OTC: Elgin Watch Works

watch 1(I am sorry–I couldn’t resist the pun!)

How much more “on the clock ” can one be except at the Elgin (IL) Historical Museum–touring the exhibit about the Elgin Watch Factory?  Yes, Elgin watches were made in my genealogical destination of Elgin, Illinois.  I was there not to see the watches and other time pieces or to learn about Elgin Watch Works but like so many of our adventures, we learn something about a topic we had no idea we would be interested in.

I had a special tour of the Historical Museum by William Briska, who wrote the history of the Elgin Watch Factory. While most of our time was spent discussing his other book, The History of the Elgin Mental Health Center, I had a few moments to tour the watch exhibit before going on our road trip out to the asylum.[1]

Elgin Watch Works produced its first movement in Elgin in 1867.   Individual Elgin watch models were known by a name much like automobiles are now.  These high end timepieces were often made of gold and msot were pocket watches.  Later, the wristband type were made.  A single watch could take months to make and the machinists who made them were more artists than craftspeople. [2] Notice the photo.  This is clearly a woman’s timepiece. embedded in a cigarette case of mother of pearl and gold. It brings visions to me of a “Great Gatsby” type of a setting.  I would feel glamorous just holding it!

In the months ahead I will be highlighting some of the beautiful watches and timepieces designed and created in Elgin, Illinois.  Most timepieces I will show are ones that are on display in the museum as I explore the process of being “on the clock” or OTC.  The inclusion of a timepiece in the blog posting will let you know that the article is about being “on the clock”.  Like my work product right now, not all timepieces will be glamorous; some are down-right “homely.”

I am also glad to report that the attitude of giving back to the community is still strong in Elgin and is manifested in the persona of William Briska. William rattled off six, seven, -or was it eight? — different organizations that he actively supports with his time and talents. He is the type of guy  every organization wants as a member and every town wants as a citizen.

Thanks, Bill. It was truly a pleasure to meet you and one I will remember for a long time, including the BLT at Al’s-I owe you lunch!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  This posting sat while I became totally engrossed in the conference planning for the OGSA Family Reunion, a genealogy conference for Ostfriesens.  We had 130 attendees from across the country and Germany.  The 3.5 day conference culminated in a banquet with party hats and clappers!  I have done no BCG work this past month.  I got out the SGS newsletter to the proofreaders.  I print next weekend.  Then I start work on a major article for the SGS Bulletin which prints in November.  I had better start carving out time for the BCG or I will get caught up in that renewal thing-y!  I did write a note to Nicki of BCG with a question about what constitutes “publishing” per the Application Manual’s directive that you cannot use something that has been published previously unless you use it as it was submitted.

[1] The Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy. The docents there will, for a fee, assess the historic value of your Elgin watch. So, check them out if you have that old watch in the box you do not know what to do with.  http://www.elginhistory.org/museum.html

[2] Kevin James, The Watch Guy (http://thewatchguy.homestead.com/pages/ELGIN.html : accessed 23 August 2014), “Elgin Watch Works.”


6 comments on “OTC: Elgin Watch Works

  1. Grace Keir says:

    Jill, I remember receiving my first watch which was an Elgin for HS graduation in 1956. That means my watch is 68 years old. I don’t wear it anymore as it was worn a lot and it shows it’s age.I’m not wearing a Pulsar watch that was my mother’s and is battery operated. It also shows the day of the month.

    Great to see you at the conference.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Grace, Thanks for sharing. I am sure we had Elgin watches around the house. My brother probably has them. I should ask him. The watches at the museum were exquisite. Truly beautiful. I was taken by the cigarette case. Great to see you as well.

  2. yankeetess says:

    I look forward to your future posts about Elgin as my great-grandmother, as a young woman, worked for Elgin chucking gears! Thank you!

    • jkmorelli says:

      I had a great time there….and the watches were gorgeous! So…what does a gear chucker do?…besides “chuck gears”? 🙂

  3. Daniel Sample says:

    I have about 3 or 4 of my grandfathers Elgin pocket watches. All are wind-ups but I haven’t determined when they were made. None are currently working but I plan to get them repaired in the near future.

  4. Pat Weiskopf says:

    I met Bill Briska last year when my house was on the House Tour. I find Bill to be a very interesting man, he knows SO much about Elgin and it’s hisory. I bought his book, Elgin Time, a very good read!

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