A brief history of 3 dominant American watchmakers. The Illinois, Waltham & Elgin Watch Companies.
The Illinois Springfield Watch Company
was established December 23, 1870 by John C. Adams. Illinois’s first company directors were John Stuart, William Miller, John Williams, John Bunn, George Black, Dr. George Pasfield and John Bunn. About 1890, Jacob Bunn Jr. ran the company until his death in 1926. Bunn is the name used for their most famous railroad watch, the Illinois “Bunn Special“. Other watch models were also named after Stuart and Miller.
Point of interest: John T. Stuart was a Springfield lawyer and former law partner of President Abraham Lincoln.
The first movements were produced in 1872. Approximately 10,000 movements were manufactured by the end of the year. The company did not achieve full production until 1875. “Stuart” was the first watch model made, followed in order by the “Mason,” Bunn,” “Miller,” and finally the “Currier”. The early Illinois models were key-wound and key-set and are very collectible. Illinois later produced an extensive line of extremely fine and accurate Railroad-grade pocket watches like the “Sangamo Special,” “Bunn Special” and “Santa Fe Special”.
In 1878-79, due to financial difficulties, the company was reorganized and the name changed to the Illinois Springfield Watch Company. By 1885 the company name was changed again to the Illinois Watch Company.
What happened to the company? The Illinois Watch Company was purchased by Hamilton Watch Company in 1927. They continued to produce Illinois watches under Hamilton management until 1932 (the year the last actual Illinois watch was made). Hamilton continued producing Illinois watches in the Hamilton factory until 1939.
What happened to the building? Part of the original building still stands and modern structures have expanded it. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is currently operating from the building.
Is there more information? If you are interested in the Illinois Watch Company history, you can view the video “Illinois Watch Factory Film” produced by The United States Department of the Interior. This is available to those who are enrolled in the entire Tick Tock Productions Online School.
The Waltham Watch Company
is also known as the American Waltham Watch Co. and the American Watch Co. They produced about 40 million watches, clocks, speedometers, compasses, time fuses, and other precision instruments between 1850 and 1957. The original Waltham Watch Company was focused on the standardization and interchangeability of parts in order to build high quality watches.
Point of interest: It is said that Henry Ford was inspired to build the Ford Motor Company after a visit to the original Waltham Watch Factory.
In 1850, at Roxbury, Massachusetts, David Davis, Edward Howard, and Aaron Lufkin Dennison formed the company that would later become the Waltham Watch Company. Based upon the experience of earlier failed attempts, Howard and Dennison eventually perfected and patented their precision watch making machines, creating what has been called the American System of Watch Manufacturing.
Points of interest: President Abraham Lincoln was given a Waltham Model 1857 pocket watch serial number 67613 when he gave the Gettysburg Address in 1863.
Waltham’s company’s historic manufacturing facilities in Waltham, Massachusetts have been preserved as the American Waltham Watch Company Historic District. Waltham Watch Company Facebook page.
What happened to the building? It is still standing? The building has been converted into apartment lofts. Waltham Watch Company Lofts
Is there more information? If you are interested in the Waltham Watch Company history, you can read the following books online or download to your computer: “History of the American Waltham Watch Company” 1904 by Henry G. Abbott. “Catalogue of Waltham Watch Material” 1909. These are available to those who are enrolled in the entire Tick Tock Productions School.
The Elgin National Watch Company
also known as Elgin Watch Company of Chicago, Illinois, was a major US watch maker from 1864 to closure in 1966. The company sold watches under the names Elgin, Lord Elgin, and Lady Elgin.
For nearly 100 years the company’s manufacturing complex in Elgin, Illinois was the largest site dedicated to watchmaking in the world.
Elgin National Watch company was first incorporated in August 1864 as the National Watch Company, in Chicago, Illinois.
In September of 1864 the founders visited the Waltham Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts, and successfully convinced seven of Waltham’s makers to come to work for their new company. They were nicknamed the Seven Stars.
Elgin a growing city about 30 miles northwest of Chicago, was chosen as the factory site. As part of the transaction, the city was asked to donate 35 acres of land for construction of the factory. A former farm was selected, however the owners refused to sell the property unless the city purchased their entire 71 acres for $3,550. Four Elgin businessmen agreed to purchase the property and then donated the required 35 acres to the watch company.
The company was re-organized in April 1865 and the factory was completed in 1866. The first movement was produced in 1867, was named the B.W. Raymond in honor of one of the founders, Benjamin W. Raymond. The watch was an 18 size, full plate design. In 1869, the National Watch Company won “Best Watches, Illinois Manufacture” at the 17th Annual Illinois State Fair, for which it won a silver medal. The company then changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company in 1874, as the Elgin name had come into common usage for their watches.
What happened to the building? It was demolished in 1966. A shopping center now resides on the property.
Is there more information?
Further reading is available in the Tick Tock Productions Online School: “The Watch Factories of America Past and Present” 1888 by Henry G. Abbott, and 46 other titles related to watches. These are available to those who are enrolled in the entire Tick Tock Productions Online School.
Students have all the clock and watch repair courses are available online and are all viewable on the new Tick Tock Productions Online School. Additionally, there is an online library consisting of over 85 classic and rare watch and clock repair books with more watch and clock videos.
Tick Tock Productions site: Tick Tock Productions