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 altogether in favor of geometric shapes. During World War II, Elgin shut down regular production and signed another military contract. Their production facilities were temporarily busy making military watches, speedometers, altimeters, and chronometers...

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    

Museum Quality Elgin Veritas 21j 3 Fin. Bridge Movement With Unreal Dial & CaseGold Masonic - Elgin 12s Antique Pocket Watch In Art Deco Style.Elgin 15j Size Pocket Watch 18s Silveroid Keystone Case 190919 Jewel 18s Elgin B.w. Raymond In An Outstanding Gold Filled Case, Pocket WatchRare Elgin Bwr Up/down Wind Indicator 21j Pocket Watch - Bwr CaseMen's Elgin, Antique Large, High Grade Pocket Watch Movement In Steel Case.Elgin Natl Watch Co Usa B.w. Raymond 18 Size Cronometer Pocket Watch MovementElgin B W Raymond Pocket Watch, 16s, 23j, Original Gold-filled Case - 16435Rare Lord Holiness High Master Masonic Elgin Art Deco Antique Pocket WatchVery Rare 3oz Sterling Silver Elgin Gm Wheeler Railroad Pocket WatchAntique Elgin Dueber Hampden Waltham Illinois Coin Silver Case Pocket Watch Lot Lot Of 24 Pocket Watches Parts/repair Vtg Elgin Waltham Gruen Illinois Watch CoElgin B.w. Raymond Railroad Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Montgomery Dial Gf Case Runs1896 Elgin 14k Gold Filled Full Hunter Pocket Watch 48" Chain No Scrap 57g RunsVintage / Antique Gold Plated Ingersoll Reliance Pocket Watch Elgin Case Finest Antique Elgin Mens Pocket Watch This Year 18s Open Face Stag Case1910 Elgin Pocket Watch 12 Size 15 Jewels Grade 314 Gold Filled Hunter Case RunsAntique 1891 Elgin B W Raymond Railroad Pocket Watch 18 Size 15 Jewel 4 RepairAntique 17 Jewel Gold Filled Double Hinged Pocket Watch ElginAntique 19 Jewel Pocket Watch - Elgin B.w. Raymond - 18 SizeElgin Wind Indicator Raymond 16 Size Pocket Watch Rr 14k White Gf 21j Lever16s Elgin 14k Solid Gold 21j Father Time Antique Pocket Watch Runs Railroad Incredible 18s 1901 Elgin Boxed Hunter Fantastic Colored Dial! Beautiful!!Lot Of 7 Pocket Watches Parts/repair Vtg Elgin Waltham Columbia BurlingtonAntique 1919 Elgin Pocket Watch Movement & Dial 17j 16s **Elgin B W Raymond Railroad Grade Pocket Watch, 16s, 21 Jewels, Elgin Case -16433Antique Pocket Watch, Elgin, Gents Hunter Engraved Case, Fancy DialAntique Elgin Railroad Pocketwatch 21 Jewel Rr Size 18 Model 349 (buck) Works2 Vintage Elgin Pocket WatchesAntique 1889 Elgin Natt Watch Co Pocket Watch Hunter Case No Reserve!Magnificent Mens Large 18sz Elgin 1911 Pocket Watch Super Roman Dial J.boss CaseC.1913 Scarce Illinois Harley Davidson Pocket Watch And Chain1911 Elgin 14k Gf Multi Color Pocket Watch & Mc Dial 14k Solid Gold Designs 38gBox Hinge Antique Elgin 7 Jewel 1893 16 Size Pocket Watch - Runs! No Reserve!Elgin B W Raymond Pocket Watch, 16s, 21j, Hard To Find Two-tone Case - 16436Antique Full Hunter Gold Plated 10 Year Pocket Watch Elgin Usa 23413266Black Masonic - Elgin 12s Antique Pocket Watch In Art Deco Style.1947 Elgin 575 Size 16s 15 Jewel 10k Rolled Gold Plate Pocket Watch Runs1894 Elgin Diamond Clover Grade 131 Size 0s 15 Jewel 14k Gold Pocket Watch 1895 Elgin Bw Raymond 18s 15j Pocketwatch Watch Runs Hunter Case Railroad GradeElgin Army Air Corp 24 Hour Stop Watch Military Gct Black Face Vintage 21 JewelAntique Elgin Pocket Watch 16 Size 15 Jewels Nickel Case Runs18s Elgin Scarce 17j Of Movement Early Railroad GradeVintage Elgin 14k Ladies Pocket WatchVintage High Grade 21j B.w.raymond Elgin Railroad 14k Gold Filled Pocket WatchElgin 21 Jewel B W Raymond Pocket Watch Antique Elgin 17 Jewel Full Hunter Pocket Watch. Gr 386 Mechanical Hand-wind1906 Elgin Pocket Watch 12 Size 17 Jewels Grade 321 Gold Filled Case Runs Vintage Hamilton 21j Model 992b Gold Filled Antique Railroad Pocket Watch Antique Gold Filled Pocket Watch Ladies Elgin Hunter Case Pin 1800s VictorianElgin B W Raymond Railroad Grade Pocket Watch, 16s, 21 Jewels, Gold Filled-16432Vintage 3 Finger Bridge Strong 17 J Elgin 16 Size Gold Filled Pocket WatchElgin Men’s Military Sweep Second Wristwatch Complete Movement. 90hOld Ww 11 Vintage Elgin Pocket Watch Military Fly Back Minute Seconds Timer 1912 Elgin Pocket Watch 12 Size 7 Jewels Grade 301 Gold Filled Hunter Case Runs16s 19j Elgin B. W. Raymond Railroad Grade Pocket Watch For Parts Or Repair47mm - 1890 Elgin 7j Gold Filled 6s Stretched Hunters Case Pocket WatchVintage 17 Jewel Elgin 12 Size Octagonal Dress Pocket Watch Runs19 Jewel Elgin B.w. Raymond W/wind IndicatorElgin Invar Balance B W Raymond Pocket Watch, 21 Jewels, Railroad Grade - 16897