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Mason County Memories

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Article 296 History Column Star Watch Case David Petersen This week we are going to take a look at the Star Watch Case Company, originally founded as the Illinois Watchcase Company in Elgin Illinois about 1897. The business long stood on South Rath after its move here in 1906 and employed many thousands of Ludington men and women during its years of operation, my parents included. Jim ay recently came across a collection of glass negatives that he wanted to share with our readers showing the interior of the watchcase, the machinery and the men and women who worked there about 1909. Views such as these are seldom seen, take note of the machinery, I'm sure OSHA would have fits over it but at the time it was a state of the art facility. If you have photographs or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, email at davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431. Pic1 Elgin's loss, Ludington's gain. A very new building is shown here. Had the Kane County Board of Review treated the owners of the Watchcase better things may have turned out differently. Following through on his threat A.B. Church packed up the business and its jobs and moved north. This was all over a dispute of inflating the valuation of his Borden's stock, Church moved to New York and the Watchcase to Ludington in 1906. In 1923 he came to Ludington to take a direct hand in the operations and was the last of the original shareholders when he passed away. Pic2 A group of men line up for a portrait in their Monday's best work clothes. In July of 1905 sixty employees of the Watch Case which was then based in Elgin Illinois arrived on the SS Kansas to spend some time looking over the community that would soon be the new home for many. They arrived without prior notification of the town officials who would have liked to have made better preparations. Otto Starke, Fred Hermans. Warren Cartier and A.B. Church were partners in the business. Pic3 This line of buffers almost looks like they were just unpacked from the crates. The Watch Case provided employment form the beginning to many women years before Rosie the Riveter made the scene. The (case) fitting room was primarily staffed with women employees. The entire case minus the crystal and the works were manufactured at the Ludington plant. Pic4 A few of the watch cases offered by the Star Watch Case about 1909. The business quickly expanded and offered an increasingly better quality case. The cases made in Ludington Michigan were supplied to the best Swiss watch makers in the world. During WWII the watchcase was tasked to produce compass cases and other war effort items, returning to watch case production post war. The quality cases made in Ludington continues to endure long past the demise of the company in 1982. Pic5 In July of 1909 Frank Shuart a State of Michigan factory inspector spent a week in Ludington and found that the watchcase was a modern, clean, hygienic and safe factory, so much so that he claimed that only one other in the state surpassed it. Equipment used in production included Rolling Mills, Stamping Presses, and Hydraulic Presses. Pic6 Employees numbered over 500 at the peak of production and declined dramatically in the last few years of operation. Precison Watch Case Company purchased the business in 1979 from Edgar Schwaibolt and closed the end of 1982. The land was purchased by Charles Conrad and in 1982 was donated to the City of Ludington in 1984. Harbor Front Plaza purchased the property in 1999 to construct Condominiums bringing life back into a location that had been a hub of work, industry and pride.

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