Brief History: Elgin National Watch Company

Including Elgin Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Elgin, Illinois

1864 - 1967

The Elgin National Watch Company

The Elgin National Watch Company

The Elgin Watch Company (also known as the Elgin National Watch Company) was the largest American watch manufacturer in terms of total production volume. In fact, Elgin produced approximately one-half of the total number of better-quality pocket watches manufactured in the United States. Total production over their 100 years of operation reached nearly 60 million watches, which is nearly 50% of ALL the jeweled watches produced by American watch companies! This makes Elgin one of the most commonly collected vintage watches since there are still so many examples available at reasonable prices.

The clock tower at the Elgin National Watch Company

The clock tower at the Elgin National

Watch Company

The Elgin National Watch Company was founded in 1864 in Elgin, Illinois as the National Watch Company, and some of the organizers were later to become the some of the biggest names in the American watch industry: J. C. Adams, P. S. Bartlett, D. G. Currier, Otis Hoyt, and Charles H. Mason, with financial backing from former Chicago Mayor Benjamin W. Raymond. The factory for the National watch company was completed in 1866, and the first movement produced was an 18-size B. W. Raymond model which sold in April of 1867 for the astounding price of $115. This identical watch, serial number 101, was sold at auction in New York in 1988 for $12,000. In 1874, the company officially changed their name to the Elgin National Watch Company, and that name remained until they stopped producing watches in the 1960's.

The "Working Man's" Watch

The Elgin Watch Company's success was not built on its production of the highest-grade watches, though some of their higher grades were top-quality, exquisitely made timepieces. Their success can be attributed to their huge production of low to mid-grade watches... 7 to 15-jewels. Together with the Waltham Watch Company, they dominated the huge market for mid-grade watches, producing over one-million per year during their peak years of production. Elgin watches remain extremely popular with collectors today because they are plentiful, can be obtained at reasonable prices, and can be relatively easily repaired due to the large number of watches and parts available.

Elgin shipped their first wristwatch in 1910, and later manufactured the first wrist watch to be qualified for railroad service, the grade 730A B. W. Raymond. Throughout their history, the Elgin National Watch Company was known for horological innovations. In 1958, they introduced the "DuraBalance," an ingenious design for a free-sprung balance (no regulator pins) which used spiral balance arms and small weights to govern the moment of inertia of the balance. They also produced the only American-made automatic wristwatch movements: grades 607, 618, 760, and 761. These movements featured bi-directional, full-rotor winding, and had two automatic winding gear ratios, which were automatically engaged as the mainspring tension increased.

The contributions of the Elgin National Watch Company to American Horological industry cannot be overstated. Many Elgin watches that were made over 100 years ago are still providing reliable and accurate daily service to their proud owners.

Swiss Elgin Watches

During the last few years that Elgin was in business (late 50's through mid-60's), they began to reduce their US production and began importing Swiss watch movements which were finished and labeled as Elgin watches. Much of this assembly work was done at a new Elgin plant in Elgin, South Carolina.

For more information on Swiss Elgin watches, including a listing of Swiss Elgin grades and their equivalent Swiss movement calibres, please view our Swiss Elgin page.

Noon at the Elgin watch factory.

Noon at the Elgin watch factory

Elgin Watch Cases: Illinois Watch Case Company

The Illinois Watch Case Company of Elgin, Illinois should not be confused with the Elgin Watch Company. The Illinois Watch Case Company (I.W.C.Co) was a major manufacture in the city of Elgin, Illinois. It manufactured watch cases under many brands, such as "Elgin Giant," "Elgin Pride," "Tivoli," "Spartan," and "Elgin Commander." The use of the name "Elgin" in their brand names, or marking the cases with "Elgin USA" has often led people to believe that a watch was made by the Elgin National Watch Company when it was actually made by another manufacturer, or to think that a watch no longer has its original case because it is "now in an Elgin case." Keep in mind that watch movements and watch cases were usually made by different manufacturers. Elgin watches are entirely different than Illinois "Elgin" cases.

Modern Battery-Powered "Elgin" Watches

The Elgin National Watch Company went out of business in 1964. They never made any battery-powered, quartz watches. If you have a recently-purchased, modern Elgin watch, please see our Modern Elgin Watch page for more information.


Elgin National Watch Company

Elgin Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Total Production: Approx. 55 Million Watches

Year S/N
1867 9000
1868 25,001
1869 40,001
1870 50,001
1871 185,001
1872 201,001
1873 325,001
1874 400,001
1875 430,000
1876 480,000
1877 520,000
1878 570,000
1879 625,001
1880 750,000
1881 900,000
1882 1,000,000
1883 1,250,000
1884 1,500,000
1885 1,855,001
1886 2,000,000
1887 2,500,000
1888 3,000,000
1889 3,500,000
1890 4,000,000
1891 4,449,001
1892 4,600,000
1893 5,000,000
1894 5,500,000
1895 6,000,000
1896 6,500,000
Year S/N
1897 7,000,000
1898 7,494,001
1899 8,000,000
1900 9,000,000
1901 9,300,000
1902 9,600,000
1903 10,000,000
1904 11,000,000
1905 12,000,000
1906 12,500,000
1907 13,000,000
1908 13,500,000
1909 14,000,000
1910 15,000,000
1911 16,000,000
1912 17,000,000
1913 17,339,001
1914 18,000,000
1915 18,587,001
1916 19,000,000
1917 20,031,001
1918 21,000,000
1919 22,000,000
1920 23,000,000
1921 24,321,001
1922 25,100,000
1923 26,050,000
1924 27,000,000
1925 28,421,001
1926 29,100,000
Year S/N
1927 30,050,000
1928 31,599,100
1929 32,000,000
1930 32,599,001
1931 33,000,000
1932 33,700,000
1933 34,558,001
1934 35,000,000
1935 35,650,000
1936 36,200,000
1937 36,978,001
1938 37,900,000
1939 38,200,000
1940 39,100,000
1941 40,200,000
1942 41,100,000
1943 42,200,000
1944 42,600,000
1945 43,200,000
1946 44,000,000
1947 45,000,000
1948 46,000,000
1949 47,000,000
1950 48,000,000
1951 50,000,000
1952 52,000,000
1953 53,500,000
1954 54,000,000
1955 54,500,000
1956 55,000,000

Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the watch case.

Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.

Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.

In the 1930s, Elgin began using a single-letter prefix to replace the "millions" digits on their serial numbers. So if your Elgin watch has a serial number starting with a letter, you must determine the millions digits from the table below in order to determine the full serial number.

Letter Millions Digits
X 38 or 39
C, E, T or Y 42
L 43
U 44
J 45
V 46
H 47
N 48
F 49
S 50
R 51
P 52
K 53
I 54

At Renaissance Watch Repair, we are experts in the repair and restoration of vintage watches made by the Elgin National Watch Company. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your Elgin watch.