Thursday, 11 July 2013


        One of the wonders of modern science is the manner in which products once regarded as worthless have been turned to such good account that they have made fortunes for manufacturers and the discoverers. In the early days of gas lighting in our own city of Hamilton, the coal tar from which the gas was distilled was run to waste in a gully at the north end of Caroline street to get rid of it. It was regarded as of no value, and thousands of tons of the tar were lost to the local gas company before science discovered its use for making dyes, how it could be turned into a valuable antiseptic such as carbolic acid, and ultimately an important factor in the invention of smokeless powder and powerful explosives which have made the present war so terrible. In time, this liquid tar was shipped from the Hamilton gas works to a plant in western Detroit, where it became a valuable product, vastly increasing the earnings of the gas company from what was once a refuse turned into the Caroline gully.
          Science got busy about that time and made another important discovery that added millions of dollars to the soap boiling industry by the utilizing of a thick, evil-smelling liquid that was run off in the sewers to be got rid of. The soap makers of Hamilton ignorantly were sending down to the bay thousands of dollars’ worth of this liquid every year, and were glad to get rid of it. Old-timers will remember when a soap factory in a neighborhood was anything but a joy. Some scientific genius discovered not many years ago that this evil-smelling liquid could be utilized and add thousands of dollars every year to the bank accounts of the soap makers through a simple process, and he perfected machinery that is now in use in every soap factory. One factory alone in this city has for a number of years been shipping this crude glycerine to Omaha Nebraska, where it is distilled into refined glycerine for toilet and other uses, as well as for dynamite and other powerful explosives in use in quarries for blasting purposes and in the mining of coal, iron, etc. The income from this crude glycerine that was sent down to the bay by one firm alone in this city ha amounted to $5,000 and upward each year; and since the war has more than doubled in value.
          Not more than twenty-five years ago, it was discovered that paper for newsprint and books could be made out of wood, and that Canada had enough spruce wood timber to supply the world if only judiciously used. Pulp mills were built along the streams where this timber abounded, and by the use of chemicals, the wood ground into a fine pulp ready for the paper mills. Speculators bought up the timber limits and built pulp mills, but instead of conserving this great natural substance to Canada by converting it into paper, the pulp has been shipped out of the country to the enrichment of the paper industry elsewhere.
          Nature has blessed Canada with boundless resources that might have made it one of the richest countries in the world if the natives and those who have come from foreign lands to make a home here had only conserved them to the building up of Canada. In the mines of Ontario is the world’s supply of nickel, and yet till lately not a dollar’s worth of the matte taken from the mines has been refined in Canada. At one time, a start was made to create a refinery here in Hamilton by the erection of a large building, and some part of the machinery added, when Hamilton capitalists gave the enterprise the cold shoulder and the building finally passed from its original purpose under the sheriff’s hammer, and that ended John Patterson’s dream of a nickel refinery in Hamilton.
          About sixty-five years ago, petroleum, or coal oil, was discovered west of London, and men left their business and their homes in Hamilton to go in search of the precious fluid. George Brown, the editor of the Toronto Globe, left the management of his paper to his brothers and spent weeks and months in the western oil fields and poured thousands of dollars down into the holes in the ground, very little of which returned in oil for years afterward. But he persevered, and while he did not realize to the full the benefits of his prospecting, he located the town of Rothwell, and in time, it became the center of gushing oil wells. Frederick Watkins, one of the enterprising businessmen in Hamilton, bade goodbye to this partners in the dry goods and clothing trade, and took the Great Western railway route to the oil fields, sank a decent fortune in boring holes, and came back to his dry goods shop satisfied with his costly experience. Finally, the Standard Oil company gobbled up the whole field and added millions to their fortunes.
          The above is but a sample of where Canada’s wealth has gone. It was the same when natural gas was discovered almost within the sound of St. Paul’s chimes here in Hamilton. The speculators from the other side of the Niagara and the Detroit rivers came and developed it, and for years, Detroit and Buffalo were lighting and heating their homes with Canada’s natural gift before the people of Hamilton awakened to the fact that there was such richness at their doors, and that all it required was the investment of a little capital to develop it. A few American speculators, and among their number a wealthy brewer, knew a good thing when it came under their observation, and that was the foundation of the Hamilton Natural Gas company. American capitalists now want to build a battery of coke ovens to furnish a never-failing supply of gas, but, no doubt, obstacles will be thrown in their way by men who will not invest a dollar in any home enterprise.
          Virgil Ross, a newspaper writer in Toronto, has written an interesting book on the development of coal oil in western Canada. He gives credit to J.M. Williams, of the old carriage firm of Williams & Cooper, as being one of the early discoverers of the oil wells. We think he is in error, as Mr. Williams did not engage in the oil business in this city for some years after Frederick Watkins and George Brown had sunk small fortunes in prospecting in the oil regions. Mr. Williams was one of the early carriage builders in Hamilton, and had as a partner Henry Cooper, who began as foreman for Mr. Williams. Their factory was the ancient stone building that used to front on King street west, now owned by the Aitchson Lumber company. Mr. Williams retired from the carriage manufacturing business about the year 1860-1861, and engaged in the coal oil business, being elected president of the Canadian Oil company, which was later absorbed by the Standard Oil company.
          We have drifted somewhat away from what we started out with – fortunes made out of refuse once thrown away. Let us get back to the wonders of what science has done.
          Acetylene gas was discovered by a Hamilton boy who was a clerk in a drug store on York street. It is not many years ago, and it is unfortunate that the young scientist did not live to enjoy the financial benefits of his discovery. Acetylene gas has made many fortunes in the few years that it has been in existence, but we have not heard of any Hamilton man reaping benefit from it. However, young Willson left a comfortable fortune to his family.
Lord Kelvin, one of the most noted scientists in his day, said that it was impossible for the Cataract Power company to transmit electricity from Decew Falls to Hamilton as a direct current. The thing had never been done on account of the distance between the source at the falls and the terminal in this city, and a Toronto scientist backed up Lord Kelvin and said it could not be done. John Patterson, who knew nothing about electrical science, said he believed it could be done, and he persuaded the Cataract company to risk money in making the experiment. If it succeeded, there was millions in it, for it would save the expense of building a number of stations to transmit the current. John Patterson won out and Lord Kelvin graciously acknowledged that John knew more than the scientists. The direct transmission of electrical power from Decew Falls to Hamilton has made thousands of dollars for the Dominion Power and Transmission company, and was the first long-distance transmission known to the electrical science. The system is now in general use, and the electrical world has had the benefit of John Patterson’s discovery without costing a penny to any company.
It is said that one of the most astonishing discoveries made was that by which grime, washed from sheep’s fleece, yielded millions of dollars in potash. Some observant farmer discovered that a certain amount of potash was absorbed by sheep as they chewed the meadow grass. This potash circulates through the system and eventually exudes through the skin and adheres to the wool. In cleaning the wool, this mixture of dirt and potash was recklessly washed away.  Nowadays wool cleaning establishments employ chemists to remove the potash for chemical use.
          In the early days of Canada, potash was a profitable article of commerce, and nearly every farmer engaged more or less in its production asan alkaline salt from the ashes of plants. Germany has the largest known deposits of potash, and before the war, America depended upon that country for obtaining potash for chemical and fertilizing purposes, but when hostilities were proclaimed, exports were entirely cut off. The possibilities of fieldspar, which carry twelve or thirteen per cent of potash should attract the scientists of Canada to the large supply of this material, which is now almost neglected. It is said that in the Georgian bay and Muskoka regions there is an unlimited supply of fieldspar, which might become one of Ontario’s sources of wealth.
Old-timers will remember in the early days of Hamilton when tinware peddlers started out from Dennis Moore & Co.s, George H. Blood’s, and Copp Bros.’ with their wagons loaded with tinware to return on Saturday night without a dollar in cash, but with tons of old cotton rags, for which they exchanged for tinware. The rags were sold to the paper mills at a good profit, for all kinds of paper were then made of rags. About twenty-five years ago, some scientist discovered that the spruce wood of Canada could be converted into pulp, and ten into paper, and today, instead of making paper out of cotton and linen rags, the rags are respun and worked over again into cotton textiles, and the waste of the cotton mills that went into the manufacture of paper is now converted to the making of matting and wadding and carpet linings. Old paper has a value that it never had before, and instead of building bonfires, it is now in demand at the paper mills at a higher price than cotton rags used to bring before the discovery of spruce wood pulp.
It was by accident that Sir Titus Salt, who made an enormous fortune out of manufacturing alpaca, found his wealth on waste. He bought up a lot of hair wool which was regarded as mere rubbish, for it was practically useless for spinning, and after numerous experiments produced alpaca from what had hitherto been regarded as waste material. Our Goodenough mayor has run his cutting sheers through thousands of yards of Sir Titus Salt’s discovery.


Fortune is fickle. We believe that the truth has been formulated before, but at the risk of plagiarizing the log line of philosophers who have already made its discovery, we humbly venture to repeat it. Our excuse is a matter of ancient history, and the experience of a Hamilton drummer who went up against a poker game in Dundas, when Pete Riley presided behind the leading bar in the valley city.
Draw poker was then somewhat of a fashionable game among tinhorn sports, and our Hamilton drummer’s flirtation with the Goddess of Chance proved indifferently successful, and the evening wore away without any sign that his advances were making the slightest impression. His pocketbook was growing flatter and flatter, and he had almost reached his “bottom dollar” and was about drawing out of the game while he had enough change left to pay Nelson Able, the owner of the Hamilton and Dundas ‘bus line, for a ride home with his sample grip. But he would try another deal, and see if the goddess was really going to desert him in his hour of distress and, tremblingly, he took a peep at his hand and discovered that the lady was not only smiling up into his sad face, but was positively inviting him to embrace her. To put the matter more prosaically, he was holding a royal flush.
Needless to say, things began to happen about that time. The happy drummer lit one of Quimby’s best 5-cent cigars and carelessly tossed his watch – a fine gold one that had been bought from Thomas Lees, who had recently opened a new jewelry store on James street – into the pot. That watch was a present from his fellow drummers on his recent marriage, and his conscience kicked him a little for risking it in a poker game. Raise succeeded raise till the kitty commenced to look as if it had swallowed a mastiff. The drummer spend the time between the raises dreaming of a trip with his girl wife to New York, and he promised himself never to take any more chances with the goddess once he would get out of that game with his pockets stuffed with the silver and bank notes out of that kitty that was accumulating. And then the Goddess of Chance decided that she was in danger of losing her reputation.
Whether it was that the limit of the kitty cracked the rafters on its way to the roof. Pete Riley could never tell, but as the drummer leaned over to rake in the pot, the ceiling over the table gave way, and a 75 pound chunk caught him just above the medulla oblongata. When he recovered consciousness, he was in a cot in the old Hamilton hospital down at the foot of John street, wondering who had confiscated the pot.
The moral of this ancient poker game in Pete Riley’s Dundas hostelry is, of course, never to dally with the giddy goddess without first examining the ceiling. And readers of these musings that refuse to go on a sunshiny day without an umbrella should paste this bit of local history in their hats to remind them that joy is fleeting and silver linings often plated. The gold watch that had been a wedding gift from his drummer friends, and the trip to New York with his young wife, had all vanished with the ‘chips that pass in the night.’

                                                A PERSONAL COMPLIMENT
          One never grows too old not to appreciate a kindly word from even a stranger, and this muser certainly enjoys it from B. F. Churchill, a Kilbride subscriber to Hamilton’s ancient Spectator. Here it is:
          “To Richard Butler, whom I revere and respect, the muser, and oracle of the Hamilton Spec; the history of past ages of yore, from the present a link, to years threescore. His counsel is good, sets his foot on the wrong, his musings uplifting, put a veto on crime. Calls attention to the present, and the years that are past, may his counsel be heeded by the young and the fast. If the young would be guided and study the past, and the trials of yore, they would not get too fast. However, I’m eighty, and in my weak way a tribute I’ll pay the muser, and pray that log may he live to help make the world better in his pleasant way.”

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