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Cornell Watch Company
Life Span: 1871-TBD
Location: 79th and Ellis St
The Watch Factories of America, Past and Present By Henry G. Abbott. 1888
IN 1863, Mr. N. B. Sherwood went to New York to try and interest capital in the organization of a watch factory. Messrs. Louis S. Fellows and Shell became interested in the idea and decided to try the experiment. A room was rented and Mr. Sherwood started building the machinery for the enterprise. He had under him a corps of efficient workmen but after a few months some misunderstandings arose between himself and Mr. Arthur Wadsworth who succeeded him.
Messrs. Fellows & Shell purchased a building in Newark, N.J. and latered it over to serve as a factory. The machinery and tools were moved into it in 1864 and the name “The Newark Watch Company” was adopted. The parties interested were Augustus, Robert, and Edward Shell, and Lewis S. Fellow. The original model was made by Mr. Wadsworth, and was 18 size, and closely resembled an English watch then on the market. The first watches were all key-wind; but later on a stem-wind movement was made, but was pronounced a failure. The movements were called, “Robert Fellows”, “Edward Bevin”, and “Newark Watch Company”. The stem wind was named “The Arthur Wadsworth,” after the inventor. The company manufactured in all about 3,000 watches, but was gradually running behind. Accordingly in 1869 negotiations were entered into with the Cornell Watch Company, then organized at Chicago.
The Cornell Watch Company
79th and Ellis
Mr. Paul Cornell, after whom the new factory was named, was a wealthy real-estate dealer of Chicago, owning large tracts of land in the vicinity of Grand Crossing, a few miles south of Chicago. He conceived the idea that a watch factory would be a good speculation, and if located on his property would “boom” its sale. In company with J. C. Adams he set about organizing a company and in 1870 one was formed with a capital of $200,000. Previous to the organization of the company, Mr. Adams negotiated with the Newark Company and the results was that the Cornell Company purchased the plant for $125,000, giving stock in that amount as payment.
Mr. Cornell set aside thirty acres of land as a site for the factory, erected a building at a cost of $75,000, taking stock in the company for that amount. The officers of the company were as follows:
President Paul Cornell
Vice President C. M. Cady
Secretary, J. B. Jackson
Treasurer, Robert Shell
General Manager, T. C. Williams
General Agent J. C. Adams.
In August, 1871 (just prior to the Chicago fire), the new building was complete and the machinery, etc., and the Newark factory brought on. The departments were as follows:
Regulator and Stud room
Wheel and Pinion Finishing room
Pinion and Wheel room
Escape Wheel Cutting room
Jewel and Pallet room
Fourteen in all.
Owing to the frequent changes made in the heads of the various departments it is almost impossible to give a list of the department superintendents with any degree of accuracy. The following gentlemen, however, maybe named as having held various positions of trust during the career of this factory at Grand Crossing:
Albert Troller, now superintendent of the Rockford Company
J. W. Hurd, late superintendent of the Aurora Company
John Penny, now with the Elgin Company
John Logan, now foreman of springing in the Waltham factory
C. O. Kidder
Geo. D. Clark
G. A. Kendrick
W. W. Pioer
J. J. Newton
C. R. Bacon
The old movement made by the Newark Company was improved on and the new machinery and a great many new tools made. The company manufactured ten grades of movements as follows:
“J. C. Adams”
“Geo F. Root”
“H. N. Hibbard”
“E. S. Williams”
“C. T. Bowen”
“C. M. Cady”
“Geo W. Waite”
“Ladies Stem Wind”
The were all size 18 with exception of the ladies movement and the greater majority were full plate and double sunk dial. Expansion balances were used. The Paul Cornell and C. M. Cady models were stem-winders and the balance key winders. The ladies movement proved a failure in spite of the fact that a trade paper in existence at the time said: “One great feature of the Cornell Watch Co. is that they are the first in the county who have manufactured and introduced a Ladies Stem Winding Watch, which is, perhaps, in finished and originality of design, one of the greatest improvements of the age.”
Mr Cornell came to the conclusion that the Cornell Company was going to be a great success, and accordingly he began to purchase the stock as fast as possible, until, in about 1872, he found himself almost, sole “monarch of all I survey.” Two years after, however he found the concern was not the successful one he had anticipated, and was ready to unload his stock. After corresponding with several parties he at length entered in to negotiations with W. C. Ralston, a wealth banker of San Francisco. In the fall of 1874 the entire plant was conveyed to the latter place, and such employes as could be induced to were also taken to California.
Mr. Cornell’s object in moving the factory was to take advantage of Chinese labor, which was then very cheap and plentiful in San Francisco. The new concern was called the Cornell Watch Company of San Francisco, with a capital of $250,000. The new company paid $100,000 for the Grand Crossing plant, which was then established as being worth $175,000. The officers were:
President, W. C. Ralston
Vice President, Oliver Eldridge
Secretary and Treasurer, James Cox
Left: Cornell Pocket Watch dial, 18 size
Right: Cornell John Evans Pocket Watch 15 jewel movement, 18 size
An old building on Fourth Street was remodeled as a factory. An effort was made to introduce Chinese labor, but the employees struck and raised so many obstacles in the was that the attempt was abandoned. In 1875 it was discovered that the company was in a critical position and in the fall of that year Mr. Ralston, the President, committed suicide. January 1, 1876 the factory closed. The California Watch Company succeeded the old company with a capital stock of $250,000. Berkeley, a suburb of Oakland, was decided on as a site for the factory. A building was erected at the cost of $20,000. The old machinery was place in the new factory, but operation were not resumed, as the company was undecided whether to start up with the old machinery or build new. They finally started up with the old tools and were not in a condition to get new ones. They kept the machine shop running, however, until the summer of 1876, when the entire works were closed up.
Mr. Albert Troller, the present superintendent of the Rockford factory, made arrangements with Messrs. Glickauf & Newhouse, then of San Francisco, to take the balance of the movements in the factory. In January, 1877, Mr. Troller bought all the unfinished material, leased the building and proceeded to finish up all the movements. The movements were all finished early in the summer of 1877. The building and machinery were taken possession of by the Berkeley Land Association, the machinery being eventually sold to the Independent Watch Company of Fredonia, New York.
The Cornell Watch Company
79th and Ellis
1897 Rand McNally Map of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, January 24, 1873
THE CORNELL WATCH FACTORY.
An Injurious Scandal Started by Discharged Workmen.
A paragraph in the city column of THE TRIBUNE yesterday relating to the Cornell Watch Company, was the result of inexcusable carelessness in giving publication to a scandal started by a discharged workman, brought in by a reporter at a late hour. Under any circumstances we should regret the tone of the paragraph for there should be no such word as “fail,” recognized in connection with our local manufacturing enterprises. In this case the rumor is totally groundless. The affairs of the Company were never in a better shape, and the capitalists associated in tho enterprise are amply repaid for their skill and nerve. We publish a letter from the Secretary of the Company, the statements in which can be abundantly established from the books of the Company. The Manager has recently been cutting down the force and making changes with a view to economy and efficiency, and it was solely from this source that the scandalous rumor was set afloat.
To the Editor of The Chicago Trfbure:
Sir: A paragraphh appeared In to-day’s TRIBUNE, with reference tb the Cornell Watch Company. The statement is a “scandal” without foundation in truth, undoubtedly coming from an operative feeling malicious in consequence of being discharged. Within the last ninety days the production of the Company’s factory has been more than double, while the expenses have been diminished 33 per cent in the same time. The prospects of the Company were never so good as thev are to-day Respectfully yours,
S. S. Calkins, Secretary..
Chicago Tribune June 24, 1965
BY LAWRENCE KNUTSON
On a summer day in 1853 a tall, bearded rider guided his horse thru the swampy land along Lake Michigan.
He noted with satisfaction the surveyor’s markers driven into the ground, and then rode up a hill for an overall view of the surrounding country.
Paul Cornell, successful Chicago attorney, was viewing his first major real estate investment, a 300-acre, low-lying tract more than three miles south of the city. Parts of it were covered with water. As an investment, his friends said, it could appeal only to a confirmed optimist.
Follows Douglas’ Advice
In sinking his earnings into the open prairie and swamp land, Cornell was following the advice given him in 1845 by the rising Illinois politician, Stephen A. Douglas.
“Invest in the south side,” Douglas had said, “for one day the center of Chicago will be at the mouth of the Calumet river.”
Cornell’s purchase formed the bulk of what was to become the town of Hyde Park, one of the first Chicago suburbs. It would be the keystone of the southern residential and indus- trial expansion of the city.
Cornell’s Name Is Used
Today in Hyde Park, Cornell’s name marks a street, a park, and a school at 7540 Drexel av.
Descended from Thomas Cornell of Essex, England, who settled in Boston in 1638, Paul Cornell was born in White Creek, N. Y., in 1822. Shortly after the birth of Cornell, his father died and his mother was remarried to a local doctor.
The family moved to Adams county in Illinois, where Cornell grew up on a farm, attending school only in the most bitter months of the frontier winter. He began to study law in 1843, and in 1847, after his admission to the state bar, he moved to Chicago.
Money Is Stolen
He arrived with an extra suit of clothes and $1.50. The money was stolen from his hotel room, but a friendly attorney supplied both a loan and a position, in a prosperous law firm.
Adequate and dependable transportation was one of the main problems blocking successful development of the region south of Chicago. With that in mind, Cornell made a deal with the Illinois Central railroad. He agreed to sell the railroad 60 acres of his south side land at a low price on the condition that the road maintain daily, round-trip train service to Chicago.
Sells in Subdivislon
In 1857 the I. C. threatened to stop service, of few passengers. Cornell agreed to pay the difference of the cost of operation and ticket receipts. In December, 1858, only 13 passengers used the service each day, and by the next month the number had shrunk to nine. Cornell paid and rail service continued.
Altho the new subdivision faltered at first, sales eventually picked up and more houses were built. Later, Cornell built the Hyde Park hotel, which remained in the family well into the present century.
Hyde Park House
53rd & Lake Michigan
It was a favorite resort for the elite. During the summer of 1865, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, with Robert and Tad, stopped (and slept) here. Photo was taken in 1859.
It burned down in 1879. The Hampton House condominiums exists on the property today.
By 1866 Cornell had become one of the largest owners of suburban real estate in Cook county. He was one of the organizers of the Chicago Coal and Dock company, which helped to develop the Calumet region.
He also knew how to take advantage of a situation. When an accident at an intersection of two railroads caused the county to order trains to come to a complete stop at the point before proceeding, Cornell bought land there and sub- divided it for a village. It was his theory that a community was bound to develop at a location where transportation to the city was easy to obtain.
Grand Crossing Region
The resulting community was incorporated as Cornell, but the name was changed when it was discovered that a town in southern Illinois already had the name. The district, now part of the city, is still known by its second name, Grand Crossing.
Years later, during the presentation of a bust and a portrait of the developer to the Cornell park fieldhouse, 51st and Wood streets, his son, John E. Cornell, described one of his father’s “feats of super-salesmanship:”
In the spring of 1875, when unable to take a prospect over some real estate because it lay under 2 feet of water, he took him to the top of the tower . . . at 79th and Ellis, pointed out the lots from there and sold two blocks at $300 a lot.
The tower was part of the Cornell watch factory, another family enterprise.
Helps Create Parks
Cornell was an early advocate of an extensive park system thruout the city, espe- cially on the south side. He lobbied for the creation of a south park district during the 1867-68 sessions of the Illinois legislature.
He was successful and was appointed to serve on the board of commissioners of the new district, a post he held for 14 years. He helped establish Washington and Jackson parks and aided in their early development.
On March 4, 1961, a day after the 57th anniversary of Paul Cornell’s death in 1904, a tornado ripped thru the south side, destroying dozens of homes, and causing $82,500 damage to the Cornell school. Part of the wall and roof in the old section of the structure was destroyed and the building was flooded when the automatic sprinkler system was activated.
Put Back to Use
“But it was soon back in full operation,” said Louis Asher, principal. “This building was built to withstand the ages. Old buildings are not always ideal, but this one is both efficient and comfortable.”
Asher and his staff of 33 teachers are responsible for the education of nearly 1,000 pupils from kindergarten thru the 8th grade.
“We have projects by the dozen, nothing earth-shaking perhaps, but you learn from experience,” Asher said. “For example, one teacher used a sandbox to help a youngster learn to write. First they traced words in-the sand and then they put the same words on paper. Perhaps the sandbox related di- rectly t6 the child s everyday life, because it was the dif- ference between success and failure.”
Serves’ Cornell One Year
Asher, who has been a teacher and principal for 15 years in the Chicago school system, is concluding his first year as principal of Cornell.
The school is teaching the “new math” concepts with good results, Asher said.
“At this point, we may soon need a course in it for parents as well,” he added. “They are just that interested.”
Teach with Recorder
The school also uses tape recorders to teach reading and writing. Recently, parents pre- pared meals featuring South American dishes for students studying the geography of that area.
“I think we must continue to innovate and not fear failure,” Asher said. “The important thing is to bring education to our children in the most effec- tive way possible.'”