Elgin, originally known as The National Watch Company of Chicago, Illinois was incorporated on August 27, 1864 with a capital of $100,000. The incorporators were Philo Carpenter, Howard Z. Culver, Benjamin W. Raymond, George M. Wheeler, Thomas S. Dickerson, Edward H. Williams and W. Robbins.
In September of 1864 a visit was made by some company representatives to the Waltham Watch Company and seven of their key people where lured away to work for the newly formed company and they were nicknamed the Seven Stars. The bait used was a $5,000 a year salary for 5 years, a $5,000 bonus and one acre of land on the company's, soon to be acquired, 35 acre site (some things never seem to change). Since turn about is fair play, Elgin lost several of the Seven Stars to the Illinois Watch Company a few years later in 1869.
The Seven Stars were all machinists first and watchmakers second. One of these men was Charles S. Moseley and he became the factory's first superintendent. He had been in the watch business since 1852.
The first movement was delivered from the factory April 1, 1867 and was named in honor of Benjamin W. Raymond. It was an 18 size, key wind, and full plate, with quick train and straight-line escapement arranged to set on the face and was adjusted to temperature. At that time watches took six months to complete and the B. W. Raymond model sold for $117 at a time when pork chops sold for three cents a pound (several years ago this watch was bought at auction by the city of Elgin for $15,000).
On May 12, 1874 during a special stockholder's meeting held in Chicago, the name of the company was changed to "The Elgin National Watch Company. This was thought to be advisable because the movements manufactured by the company were universally known as and called "Elgin Watches" or the "Watch from Elgin".
In 1888 the factory was producing about 7,500 movements per week, about one fifth of which were key wind and one tenth of the movements were nickel. The factory had 2,300 employees at this time and they were split 50/50 between men and women but not so their pay. The women earned about $6 per week while some of the men earned as much as $3 per day and this was for a 6-day work week.)
During World War I the United States Army had the Elgin factory train more than 350 men to make the precision repairs required in the battlefields.
It was during the Second World War that all civilian work was stopped and Elgin made military watches, chronometers for the U.S. Navy, fuses for artillery shells, altimeters and instruments for aircraft and sapphire bearings used in the aiming of cannon. The Elgin Company was awarded ten Army-Navy "E" awards, for full filling contracts ahead of schedule.
The Elgin Company diversified after World War II making decorator clocks, transistor radios, wedding rings, but the heart's beat was the Elgin watch. That heart beat had been getting slower every year and Elgin ceased to depend on the watch factory as its main enterprise. The clock tower of the National Street plant was torn down October 7, 1966.
The world's largest watch manufacturing complex was located in several buildings from its inception in 1864 until the last Elgin movement made in the United States was completed in Elgin, South Carolina, in 1968.