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The 1871 Chicago Fire and the Elgin National Watch Company: The Mahlon D. Ogden Mansion

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Illustration of the Ogden Mansion After the Fire, 1871 (top). Stereoscopic View - Mahlon D. Ogden Mansion, After the Great Chicago Fire, Published by W.D. Fay & Co., 1871 (bottom).
Pictured: Illustration of the Ogden Mansion After the Fire, 1871 (top). Stereoscopic View – Mahlon D. Ogden Mansion, After the Great Chicago Fire, Published by W.D. Fay & Co., 1871 (bottom).

[A brief departure from our ongoing study of the Burlington Watch Company]

One of the more intriguing stories that connects the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the American watch industry is that of Mahlon Dickerson Ogden’s mansion.


Mr. Ogden was a lawyer, a wealthy real estate developer, and one of the early investors of the National Watch Company. He was so instrumental in the founding of the company that a grade was named in his honor – the “M.D. Ogden” – an eleven-jewel gilded movement produced until c.1874.

The Ogden family was associated with the National Watch Company in many ways. Mahlon’s brother, William B. Ogden, was elected the first mayor of Chicago and served as President of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company – a company closely associated with several early National Watch Company founders. William also owned the building that housed the National Watch Company sales office in Chicago. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, that building was completely destroyed in the 1871 fire.

Mahlon’s extravagant mansion was located just north of Washington Square Park in Chicago. Once the inferno of the Great Chicago Fire was finally extinguished, the Ogden residence was miraculously the only structure in the path of the blaze that was still standing. Reportedly, the house was not even marred by scorch marks.

The survival of the Ogden mansion quickly became part of the lore surrounding the Great Chicago Fire. Unfortunately, while the Ogden mansion survived the fire, it could not escape from the city’s aggressive growth. In 1893, the house was demolished to make way for the Newberry Library.


Mahlon D. Ogden Mansion After the 1871 Great Chicago Fire
Mahlon D. Ogden Mansion After the 1871 Great Chicago Fire

Reverse of the Stereoscopic View Featuring the Ogden Mansion, 1871

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