Elgin Standard Time

For 100 years, half of the pocket watches in the United States were made in Elgin, Illinois. I have one.

The Elgin National Watch Company, founded in 1864, was for almost 100 years the world’s biggest watchmaker, and a mainstay of the city of Elgin, originally a sleepy river town 30 miles outside of Chicago. They probably made 60 million watch movements in that time period, about half the total in the U.S.

They employed thousands of skilled workers in Elgin, in a factory that spanned 35 acres. They built housing. It was a way of life.

In 1963, after just short of a century, the company abandoned Elgin for a new site in South Carolina; and a few years later they folded entirely and sold off the name. No doubt there were some bad feelings about all that in Elgin, and the abandoned buildings didn’t last long. Today there’s hardly a trace of the once great watchmaker and employer in its home town. No restored factory. No museum. Gone.

The serial number on the movement of my Elgin pocketwatch tells me it rolled out of that factory in 1895, on what I hope was a beautiful day. It probably went into Chicago by rail, and from there to the Dueber/Hampden Watch Company in Canton, Ohio, where it was installed in a case – Elgin mostly made movements, other makers supplied the cases. My case is “coin silver”, meaning it actually contained a lot of silver, along with some other metals to improve durability.

Since a watch like this is all about fine details, I used deep focus stacking to render it with full depth of field.

It hasn’t been cleaned, polished or serviced; I’ve never even tried to wind it and see if it runs. It would probably need cleaning and lubrication, and maybe a new mainspring.

I don’t know if I want it shiny again; it wears its age well. It was never a showpiece, but a working man’s watch; it’s quite worn and was obviously carried regularly. But by who? I don’t know – it’s been kicking around in my family for too long and its history has been lost.

What happens to it when I’m gone? What’s its next journey? Yet to be decided….

One Reply to “Elgin Standard Time”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *