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 Ornate Gold-filled Hunter Case Ladies 15j Pocket Watch~working YqzAntique Elgin Gold-filled B&b Royal Pocket Watch~runs~w/leather Belt Holder YqzElgin B.w. Raymond 22 Jewel Military G.c.t. Gold Flashed Marked U.s. Army A.c.Elgin Hc 14k Solid Tri-color Gold Buck Deer 12s 48mm Box Hinge Pocket Watch 78gWow! Railroad Grade Elgin 21j Father Time Pocketwatch W/ Philadelphia Watch CaseThey Don't Get Nicer! - Elgin 18s 7j With Almost Perfect Fancy Dial & Hands!Minty Elgin B W Raymond 21 Jewel Railroad Watch, No ReserveLarge Antique Elgin Gold-filled Lever-set Hunter Case Pocket Watch~working YqzMoseley And Co. Elgin Ill.jewelers Lathe,chuck Holding Tailstock,tip-over Etc.Lot Of 3 Antique Elgin & Longines Pocket Watch Gold Plate & Chain Fob LotVintage Pocket Watch - 18s - Elgin - Gf Hunters - Runs - Stuns - 55mm - 11 JwlsElgin B.w. Raymond 22 Jewel Military G.c.t. Movement Working Hack No Reserve !!!1879 Elgin Coin Silver Keywind 18 Size - Hunting Case Pocket Watch - No Reserve!Antique 16 Size Elgin Pocket Watch W/ Fancy Enameled Dial & Ornate CaseMixed Lot Elgin Crown & Delaware Pocket Watch Parts Accessories No Reserve16s Elgin Doctor's 83/4 Pocket Watch Movement, 15 Jewel, #743308 - 1880, OfVintage Elgin Solid 14k Gold Pocket Watch 92,total Grams. P152Nice!15 Jewel Size 18 G.m. Wheeler Grade Elgin Watch Runs Very Well Sn 20366721Super 1951 Untouched 21 Jewel 8 Adj's Elgin B. W. Raymond Railroad PocketwatchStunning 1885 14k Gold Filled 18s Fancy Dial Elgin Pocket Watch No Scrap 136gVintage Pocket Watch -1904 - 18s - Elgin - Ls - 17j - Adj - 14kgf - Runs -stuns Elgin Nat'l Watch Co 18 Size 15 Jewel Pocket Watch. Works Great, Odd Gf CaseAnique 1903 Elgin B.w. Raymond 18 Size 17j. Pocket Watch Damaskeened MovementRare Elgin B.w. Raymond Railroad 21j 5adj Pocket Watch2142: Antique Elgin Pocket Watch Railroad Train Heavy Case Gold FilledLarge Hamilton 21 Jewel Pocket Watch 940 Mov’t, 20 Year Swing Out Case, WorkingElgin 326 6497 17 Jewels Swiss Berthet France 4007 PocketwatchAwesome 1884 Gold Filled Hunter Case Elgin B.w. Raymond Pocket Watch Large 18sElgin Invar Balance B W Raymond 21-jewel Railroad Pocket Watch, 16-size -rf168951895 Gold Elgin Sz6 & 11j Near Mint Multi Color Runs Fabulous Antique 1905 Father Time Elgin Pocket Watch Fancy Pink & Gold AppliquVintage Pocket Watch Lot- 5pc For Parts Elgin, Hampden Harman Alarm Gold FilledLot Of 6 Vintage Elgin Antique Pocket Watches All Currently Running. Estate FindCrispy 14k Gold Filled 12s Elgin Pocket Watch W/ Solid Gold Applied NumeralsLarge Antique 7 Jewel American Elgin Pocket Fob Watch - Working OrderVintage Pocket Watch - 1882- 18s Kw - Elgin Gm Wheeler - 11 Jewels - RunningVintage 1942 Military Elgin Gct B.w. Raymond 22 Jewel 24 Hour Pocket WatchVintage Pocket Watch -1871 - 18s Kw - Elgin Gm Wheeler - 5oz Silver Case - Runs*Lord Elgin Thin Vintage Pocket Watch 14k Gold Filled, 21 Jewel. Runs. In Box.Lot Of 3 Antique Elgin Pocket Watch Gold Plate & Leather Chain Fob Lot1923 Elgin Pocket Watch In A Nice Gold Filled Case RunningBeautiful 1906 18s Elgin Pocket Watch Gold Filled Hunter Case Running Stunning 14k Gold Filled 12s Art Deco Elgin Pocket Watch No Scrap 55.34g Scarce 19j Of Bw Raymond Elgin Gr 193 12s Nickel Mov't & Enamel DialHamilton Pocket Watch 974 Grade Movement, 17 Jewels With Railroad Engraved CaseLongines Pocket Watch, Grand Prix 7 W/fancy 800 Silver Case Caliber 19.74n Mov't110 Year Old 18-size 1904 Elgin 17 Jewel Model 2 Sidewinder €Antique 19 Jewel 10-k Gold Filled Railroad Pocket Watch Elgin B. W. Raymond RareIncredibly Detailed Gf Hunter Case Elgin Pocket Watch W/ Perfect Porcelain DialBeautiful Fine Silver Locle Pocket Watch, Key Wind With Fob & Key, WorkingEarly And Fine Elgin "b.w. Raymond" 16s Rr-grade Mvmt 21j Adj'd 5p Nice CompleteMens Vintage Estate Elgin B.w. Raymond Gold Filled 21 Jewels Pocket Watch NrHuge Elgin Men's Sterling Silver Full Hunter Case Pocket Watch Rare Vintage Father Time Elgin Pocket Watch Open Face Gold Filled 21 Jewel 5 AdjLot Of 2 Vintage Gold Filled Pocket Watches 21 Jewels Bulova Elgin Both RunNice Lord Elgin 21 Jewel Fancy 14k Gold Filled Running No Wear Thru Case Usa1911 19 Jewel Gold Filled B W Raymond Elgin Pocket Watch @ E 1019216s Elgin Pocket Watch, 17 Jewel, 16 Size - Stunning Case See PicturesHarper Watch Co. 17 Jewel Railroad Swiss Pocket Watch, Beautiful Condition! !4k Solid Yellow Gold Amazing Elgin Pocket Watch - Running Strong !!