The Elgin National Watch Company was founded in 1864 in Elgin, Illinois, as the National Watch Company by Philo Carpenter, Howard Culver, George Wheeler, Thomas Dickerson, Edward Williams and W. Robbins. The company's primary financial backer was Chicago Mayor Benjamin Raymond. The National Watch Company's first factory was built in 1866, and less than a year later, it sold its first watch: an 18-size model named after Raymond himself.
In 1874, the company officially changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company. Elgin developed into one of the titans of mid-grade watch manufacturing alongside its competitor, the Waltham Watch Company.
Elgin was one of the first watchmakers to adopt the practice of mass manufacturing watches. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and even for some time afterwards, most watches were made by hand. Usually, one individual built the watch from start to finish. Because its watches were constructed using a standardized process, Elgin had spare materials for each of its parts. Therefore, Elgin was able to provide spare parts to customers who were accustomed to repairs being made by an expert watchmaker who made the broken part by hand.
Elgin grew throughout the rest of the 19th century and peaked in popularity in the early 20th century. It is estimated that the company introduced more than half of American-made watched in the 1920s. Additionally, a 1928 Elgin advertisement claimed that out of the 14,400 or so retail jewelers in the United States, all but 12 of them carried Elgin watches.
Elgin went out of business in 1968. The brand name has passed from owner to owner since then, and currently is owned by a company called MZ Berger.