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.