The Factory - 1867
Pocket watch production began in 1867. The factory, located on National Street at the south end of Grove Avenue, grew in stages until by 1920 it was the largest watchmaking complex in the world, ultimately producing more than 54 million timepieces. For almost 100 years, Elgin Watch was Elgin's biggest industry with 4,000 workers at its peak in the 1920s. This bell was part of the 1905 reconstruction and was paired with a four-sided Seth Thomas clock in the 144-foot tower at the factory entrance.
The Bell - 1905
Weighing over a ton, the bell was cast by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore in 1887. The bell marked daily time periods for the factory workers and the Elgin community. At 6:00 a.m. in the morning the bell peeled 78 strokes to awaken the workers. At 6:30 a.m., a 37-stroke reminder was sounded.
The work day started at 7:00 a.m. with a single stroke. The bell rang to announce the noon break and the return to work for the afternoon. Traditionally, three strokes tolled at the end of the work day.
By the late 1920s, the factory's steam whistle replaced the bell. Regular use of the bell ceased in 1931.
Watch Factory Closes - 1966
As a sentimental gesture the bell was rung during the company's 75th anniversary celebration in 1939.
Run for the last time on August 23, 1965, three strokes were sounded - the traditional end-of-work, but this time for the entire Elgin National Watch Company factory.
The clock tower was dynamited on Sunday morning, October 2, 1966. The bell was recovered from the ruins.