Category Archives: History of the Make

The Illinois Watch Company

The Illinois Watch Company has long had an honored place in the annals of horological history. From their founding in 1869, through their commitment to timekeeping excellence in the early 20th century, to their development of many wonderful Art Deco/Moderne-inspired wristwatches in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Illinois was a leader in its field. Today their watches are highly sought after by collectors, both for their engineering and beauty. Here is the history of the company covered in great detail and with solid research. Included are historical documents, vintage photographs of the people and manufacturing processes at the Illinois Factory, old advetisements, and a compendium of their wristwatch production from their beginning until their sale to Hamilton Watch Company. But the best part for the collector and historian alike is a visual record of nearly every wristwatch design ever created by Illinois Watch Company, and their variations, in beautiful full color photographs. Each is accompanied by complete information about the watch and its production. In addition, scattered through the book are historical references that place the Companys evolution in the context of the general history of the period, and notes about the collectors of these fine timepieces and the adventures they have had in pursuit of them. Taken together this is an exciting and informative new volume for those who appreciate and cherish old timepieces.


History of Westclox

 

Westclox was founded by Charles Stahlberg in 1885, in Illinois, but was initially known as the United Clock Company. Throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the United Clock Company underwent several bankruptcies and leadership turnovers, the most famous being to F.W Matthiessen in 1888. These changes also caused a succession of company name to changes, first to the Western Clock Company, then then Western Clock Manufacturing Company, then back to the Western Clock Company. The company name of Westclox finally began appearing on the back of their watches and clocks as early as 1910; however the company did not officially incorporate that name until 1919.

Westclox, was an early innovator in the mass manufacturing of clock movements.  In 1885, the company received a patent for the process it used to make a wheel and piston assembly; the parts were held together by a jig while a liquid alloy was put in and once the alloy set, everything would remain in its place. In 1902, Westclox received another patent for the alloy setting, this time for a slightly updated process.

Westclox continued to receive patents as late as 1959, when it introduced the “drowse” function. The drowse function was powered by electricity, and it allowed people to shut off their alarm for a set period of time without turning off the alarm clock completely. Today, this function is more commonly known as the “snooze” button.

One of the many things that helped to put Westclox on the map as far as watch and clock companies go was its ability to market to the masses. Westclox was one of the few companies in the late 1800s that produced pocket watches for people who were on a budget; these watches were known as “dollar watches”. It allowed people who could not afford a big name brand to still have a nice and inexpensive pocket watch. Westclox continued to produce these inexpensive pocket watches well into the 1990s.

By far, Westclox’s most well-known clock is the Big Ben and the Baby Ben, both of which have undergone a series of minor stylistic changes. The Big Ben and Baby Ben clocks all have the iconic round face; they are analog clocks. The Big Ben and Baby Ben clocks have been available in a variety of colors but are most often seen in silver, bronze, and black. These clocks have been so popular, that companies from overseas have started to forge them and put the Westclox name on clocks that are not as high quality.

Until 2001, all of Westclox’s manufacturing was done in the United States. Today, that manufacturing is split between the United States and China, so just because a Westclox clock says it was made in China, doesn’t make it a forgery. On New Year’s Day, 2012, the Westclox factory in Peru, Illinois was struck by arsonists, and the ensuing fire caused over 50% of the merchandise and components to be lost. It took over twenty firefighters to put out the flames; Westclox is currently in the process of rebuilding.

Westclox 17 Jewel Divers Watch

History of the Elgin Watch Company

The Elgin Watch Company was founded near Chicago as the National Watch Company in August 1864. In September of that year, seven people from the Waltham Watch Company were enticed to begin working at the brand new National Watch Company; they quickly became known as the Seven Stars. The Seven Stars quickly streamlined the process to make watches and soon the National Watch Company was on the map.

The company soon had their eyes on making a bigger factory in Elgin, Illinois, but the city of Elgin had a few stipulations if the company wanted to reside in the city. First, they had to donate 35 acres of land, and the townspeople had to put up $25,000. After some back and forth, the National Watch Company bought the required land, the townspeople donated the money, and the company was reorganized.

Over the next few years, the watch company debuted several new watch movements: the B.W. Raymond, The Lady Elgin, and the H.Z. Culver were among the most popular. At this time in history (the late 1800s), watches were not sold whole. Instead, an interested buyer would go into a jewelry shop, pick out the face (or movement) and case of the watch, and then the jeweler would put it all together for him. At the time, these watches would sell for over $100, and were considered to be an extreme luxury.

In 1874, the heads of the company, and the stockholders rechristened the company, The Elgin Watch Company. This was due in large part to the fact that most of the people buying the watches were already calling them Elgin Watches.

The Elgin Watch Company also was pioneers in their field, introducing several new features that many watches still have today. For example, the first watch that could be wound with a stem (as opposed to opening the watch face) was an updated version of the B.W. Raymond watch. The Elgin Watch Company also introduced the convertible watch, which meant that the watch parts became interchangeable in other Elgin watches. This made them much easier to repair, so people did not have to go out and buy a whole new watch if theirs stopped working. It was an innovation that was considered to be extremely ahead of its time. Today, most if not all watches on the market are considered to be convertible watches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elgin Watch Company continued to make watches, along with other items, until its doors closed in 1968. At the time of the company closing, the Elgin Watch company was responsible for roughly half of all of the watches within the United States.