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Learn about mechanical timepieces and how they work, the history of the American watch industry and especially all about the Elgin National Watch Company! Check back for new content daily.

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Points of Interest

From Illinois; a Descriptive and Historical Guide
By Federal Writers' Project. Illinois, 1939

Points of Interest

1. The ELGIN NATIONAL WATCH FACTORY (reception room only open, ), National St. and Grove Ave., is set in spacious landscaped grounds along the Fox River. In the reception room is displayed every model produced, from the first in 1867, a railroad movement named the B. W. Raymond for the companys first president, through the key-winders of the late sixties, down to the current models. The factory interior, which has a special dust removal system, resembles a huge watch itself, what with the whir of belting, miles of shafting, and the myriad wheels running in precise synchrony to the master ticks transmitted from the observatory. Much of the work is done under high powered lenses, because some of the screws used are so small that 20,000 would barely fill a thimble. Weighing a pencil mark on a piece of paper would be a comparatively rough operation for some of the balances employed. The plant has produced more than 40,000,000 watches since its establishment. 

2. The ELGIN WATCHMAKERS COLLEGE (open to members of the trade only), 267 S. Grove Ave., was established in the 1920s in response to a demand for skilled watch-makers, particularly in repair departments of jewelry stores. A non-profit institution controlled by the Elgin National Watch Company, it provides training in clockmaking, watchmaking, engraving, and jewelry work. The courses of 12 to 15 months' duration teach the drawing of patterns, tool making, and the manufacture of parts. Every type of clock and watch a watch-maker would be called upon to service is available. 

3. The ELGIN OBSERVATORY (apply Elgin National Watch Company for permit, Watch and Raymond Sts., is housed in a small white stone building that caps a green hill. The observatory was built in 1909 by the Elgin Company to obtain sidereal time for the regulation of Elgin watches. From a list of 800 fixed stars, Io or 12 are chosen nightly, and are followed across the heavens. An automatic electric recording device graphs time on a revolving drum. Variations of one-thousandth of a second in the master clocks can be checked. These clocks, of the Riefler type, are mounted on a concrete pier, separate from the building, in vacuum glass cases maintained at a temperature varying not more than one-tenth of a degree from 85°F. Secondary clocks relay the impulses by which workers time watches in the factory. A direct line conveys the impulses to the Chicago office of the company in the Pure Oil Building, where they are relayed to radio stations, utility companies, and other agencies requiring exact time.



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