The assets of the bankrupt Columbus Watch Company of Columbus, Ohio were purchased the sons of Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company co-founder Clement Studebaker in 1903. Clement Jr. was named president of the newly formed South Bend Watch Company. Along with brother George, Studebaker built a new factory in South Bend, Indiana and hired 145 former Columbus employees, along with watchmaker W.C. Shelton, Sr. from the Appleton Watch Company in Wisconsin. The factory was outfitted with mass production machinery, the workers were retrained, and in 1905 production began.
Several styles of pocket watches were manufactured and sold at prices ranging from $16 to $125. The watches were well received and the company was a success. Watch production was interrupted during World War I, when the company was contracted by the government to build gun sights. By the time watch production resumed in 1918, the market had changed, with the wristwatch rapidly gaining popularity over the pocket watch. Regardless, the South Bend Watch Company prospered through the 1920’s.
The company introduced the Studebaker Watch, identical to the South Bend except for the name. It was sold by mail order and represented as being from the Studebaker Watch Company. Advertisements included the tagline “Directed by members of the Studebaker family – known for three-quarters of a century for fair dealing.”
By 1929 the South Bend Watch Company had 300 employees and had produced nearly a million watches. The Studebaker line was sold on credit, requiring only one dollar down. When the stock market crashed in October of 1929, the company found itself with more delinquent accounts than it could handle. On November 27th the plant was closed. Employees were told it would remain closed until January 1st. The plant never reopened.
Liquidation was completed in 1933. Some 35,000 watches were in production when the factory closed. W.C. Shelton, Sr., along with 2 other employees, completed the assembly of those watches and sold them. Shelton continued to operate the company’s service department until his retirement in 1954 effectively ended the South Bend Watch Company story. The factory building, which had been used by a number of businesses over the years, was destroyed by fire in 1957.
Machinery Magazine ran a series of articles in 1912 detailing how watches were manufactured at South Bend Watch Company. The articles included a number of excellent photographs and very detailed diagrams. A book containing reprints of the entire series is available from Lindsay Publications, Inc.
South Bend Watch Company Factory
Machinery Magazine - 1912
Note: Portions of this article were also contributed by the author, John Penrice, to Wikipedia.