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    

Antique Elgin 16s B.w Raymond 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. All Original 1928Art Nouveau Antique 14k Gold Ladies 0s Elgin Hunter Pocket WatchStunning 1910 Elgin Grade 320 0s Rose Gf Hunter Case Pocket Watch!!Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Hunter Case Fancy Dial Great Pocket Watch Year1911Minty Condition Antique 117 Year Old Heavy Scalloped Elgin Ladies Pocket WatchAntique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Hunter Case Fancy Dial 16s Pocket Watch Year 1902Vintage 1951 Elgin B.w. Raymond Grade 571 10k Ygf Railroad Grade Pocket Watch!!(d15) Very Nice Kwks 1881 18s Elgin Gr. 7 7j Silver Hunter's Pocket Watch Gorgeous 1917 Elgin Father Time 21j, 16s, All Original Railroad Pocket Watch, Nr1913 Elgin 18 Size Pocket Watch Model 5 Open Face 7 Jewel Runs Good Free Ship !!Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Multicolor Hunter Case 6s Pocket Watch Year 190418 Size Multi-color Gf Hunting Case 17 Jewel Elgin Pocket WatchAntique Pocket Watch Lot Of 12 Swiss & American Waltham Elgin Omega Heuer & MoreAntique Elgin 10k Gold Filld Hunter Case Size 18s Great Pocket Watch Year 1881Antique Elgin 14k Gold Filled Open Face Great Looking Pocket Watch Year 1923~*~estate Find~*~ Antique Elgin Pocket Watch Hunter Case & Chain **not Working**115 Yr Old, 7 Jewel, Size 18, Elgin Runs Strong/timed Sn 9052754Antique 16s Howard 17 Jewel Pocket Watch1897 Elgin Gr. 96 18s 7j Hunter Pocketwatch Keystone 14k Gf Case RunningLot Of Antique Nos 16s Elgin Spade Pocket Watch Hands Parts RepairVintage International Watch Co Pocket Watch Movement Parts Repair1903 Elgin Ornate Antique Hunting Case Pocket Watch W/ Original Paper LabelVintage Elgin 17 Jewel Circa 1928 Pocket Watch Elgin Pocket Watch 12s | Hunter Case | 14k Gold Filled CaseElgin Key Wind Running Pocket Watch 55 MmSuperb Elgin 1928 Double Hunter Gold Plated Pocket Watch - WorkingElgin Antique Pocket Watch, 18s, Roman Numerals, Hand WindRare 1889 Elgin Solid 14k Yellow Gold, 13 Jewel, 6s Hunter Case Pocket Watch!(d10) 4oz Silver Case - Kwks 1883 18s Elgin G.m. Wheeler Gr. 81 13j Pocket WatchLadies 0s Fancy Dial Elgin Antique Pocket Watch To FixP 112.  elgin 18 Size B.w. Raymond 19 J, Raised Gold Jewel Settings G. F. Case P8 Pc Antique Pocket Watches 10kgf Waltham Hamilton Double Roller Elgin Illinois1888 Elgin 18 Size Pocket Watch Model 1 Key Wind & Set Open Face Runs Good Nr !Elgin 18s 1893 15j Pocket Watch Diamond Balance Jewel1887 Elgin 18s B.w.raymond 4 Ounce Coin Silver Pocket Watch,15-17j,adj,runsAntique Elgin Pocket Watch 18s, 11 Jewel, 12 Hour Dial, Model 1, Roman NumeralsElgin 15j Hunters Case Gold Filled Running Pocket Watch 47 MmMinty Scarce Hi Grade Elgin Gm Wheeler Crusader 14k Gold Art Deco Pocket WatchElgin 15 Jewel 16 Size Fancy Dial Gold Filled Pocket Watch Runs Great98 Yr Old, 15 Jewel, Sz18, Elgin Runs Strong/timed Sn 20136979(d12) Very Nice 1878 18s Elgin Gr. 13 11j Silver Kwks Pocket Watch - RunsAntique Elgin Private Dial 18 Size Silver Hunter Case Pocket WatchAntique Elgin 18s Father Time 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Gold Filled. 1904Vintage Elgin B.w Raymond 21 Jewel Dual Time Circa 1925 Pocket Watch P 92.  elgin 18 Size Kwks Heavy G.f. Case, Mint Porcelain Dial Pocket Watch.  waLovely Old 'elgin' Rolled Gold Crown Wind Pocket Watch In Working Order.18s Elgin Key Wind Key Set 3 Oz Coin Silver Case Pocket Watch,great RunningLot Of 10 Pocket Watches Gold Filled Elgin, Hamilton, Illinois, Hampden Etc. NrAntique Elgin 16s Grade 270, 21 Jewel Canadian Rail Road Pocket Watch. Made 1919Elgin 0 Size 15 Jewel Hunter Case Pocket WatchElgin B.w. Raymond 19 J, Lever Set, Adj. 5 Pos. Size 16 Railroad Pocket WatchAntique Elgin 16s Father Time 21 Jewel Rail Road Pocket Watch. Gold Filled. 1919Rare 18 Size Silver Salesman Display Case Lever Set Pocket Watch Columbus 18921873 Elgin H H Taylor, 1st Model, Railroad Grade, 18 Size Key Wind Pocket WatchSilver Case - 41mm 1891 Elgin 6s 7 Jewels Hunters Case Ls Pocket WatchGorgeous Elgin Pocketwatch Multicolor Dial 16 Size Year 1922 Goldf Case Look18s Elgin B.w.raymond Adjusted Ygf Ornate Hunter Pocket Watch,great RunningElgin Watchmakers Parts Cabinet From The Factory Over 400 Vials 3 Drawer1919 3/0sz 7j Usa Elgin Pocket Watch Super Nice Gold Filled Case RunningBeautiful 1907 Elgin 17 Jewels Size 16s Pocket Watch