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    

Gold Elgin Ladies Hunter 14k Antique 0s Pocket Watch~*~estate Find~*~ Vintage Elgin 15j Pocket Watch **working**Antique Elgin In 14k Solid Gold Multi-color Lady Pocket Watch Mint ConditionBeautiufl Minty 1899 Elgin Gold Hunting Case Antique Pocket Watch! Gorgeous!18 Size Elgin 15 Jewels Key Wind And Set B. W. Raymond Antique 18s Hamilton 17 Jewel Grade 926 Pocket WatchVintage Elgin Pocket Watch Hunter Case 3 Tone Gold Color CaseMinty 16s 1894 Elgin Gold Filled Half Hunter Pocket Watch No Scrap 118g Runs A6Antique 18s Hampden Dueber 15 Jewel Pocket WatchElgin 14k Yellow Gold Hunter Case Pocket Watch 3-finger Bridge 15j C1900V.fine Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Enamel Dial Etched Scenic Case Pocket WatchAntique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Running Pocket Watch 17 Jewels21 Jewel Elgin Veritas Grade 239 Nickel & Gold 18s Movement & Dial1930 Elgin 17 Jewels Pocket Watch Mint Dial In 14k Gold Filled Case - 16s - Runs1904 Elgin Fancy Dial 15 Jewels In 14k Gold Filled Ornate Hunter Case - Runs1926 Elgin Gr. 478 B.w. Raymond 16s 21j Of Rr Pocketwatch Running Matched CaseLot Of 4 Antique Pocket Watches 2 Hampdens, 2 Elgins Gf Cases For Parts-repair Antique 1895 American Waltham Hunting Case Pocket Watch Super Rare 1899 Elgin 12s 17j Motor Barrel Slim Line P/watch, Only 6,000 Made Vintage Elgin Pocketwatch Veritas 23 Jewels Works From Small Estate CollectionAntique Pocket Watch Elgin Engraved Case C 1911 Unique Enamel Dial HunterRare 1887 Elgin G M Wheeler 18s 15j Silverode P/watch Working. Only 74,000 Made Gorgeous 1925 Elgin 12s 14k Gf Octagon Case Pocket Watch!Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Running Pocket Watch 17 JewelsAntique 1893 Elgin 18 Size Pocket Watch P 558.  elgin 18 Size 17 J Fahys Coin Silver Case  porcelain Dial Pocket Watch.Vintage 1936 Elgin 15 Jewel Dress Pocket WatchElgin Mechanical Pocket Watch-worlds Fair Dial-scarce WatchElgin Antique 11 J Unadj. Sz 18 Lever Set Philadelphia Silverode Pocket WatchScarce "lace Doily" Hi Grade 17 Jewel Elgin With Gold Escape Wheel!!Elgin M. D. Ogden Pocket Watch 1872 Key Wind Nice Porcelain Runs 58mm!Vintage 1927 Elgin B.w. Raymond 10k G. F 21 Jewels 16s Open Face Pocket WatchTwo Antique Pocket Watches Elgin & Rockford For Restoration Or PartsFull Hunter Elgin Gold Plated Pocketwatch Swiss Movement Working For ServiceElgin Nat. Watch Co. 16s Open Face Railroad Pocket Watch & Philadelphia Case Msh1912 Elgin Pocket Watch 14k Solid Gold 15j Sg Elgin 571 B.w. Raymond Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Elgin Hunter Rose Gold Filled Pocket Watch Size 8 1895 Runs !Elgin Pocket Watch(sd18) Nice Kwks Rr Grade 1871 18s Elgin B.w. Raymond 15j Pocket Watch MovementAntique 18s Elgin 7 Jewel Grade 309 Hunter Pocket WatchAntique Elgin Watch Co. Non-running Large Pocket Watch Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Non-running Pocket Watch 15 JewelsAntique 18s Elgin 17j Grade 147 Openface Pocket Watch Movement Parts RepairGood Looking 1908 16s Gf Elgin Hunters Case Pocket Watch 1908 Elgin 14k Solid Gold Sg Pocket Watch 15j 0sElgin 454 Father Time Pocket Watch 21 Jewels Circa 19191904 Elgin B.w.raymond 19 Jewels Railroad Grade In Train Engraved Case 18s Runs1892 Elgin Grade G.m.wheeler Pocket Watch 15 Jewels Mint Dial Size 18 - RunsAntique Waltham Non-running Pocket Watch Vintage Elgin Masonic Pocket Watch W/chain & Custom Pen Knife Fob #12P 564. Elgin 18 Size 7 J Silverode Case Near Mint Porcelain Dial Pocket Watch.Huge 18s 1887 Coin 0.900 Fine Silver Elgin Model 1 Key Wind No Reserve!Antique 1897 Mens Elgin Hunter Case Pocket Watch, Size 16 W/ Chain1894 Elgin B.w. Raymond Gr. 70 18s 15j Rr Grade Coin Hunter Pocketwatch RunningAntique Elgin Running Pocket Watch 1894 Elgin Gr. 44 G.m. Wheeler 18s 15j Of Pocketwatch Running Philadelphia Case16s 21 Jewel Elgin B.w. Raymond Rail Road Watch1898 Elgin Gr. 116 B.w. Raymond 18s 17j Of Rr Grade Pocketwatch RunningAntique 18s Elgin 7 Jewel Grade 97 Key Wind Pocket Watch Parts Repair