Rockford Watch Co, Rockford, Illinois
The Cornell Watch Co. was formed in 1870 by Paul Cornell, a real-estate dealer in suburban Chicago, along with J.C. Adams. J.C. Adams obtained the plant of the Newark Watch Co. (Newark, NJ) and had it shipped to Chicago, to be installed in a newly built factory in 1871. Cornell manufactured a range of ten grades of 18-size watches. The Cornell Watch Company reorganized and relocated to San Francisco in 1874. The Cornell Watch Co. of San Francisco encountered financial difficulties and closed in 1876.
Rockford Watch Co.
The Rockford Watch Company was organized in 1874 in Rockford, Illinois, located 93 miles west of Chicago, following the reorganization and move of the Cornell Watch Co. from Chicago to San Francisco. Former Cornell Watch Company employees, P. H. Wheeler (Wheeler's Patent, etc) and C. W. Parker became key employees establishing Rockford. The factory building was built in 1875-76, incorporating equipment purchased from the Cornell Watch Company. Mr. George D. Clarke was appointed superintendent, Clarke was also from the Cornell Watch Co. and had previously worked for the United States Watch Co.
The first Rockford watch, a key-wind, 18-size, full plate with expansion balance was released in May 1876. The company had 40 employees and was soon turning out 10 watches per day, all 18-size, in five different grades. By 1877, the company was producing 3/4 plate nickel movements. The company sold directly to retailers.
Rockford watches were advertised in railroad journals and were popular with railroad workers, with 3 railroads going through Rockford. The highest grades of early Rockford watches were signed "Ruby" or "Ruby Jewels." Up to the mid-1890's the higher grade watches were marked "adjusted", but the level of adjustment varied by grade. Around 1898 Rockford 18-size 800 series and 900 series railroad grade watches began being marked "RG", grade numbers began being marked on movements around 1900. Around 1902 railroad grade watches began being marked "Adjusted to 5 Positions."
During the late 1880's the factory was producing about 150 watches per day, employing 350 people. The company had financial difficulties in 1896, and was reorganized as the Rockford Watch Co. Ltd. Two of the principles of the Illinois Watch Case Co., J. Franks and M.C. Eppenstein, purchased the Rockford Watch Co. Ltd. in 1901. The Rockford Watch Co, including Rockford Watch Co, Ltd., produced slightly less than one million watches during its 40 year history with half of all watches produced between 1902 and 1915. Many of them are found with private engravings. The Rockford Watch Co. closed their doors in 1915.
The Rockford Watch Co. factory building still exists today housing several small businesses.
Rockford railroad grade watches (not all were railroad approved)
The following is from list of railroad grade watches which is generally attributed Webb C. Ball. Not all of these were railroad approved even though all are railroad grade.
- 18 Size: No. 950, 21 jeweled
- No. 87, 15 jeweled, adjusted to heat, cold and positions
- Grades 900, 905, 910, 912, 918, 945, 200, 205;
- 16 Size: Nos. 505, 515, 525, 535, 545, 555, and Winnebago, 21 jeweled, double roller.
- No. 655, 21 jeweled, lever set
Rockford Production Dates by Serial Number
Note: These are approximate dates, actual dates may vary by years. The serial number being referred to is the serial number on the movement of the watch, not the case.
|1876 - 1,200||1886 - 267,100||1896 - 470,000||1906 - 670,000|
|1877 - 22,600||1887 - 287,200||1897 - 490,000||1907 - 690,000|
|1878 - 43,000||1888 - 308,300||1898 - 510,000||1908 - 734,000|
|1879 - 64,000||1889 - 328,400||1899 - 530,000||1909 - 790,000|
|1880 - 95,000||1890 - 349,500||1900 - 550,000||1910 - 824,000|
|1881 - 136,000||1891 - 369,900||1901 - 570,000||1911 - 880,000|
|1882 - 167,000||1892 - 390,700||1902 - 590,000||1912 - 936,000|
|1883 - 208,000||1893 - 410,800||1903 - 610,000||1913 - 958,000|
|1884 - 229,000||1894 - 430,900||1904 - 630,000||1914 - 980,000|
|1885 - 240,000||1895 - 450,000||1905 - 650,000||1915 - 1,000,000|
Abbott, Henry G. The Watch Factories of America Past and Present: A complete history of Watch Making in America, from 1809 to 1888 Inclusive. Geo. K Hazlitt & Co. Chicago, 1888, reprinted by Forgotten Books, Lexington, KY, 2012.
Artzner, Darrah G., A Review of the Rockford Watch Company And It’s Watches With Emphasis On Model Identification, 2011, available from NAWCC Chapter 149.
Crossman, Charles S. The Complete History of Watch Making in America, Reprinted from Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review 1885 - 1887. Adams Brown Co. Exeter, New Hampshire.
Ehrhardt, Roy, Rockford Watch Company: Grade and serial numbers with production figures. Kansas City, Missouri, Heart of America Press, 1976.
Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, "Railroaders' Corner - The Marking of Rockford’s 18-Size Watches," NAWCC Bulletin No. 308 (June, 1997), Pp 347-350.
Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, "Railroaders' Corner - Markings on Rockford 16-Size Watches," NAWCC Bulletin No. 315 (August, 1998), Pp 476-479.
Links to other sites for additional information:
Pocket Watch Database: - Serial number lookup and information for Ball, Elgin, Hamilton, Hampden, Illinois, Rockford, South Bend and Waltham.
NAWCC Chapter 149 Rockford Watch Database - Serial number lookup and information for Rockford watches.