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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Article 297 Watchcase part 2 Dave Petersen Last week we took a look at some great early images of the Star Watch Case factory that were developed from Glass slides that Jim Fay found awhile back. This week we will continue with some other images and tidbits of history from the Watch Case. It's hard to believe sometimes how much industry used to be in Ludington and how much we have lost with manufacturing that has disappeared or has gone overseas. If you have photographs or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, email atdavep@blackcreekpress.com [mailto:davep@blackcreekpress.com] or mail in care of Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431. In the early days of watch making one firm would make cases and another would make the movement. When you wanted a new watch you would go to the jeweler and pick out a case and with what money was left over pick out a movement and the jeweler would put it together for you. Originally the Star Watch Case was the Illinois Watch Case Company in Elgin Illinois. Just down the road was the Elgin Watch Company that made movements for the cases. These two concerns were often mistaken for each other and even launched suits against each other over the respective names. The Star Watch Case survived the loss of their foreign market during WWI, and the Great Depression by 1937 they were on the mend again. During WWII the Star Watch Case Company produced compass cases, some submarine parts and most importantly components for the Norden Bombsight which was used to help bombers drop their loads more accurately on the target. It was a closely guarded secret but not close enough as a German spy by the name of Herman Lang leaked the design in 1938. Pic1 Fritz Baumgartner (front row Mustache) was the key engraver at the Ludington plant in 1906. There is a book (Memoirs of a watch case engraver) assembled by his Great Grandson with his memoirs and hundreds of illustrations of engravings on the backs of watch cases that he engraved in his years there. The majority of the production in the first 30 years were pocket watch cases, expansion of the line came about during WWII. 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. In later years Star also made the case for the Omega Speedmaster, used by NASA it was worn by Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969, (Armstrong left his in the module) Pic3 Within a few years employment was up over 150, and at its peak was over 500. In 1937 the Watch Case boasted that it had employment of 95% of that of 1929 and that it had paid out in taxes, payroll and local purchases nearly a half million dollars. Pic4 This image is of the Rolling Mill at the watch case. Gold fill and solid gold cases were manufactured at the factory, at any given time two hundred thousand dollars worth of gold was in the vault. What was on the employees clothes, in the floor boards, and defective cases that were tossed into a hole in the wall may have amounted to more over the years. Recovery of shavings was an important task in watch case production. Pic5 This is an early view of the fitting room. An allied company was formed in 1908 in Manistee as the Manistee Watch Company. They produced nearly 100 watch movements a day that were shipped to Ludington to be assembled in the watch cases produced there.

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