21 Jewel Gold Filled Railroad Rr Pocket Watch18s Elgin B.w. Raymond 21j Rr Watch16s 21j Elgin Bw Raymond Rr Pw/8 Adj./pyramid Bow Case/signed Bwr Dial/running1890 18s Elgin 11j Masonic Theme Dial & Case Runs Well.Vintage 1948 Elgin 571 B.w.raymond 10k Ygf 21jewel Railroad Grade Pocket Watch!!Antique Elgin Pocket Watch 18 Size 7 Jewels Coin Silver Case Runs104 Yr Old, 17 Jewel Size 18 Elgin Runs Strong/timed Sn 17081004Antique Large Elgin 18s Bw Raymond 17j Railroad Pocket Watch 7026501 Antique 1894 Elgin Gm Wheeler Pocket Watch - Size 18 - Low ProductionElgin Father Time 16 Size Grade 454 Pocket Watch *running* Fahys Special CaseElgin Pocket Watch And Fob In Very Good Condition. Runs Great!Elgin Bw Raymond Stem Wind Lever Set Hunter Case Pocket Watch 18s 14k Gf 17j B&b18-size 11j Elgin Keywind/keyset Ca. 1880/good Dial/case/runningLord Elgin Pocket Watch For SaleElgin Pocket Watch 18s Full Hunter 7j Coin Silver 1894 Working Perfect RailroadMasonic Watch 12s Elgin Of 15j Mint Dial P.s. 14k Ygf Case Runs Good1890 Elgin Hunting Case Pocket Watch Clean Running Nice!Antique 12s Elgin 15 Jewel Gold Filled Hunter Case Pocket WatchVintage Gold Elgin Pocket Watch 546 Grade 15 JewelVintage Elgin Coin Silver Key Wind Pocket Watch Vintage 14k Gold Filled 17 Jewel 384 Grade Elgin Pocket WatchVintage Elgin National Watch Coin Silver Elgin 18s 7j Key Wind & Set Open Face Pocket Watch Nickel CaseClassic Early Elgin Gm Wheeler Grade 18s 17j Adj'd Mvmt +orig Dial&hands BoogiesLot Of 8 Old Pocket Watches Elgin, Hamilton, Standard, 1 Runs, Parts Or RestoreAntique Elgin Pocket Watch In Swing Out Case Circa 1913 RunsLot Of 3 Antique Pocket Watch Waltham Elgin Fahys Coin #1Stunning. Elgin Hunter Gold Mens 12s Pocket Watch Bates Bacon Gold Filled KnifeElgin Pocket Watch 18 Size 1909 Running & Keeping Excellent Time 12 Size Elgin 17j Pocket Watch Grade 479 1928 Art Deco Minty Running StrongVintage Working Elgin 17 Jewel Pocket Watch W ChainVintage Elgin National Watch Coin Silver Pocket Watch Beautiful, Gold Circa 1890's, Men's 18 Size Elgin Watch Cc4: Sterling 1918 Elgin 16 Size 17j 3 Finger Bridge Runs Great Porcelain Dial1870 Elgin S18 Keywind Pocket Watch Gm Wheeler Runs NrAntique 1921 Solid 14k Elgin 6/os 7j Ss Sw Keystone Pocket Watch Working 18 Antique Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Illinois Waltham Riverside Bartlett Vintage Elgin Pocket Watch 16 Size 7 Jewels Base Metal Case Runs