The National Watch Company of Chicago, Illinois, better known as the Elgin Watch Company, had its start late in the summer of 1864 outside of Chicago, Illinois. They soon used excellent employment deals to lure some of America’s best watchmakers away from another watch company, Waltham Watch Co.
It took the company some time to get good and launched, but in the spring of 1867 their first movement left the factory. It was named the B.W. Raymond, after one of the men who had founded the company. It was a key-wind, key-set movement in a size 18 case. It sold for $117, which was pretty impressive at that time (this same model recently sold for $15,000, so it’s impressive now, too).
Later that year, the company was already starting to make new watches. They updated the movement a bit and released three more models that year, as well as one more on January 2nd of the following year.
In 1869, Elgin started making watches for women, given the name “Lady Elgin.” The first of these was a 10 size, key-wind movement. The next one, the Frances Rubie, came out the following year, and it was adjusted to temperature (not something you hear a lot about today, but at that time, watches could be extremely sensitive to temperature changes).
In 1873, Elgin came out with its first stem-wind movement. It was almost just like the B. W. Raymond. They were soon putting out other stem-wind models.
An interesting thing about buying watches at that time was that people got to build their own watch, in a way. They would go to a jeweler and choose a movement, a case, and a dial (when a dial choice was offered).
The company continued to make a great many new watch models for years. In the latter part of the 19th century, watches made by companies like Elgin were indispensible for the growing railroad industry.
During WWI, Elgin not only provided watches to the armed forces, they were also asked to train 350 men to repair the watches in the field. It wasn’t until WWII, however, that the company started making military timepieces exclusively.
After the war, the company diversified in its products, and over time, their watches became less and less their primary source of revenue. Eventually, the company name was sold, and now the watches are produced in China. They are very beautiful wristwatches sold at affordable prices, making them excellent for everyday wear.