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    

1902 Antique Elgin Gold Leaf Dial 16 Size Sterling Silver Multi-color Gold CaseKey Wind Waltham Large Size Coin Silver Hunters Case Running Pocket Watch 1870 Elgin B.w. Raymond 18's ,15j Coin Railroad Key Wind Pocket Watch # 1831821912 Elgin 31 15 Jewel 16s Gold Filled Double Hunter Art Deco Pocket Watch1899 Elgin Double Hunter 16s? 7jewel Sidewinder Pocket Watch W/ Essex Gf CaseHamilton Fancy Gold Filled Running Pocket Watch 21 Jewels 992 MovementAntique 18 Size Hunter Case Pocket Watch - Elgin - Box HingeAntique 18s Elgin Bw Raymond 17j Grade 27 Hunter Pocket Watch Movement Parts1872 Elgin National G.m.wheeler Key Wind Pocket WatchWaltham 21j Colonial Riverside Running Pocket Watch Antique 1889 Elgin 14k Gold Filled Ornate Hunter Case 11j Ladies Pocket WatchAntique 12s Burlington 21j 21 Jewel Gold Filled Hunter Pocket WatchV Rare, Large 18 Size 1919 Elgin Silveroid 317 Grade Gents Pocket Watch Mint Elgin "aztec" Wristwatch Mens New Old Stock/mint Rare Find "senior" Art DecoRailroad Waltham 23j Vanguard Swing Out Case Running Pocket Watch Superb Elgin 7j Cal 16s Gold Filled Cased (ald Moon) Hunter Pkt Watch-19191922 12s Elgin 17 Jewels Gold Filled Pocket Watch Runs And Looks Great Vintage Elgin Waltham Hallmark Fine Silver 0.800 Pocket Watch Lot Of 6Rare Antique 7j 1906 Elgin 14k Solid Gold Ornate Hunter Case Ladies Pocket Watch4 Antique American Pocket Watches Elgin 18s 1 Coin + 1 Sterling Silver Case AwcAntique Elgin Gold Filled Hunter Case Running Pocket Watch 11 Jewels1897 16s Elgin 7j Gf Hunters Case Pocket Watch - Running2 Antique Pocket Watches South Bend Adj 17j Ls Ds Dial Elgin 18s 7j Vintage American Elgin Wwii Pocket Watch British Military Issued Black Dial N/rDesigner Signed Elgin 1917 Double Roller 17 Jewel Pocket Watch16s 17jewel Elgin Gm Wheeler 3 Finger Bridge Custom Display Case Extra Fine+Antique Coin Silver Elgin 18s Hh Taylor Kw Pocket Watch For Restore!Lot Of 2 Antique Elgin Pocket Watches 1 Mans An& 1 Womans (goldfilled )Vintage Elgin 21 Jewel Rr Pocket Watch, B. W. Raymond, 16s, Original, No ReserveAntique Elgin Lever Set Full Hunter Pocket Watch Brooklyn Eagle Case For RepairNice Antique Gold Plated Full Hunter Elgin Pocket WatchVery Nice English Market 16s Elgin In Dennison Gold Filled Hunting-no Reserve1924 Elgin 313 15 Jewel 16s Gold Filled Ope Face Pocket WatchElgin Natl Watch Co Usa 18size 17 Jawels High Quality Pocket Watch Movement 1911Antique Elgin Gold Filled Hunter Case Running Pocket Watch Hamilton 21 Jewels 16s 992e Elinvar Railroad Pocket Watch, Not Illinois Or ElginAntique Elgin Men's Gold Filled Hunting Case Watch, Excellent +++, No Reserve!Elgin Pocket WatchAntique Waltham Gold Filled Hunter Case Running Pocket Watch 1924 Elgin Pocketwatch *10kt Gold Filled - Blue Steel Hands*Antique Elgin 0s Multi Color Gold Filled Hunting Case Pocket Watch, No Reserve!Elgin Bw Raymond Vintage 19 Jewel Rr Grade Pocket Watch, To FixFabulous 1911 Montgomery Dial Elgin B. W. Raymond Railroad Grade Of PocketwatchAntique Elgin B.w. Raymond 17j Railroad Grade 18s Pocket Watch 1904 Elgin Pocket Watch Model 3 Grade 260 15 JewelsLot Trench & Pocket Watch Movements Elgin Waltham Hampden Molly Stark No ReserveAntique Elgin Watch Co. Pocket Watch Watchmakers Estate Golden Masonic - Elgin 12s Antique Pocket Watch In Art Deco Style.Lot Of Two Pocketwatches, One Elgin, One C.a.dearing Hanging Under Glass.Antique 0s Waltham Gold Filled Pie Crust Fancy Dial 7j Hunter Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Elgin B.w. Raymond Railroad Grade - Keeping TimeVintage 1904 Elgin Pocket Watch Twenty Years Gold Filled 18s No Reserve18 Size Elgin Pocket Watch - About Nos Condition21j B.w. Raymond Elgin Railroad 16's Pocket Watch Awesome Nawco Security Rr Case1871 Elgin G.m. Wheeler Grade 57 11j 18s Coin Silver Double Hunter Pocket Watch1897 Elgin Bw Raymond Railroad Grade 17jewel Pocket Watch W/ Fahys Montauk CaseVintage 1942 Elgin B.w. Raymond Grade 478 10k Ygf Railroad Grade Pocket Watch!!Antique Tavannes Illinois Hunter Case Gold Filled Running Pocket Watch 7 JewelsAntique Ladies Pocket Watch /pendantAntique Elgin Pocket Watch Working Condition Silver Estate Lot # 142 Open Face