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WW2 era production for the civilian market "Click" to Login or Register 
Picture of Ron Birchall
(Cross posted in Military forum)

I've read that Elgin, Hamilton and Waltham were only allowed to make watches in support of the war effort during WW2. I know this included military watches and railroad standard watches (because transportation was an essential industry) as well as purely war materiel such as time fuses.

I have been surprised however, at the number and variety of watch movements produced during the war years and wondered just how strict this edict/practice was. Tonight I found this 1942 Lord Elgin listed for auction. According to elginwatches.org, there were 57,000 Lord Elgin marked movements made in 1942 and 76,000 in 1943. In 1944, the number was up to 156,000. That seems like a lot of premium watches!

Were these movements really used in military models or did in fact, many find there way into the civilian market? What might the legitimate "essential purpose" be for these high grade watches be for?

Posts: 388 | Location: Wheaton, Illinois U.S.A. | Registered: December 20, 2004
Elgin Historian
IHC Life Member
According to local new accounts, the last civilian watches Elgin assembled were in June 1942. The first shipments of civilian watches resumed in the fall of 1945, presumably production began a few months before that, possibly right after VE Day (in early May 1945).

Of course we all know about the variations in pairing serial numbers to actual dates of production. Also keep in mind that there were always a certain number of watches being held in wholesalers inventories and those that sat in the retailer's display cases awaiting sale. So from the consumer's point of view there was no distinct shutting off date for the production spigot.

Also, consider this tid bit. According the local newspaper, The Elgin Daily Courier News, 11/21/1964, Elgin began a serial numbering system in 1903 in which they essentially went up by one million each year regardless of whether or not a million were actually made. The obvious exception was during the 1930s when far less than a million were being produced annually and they merely went up, more or less, the actual number made. The same article states that prior to 1903 serial number tables date to within 4 or 5 years of actual production. Between 1903 and 1953 it was 1 or 2 years.
Posts: 23 | Location: Elgin, Illinois USA | Registered: December 05, 2003
Picture of Ron Birchall
Thanks Bill-

I am glad to see you participating here! For those who may not know, Bill is co-author along with E. C. Alft, of the excellant (IMHO) Elgin Time, A History of the Elgin National Watch Company,.

My ebay example is consistent with the June '42 cut off of commercial production.

I also understand the effect of serial number assignments and unsold inventory. Serial numbers assigned during a year may not be finished in that year (and in some cases, not finished for several years later although I think this practice of substantial pre-assigning of serial numbers was less prevalent at Elgin). And, of course, watches may sit in finished inventory at the plant, wholesaler or jeweler for some time before being sold. This effect often explains an engraved date on a watch case being some years later than the production records suggest the watch was made.

I don't think that explains the increase in production numbers for the Lord Elgin named movements in 1943, 1944 and 1945 (184,000) however. So I am still puzzeled with where or how these were used. If these were in-fact produced (or even started but not yet finished), I am wondering to what military or essential industry purpose these 21j movements were intended.

Posts: 388 | Location: Wheaton, Illinois U.S.A. | Registered: December 20, 2004
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