The Illinois Pocket Watch Company

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Illinois dial marking The Illinois Pocket Watch Company is well described in this story written in 1913. This was from a paper handed to me by a colleague who discovered it by chance several years ago. No author I'm afraid, but it is a fascinating read. Enjoy!

In 1869 the attention of a number of public spirited citizens and capitalists of Springfield was called to the great advantage which would result to the city from the establishment and conduct of manufacturing industries. Even in those days men who were what we now term promoters were keenly active in various lines, and one of the pioneers in this profession was Mr. John C. Adams. He came to Springfield in 1869 and pointed out the benefits to the city, and the very possible and probable profits to be secured for the stockholders, of a company organised for the manufacture of watch movements.

Attention was directed to the benefits which would come to the city in the establishment of an industry in which the chief expense of production was the high wages paid to skilled labor and in the bringing to the city of a large number of skilled mechanics and their families. As a result of these representations the SPRINGFIELD WATCH COMPANY was organized in 1869 with a capital stock of $100,000.00, with John T. Stuart as President, W.B. Miller, Secretary and a Board of Directors consisting of John W. Bunn, George Passfield, John Williams, George N. Black, and the President and Secretary.

After accomplishing these preliminary steps Mr. Adams visited Elgin, and engaged Otis Hoyt to take charge of the train room, W.T. Dean as die maker, C.E. Mason for the escapement department, D.G. Currier for model maker and finishing room, and George White as pattern maker. They came to Springfield in April 1870 and began work on the machine shop tools in a temporary shop, as it was found necessary to build the machine shop tools, that being the quickest way to get them at that time.

Mr. John K. Bigelow came from the Elgin Company to act as Superintendent and held the position until July 1873.

The plant of the company was located upon fourteen acres of ground just outside the (then) city limits of Springfield, on North Grand Avenue, between Ninth and Eleventh Streets, the property being purchased from Henry Converse for cash. Work on the factory building was commenced in December 1869, the first building being 30 x 100 feet, three stories high. In 1879 the center building was erected 40 x 50 feet, four stories high; in 1880 the South Wing, 30 x 100 feet, was completed. The cost of these buildings amounted to about one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00). The buildings are of brick with stone trimming, and the visitor is at once impressed with their compact and, at the same time, convenient arrangement.

In December, 1870, the tools were erected in the basement of the North Wing and the work on watch making machinery was pushed. In May, 1871, they commenced the manufacture of watch parts, and in January, 1872, the first watches were completed. These models were made by D. G. Currier and J. K. Bigalow, and were 18 size, full plate, key wind. They were called the Stuart, Bunn, Miller, Currier, Hoyt and Mason.

Like so many others have tried to do since, the company attempted to sell direct to the retail trade, and the marketing of the product was placed in the hands of the Secretary, Mr. Miller, who took the road for that purpose and visited all the large cities. This soon proved to be too great a task, and in 1873 a New York office was established at 11 Maiden Lane, in charge of J. M. Morrow, who placed the product with the jobbers and continued with the company until 1884.

At the beginning of 1873, 125 employees were at work and the capacity of the factory was 25 movements per day. The company began making their own balances, having previously imported them. They also commenced the manufacture of dials and hairsprings and jewels, all of which had heretofore been imported. The panic of 1873, which paralyzed the business of the country, placed the company in an embarrassing position, as they had not been in business long enough to have a surplus of capital to sink during the depression which followed, and they soon found themselves with a large stock of watches on hand, with little or no demand for them, and no money with which to keep the factory running.

To meet this emergency, fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) of preferred stock was issued, but it was not enough to do more than to postpone the inevitable. Money was borrowed on the surplus stock of watches which at that time amounted to about one hundred thousand ($100,000.00), and the business was continued by means of these expedients until 1875, when the stockholders refused to put in any more money on the ground that the preferred stock would take all the profits for several years, and reorganization became imperative, although the company had assets enough to more than pay its debts if the watches could have been sold.

During this year the Springfield Watch Company abandoned its property for a new company which took the assets and assumed all liabilities, the stockholders ofthe old company losing the full amount of their investments. The name of the corporation was changed to the ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD WATCH COMPANY, and the capital of the new company was two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), of which one hundred and ten thousand ($110,000.00) was paid in.

There was a bonded indebtedness of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) on the plant and the fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) of preferred stock was capitalized in the formation of the new corporation. E. N. Bates was elected President, Otis Hoyt Superintendent. The first stem-wind movements were turned out this year, but a new stem-wind attachment was adopted in 1876, which was designed by Mr. Mason.

In 1876 the company began making ladies movements, both key and stem-wind, in eight size. The company continued to lose money, and Mr. Mason, in 1887, became Superintendent. He increased the production to one hundred movements per day, but without stopping the loss.

In 1878 another reorganization ensued. Jacob Bunn became President and Charles Schiorowski secretary. Mr. Bunn assumed the business management and the name of the corporation was changed to the ILLINOIS WATCH COMPANY. New grades in 18 size movements were added during 1879, and the trains of the others were changed from 18200 to 18000 beats. This was done by Mr. Mason, who had succeeded Mr. Hoyt as Superintendent.

In 1878 an Open Face movement was put on the market, by this company, which was the first open face movement ever made in the United States.

In August, 1879, the first nickel movements ever produced in America were brought out by this company. Up to 1886 there were only two size movements manufactured - the 18 size and the 8 size.

In 1886 two new movements were brought out - the 6 and 4 sizes - the latter being the smallest watch movement ever produced by American manufacturers up to this time. Sizes 14 and 16 were put on the market in 1890.

In 1896 the New Thin Model 16 size supplemented the former 16 size model and proved itself to be the most popular movement in 16 size ever produced in this country.

In the fall of 1905 new models were produced in 0 and 12 size, both of which have proved most popular and the demand for them is constantly increasing.

In the early part of 1910 a new model in 16 size, pendant setting, was produced, and found a ready market except in railroad grade, as the requirements of railway time service do not permit the use of pendant setting grades.

In the latter part of 1911 a 12 size model with spread dial, making the watch know as the twelve by fourteen size, was brought out and at once attracted the attention of the public as a very desirable timepiece for critical, particular men.

Up to the year 1902 the product of this company had been almost altogether cheap and medium grades, but in 1903 the company discontinued manufacturing cheap movements altogether, and have since confined themselves almost exclusively to the higher grade movements in seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one and twenty-three jewels.

Testimony as to the perfection of the railroad grades manufactured by this company is furnished by general watch inspectors on many railroads - perhaps even a greater authority is that of the National Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where in competitive examination with product of other factories, out of eleven watches accepted, ten were form the Illinois Watch Company's factory.

In thus increasing its production of high grade movements, the company soon found that more room was needed and new buildings to meet the requirements have been erected from time to time. In 1909 the two story North Wing, 103 x 21 feet, was completed for the use of the Timing and Adjustment Departments on the second floor, and the Dial Department on the first floor. In 1912 the two story East extension, 133 x 21 feet, was put in use. The first floor is used as a store house, and a part of the second story as the material office for the entire factory. A pleasing feature of the remaining space on the second floor of this building is a Rest and Club room for the women employees of the company. The room is fitted up with appliances for serving lunches, with tables and chairs, a piano, and an emergency room for use in case of illness, and is in charge of a matron regularly employed by the company. It is planned to devote a portion of the first floor for the use of the men as a club room.

As the manufacture of watch movements has developed both in quality and quantity, the American producer has been quick to learn the lesson of the present age - the necessity of specialization of watch movements for the use of the employees of railroads.

The Illinois Watch Company was among the first to realize this lesson, and during recent years, while not discontinuing its large output of moderate priced watches, nor abating constant effort to improve the quality of same, nevertheless has sought the most highly skilled aid of workmen and inventors in producing a watch of the highest perfection. This means a watch to meet the arbitrary and exacting requirements of railroad service, and this company has made a special effort in this direction by furnishing the "Sangamo" and the "Bunn", "Bunn Special", and "A. Lincoln" movements in 18 size, for the use of railroad men, so that to-day these movements are known wherever railroads are operated, and are the recognized standard watches for railway service.

In the early months of 1912 Mr. George F. Johnson, Mechanical Superintendent of the company, suggested the erection of an Observatory and the installation of a telescope, chronograph and sidereal clock, so that the company could take its own time, in its own building, and by its own appliances. To his intelligent presentation of the matter and his enthusiasm in executing all the difficult and manifold details of the plan, is very largely due the magnificent observatory erected upon the grounds of the company, and freely open to the inspection and use of the citizens and scholars of the public schools of the city of Springfield.

The equipment for the Illinois Watch Company observatory was designed to be as far as possible of Illinois manufacture.

The objective for the 8 1/4 inch refracting telescope is the work of O.L. Petitdidier of Chicago, who was selected not only on account of his being an Illinois maker, but also because of the high testimonials of his ability given by the directors of some of the greatest observatories in the United States.

The Equatorial mounting was designed and built by the Illinois Watch Company, with G. F. Johnson as superintendent of the work. The plans embody the best features of various mountings by other makers, together with some original features, and together combining great rigidity and convenience.

In the time service department is a 3 inch combined transit and zenith telescope built by Guertner & Co., of Chicago, from a special design in which they have cooperated with the Illinois Watch Company to produce an instrument especially adapted to their service. A Chronograph is furnished by the same firm.

The Illinois Watch Factory is the largest manufacturing institution in the city of Springfield. The company now employs 518 hands, and produces more than 525 high grade watches per day. The company has paid out for labor more than eleven million dollars since its organisation.

One pleasing and characteristic feature in the history of Illinois Watch Company is the spirit of harmony, contentment and happiness shown in the looks, manners and actions of the men and women in its employ. Many of these have worked with the company more than twenty years, and have witnessed and have had an honorable part in its growth and prosperity - indeed, the attitude of these people toward the Illinois Watch Company is that of members of one large, happy family rather than the very common one of soulless corporation and unfortunate employees.

Since the latter part of the year 1889 the active management and conduct of the business has been largely under the control and direction of four men, who even prior to that had long worked together in the employ of the company. These men, while often, while often differing as to important details, have yet worked harmoniously on general principles and policies, and long association has only served to make stronger the bonds of respect and appreciation of each for the others.

Jacob Bunn as President, George A. Bates as Secretary, Frederic H. Morgan as Cashier and Credit men, Julius W. Armbruster as General salesmen, have each and at all times labored conscientiously and faithfully for the success and best interests of the Illinois Watch Company. In the erection of this beautiful observatory they see an indication of the success and prosperity of this company, and are glad that they have had an honorable and potent share in its production.

It is interesting to consider that the present watch company has continued under practically the same management and officers from the time the first company surrendered its franchise, in 1877, to its successors. Dating back to the first establishment of the industry, the officers in control have been as follows:

Officers in Control of the Illinois Factory

Presidents

  • 1876-78, E. N. Bates; 1878-97,
  • Jacob Bunn; 1897, Jacob Bunn, Jr.

Vice Presidents

  • 1887-88, John. W. Bunn;
  • 1888-97 Jacob Bunn, Jr.;
  • 1898, Henry Bunn.

Secretaries

  • 1877, Frank W. Tracy;
  • 1878-88, Charles Schmororski;
  • 1888, George A. Bates.

The present Board of Directors of the company consists of Messrs. John W. Bunn, Henry Bunn, George W. Bunn and George A. Bates.

March 11, 1913.


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