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Illinois Watch Case Company of Elgin and Elgin American

It is very common to for people to become confused about which products were made by the Elgin National Watch Company (ENWCo), and which were made by the unrelated company, the Illinois Watch Case Company of Elgin (IWCCo).

The Illinois Watch Case Company was another major manufacture in the city of Elgin Illinois. It had many brand names that it used on its watch cases, such as "Elgin Giant", "Elgin Pride", "Tivoli", "Spartan", and "Elgin Commander". Later on, IWCCo also started the "Elgin American" line of lady's compacts and cigarette cases. The use of the name "Elgin" in their brand names, or marking the cases with "Elgin USA" has often lead people to believe that a watch was made by the Elgin National Watch Company when it was made by someone else, or to think that another brand of watch no longer has its original case because it is "now in an Elgin case."

An Ad Publish By Elgin National Watch Company in 1898
The Elgin National Watch Company and the Illinois Watch Case Company are not sister companies, they didn't even always get along very well. In fact, they even went to the point of suing each other all the way to the Supreme Court. About 50 years later, when watch companies started selling cased watches, ENWCo went out and bought the Wadsworth Watch Case Company of Kentucky, even though it might have made more sense to buy the IWCCo, which was just down the street.

The fact that many people get confused is exactly what the Illinois Watch Case Company was trying to accomplish, and exactly what Elgin National Watch Company was objecting to.

Most of the details here can be found in E. C. Alft's "Elgin: An American History" book. This is a wonderful book about the history of one somewhat typical American town from the first building to the 1980's. I highly recommend you get a copy of the book, or read it online.

The Illinois Watch Case Company was originally located in Chicago but in 1890, long after ENWCo had become famous, it moved to Elgin Illinois. The owners of IWCCo originally wanted to change their name to the Elgin Watch Case Company, but when ENWCo found out about it, they quickly filed for that name instead. (ENWCo never actually made cases under this name, however.) In response, the Illinois Watch Case Company filed for the name "National Watch Case Company", which was very similar to the "National Watch Company" name that ENWCo had used up until around 1874.

Law suits and counter suits were filed, one eventually reached the Supreme Court. In 1901, the court ruled in favor of IWCCo and said that the name "Elgin" could not be trademarked since it was a geographical description and existed before the watch company. ENWCo, however, did win several lesser suits that barred companies from selling cased watches as "Elgin Watches" or "Watches from Elgin". This was clearly misleading, since the movements were not made in the city of Elgin, it was just the case that was made there.

In the 1940's, when the watch case business started to run into hard times, the Illinois Watch Case Company branched out into manufacturing cigarette cases and Lady's Compacts, using the "Elgin American" brand name. In the 1950's, all production was moved to Japan, which meant the "Elgin American" line was no longer made in America, let alone from Elgin.

Isn't it nice to know that deceptive sales practices and law suit happy companies isn't something new? Uhhh, well, maybe that isn't nice to know. Oh well. :->

While I'm not an expert, I believe the information on this page is correct. Please send suggestions and corrections to the webmaster.
This web site runs on 100% Open Source Software. This web page was last changed on 10/04/2002 at 00:53:33.