Founded in 1870 in Springfield, Illinois, the Illinois Watch Company sold its first watch movement under the name Springfield Watch Company in 1872. The firm began full watch production in 1875. The inaugural model was the Stuart, followed by the Mason, the Miller, the Currier, and finally the Bunn Special, a railroad watch that would become a cornerstone of the Illinois pocket-watch lines. Most of these early pocket watches were key-wound, although stem-wound movements were also produced from 1875 and beyond. Antique Illinois pocket watches from the 1870s, especially the key-wound ones, are highly collectible today.
Most Illinois movements from before the turn of the century had at least 19 jewels, adding considerable value to consumers back then and to collectors now. One notable event in the early years of the company was the release of the first open-face movement marketed in the U.S.
As with many early American watchmakers, Illinois saw its share of financial ups and downs. In 1879, the company reorganized into the Illinois Springfield Watch Company. Then, in 1885, it changed its name to the Illinois Watch Company. In addition to its regular pocket watch lines, it also made high-end railroad-grade pocket watches. These included the Santa Fe Special, the Sangamo Special, and the Bunn Special, whose movements typically featured 24 rubies.
In 1866, Illinois added variety to the market when it released several nickel-movement pocket watches in sizes 4 and 6—these were the smallest movements ever made by an American company. These watches, which barely filled half a palm, were pivotal advances in the development of wristwatches. Illinois also produced small ladies pocket watches, some of which had cases decorated in yellow, pink, and white gold.
Unlike many of its competitors, who were kept busy by the armed forces during World War I, Illinois did not fare well during the war years. After the war, Illinois continued to make wrist and pocket watches, but financial pressures forced it to sell out to Hamilton in 1927. Hamilton continued to make watches under the Illinois name, but collectors consider the end of Illinois era to be about 1932, when Hamilton shut down the Illinois factory.