Sunday, 26 June 2016


Back in the year 1884, a couple of enterprising fellows got up an advertising pamphlet for a few of the leading business houses of Hamilton, and to make it spicy and readable, they devoted a number of pages to historical sketches of men who had done things in Hamilton, and whose enterprise should be handed down to future generations. Unfortunately, these paper-covered histories find their way to the wastepaper basket and are lost forever, except the parties interested may file them away never to be seen again till house-cleaning time, when the good wife bundles them off to the ragman. This old Muser feels that he is doing some good to the future historians in preserving  the sketches of these ancient Hamiltonians by reproducing them in this Great Family Journal. Senator Sanford, the founder of the great establishment  that bears his name, spent his early boyhood in Hamilton, and was fortunate that he had as a foster father a man of Edward Jackson’s large and generous heart, for he had not only the advantages of a good public school education, but when he was ready to begin the active duties of life, he had the large bank account  of Mr. Jackson to back him up. That he proved himself worthy was evidenced by his successful business career. Beginning in a small way, he was no loiterer by the way, for when his journey in life was ended, he left a handsome fortune and a business that keeps on making fortunes for his successors. As a recreation from business cares, he took an interest in the politics of his country and in the benevolent and local enterprise of his home city, and that he gave with a free hand to the church and benevolences was well-known. The sketch is worthy of being read even though it was written and published more than thirty years ago.


          This house was established in June, 1851 by W. E. Sanford and Alexander McInnes, under the firm name of Sanford, McInnes and company, with a capital of $20,000, and the senior member of the firm by his indomitable push and perseverance showing the samples of the manufactures of the house in every nook and corner of the provinces, built up a manufacturing trade, Mr. McInnes, taking charge of the office and warehouse.  At the date of the establishment of this house, no industry was at such a low standard as the readymade clothing business. The question of style and finish was not even thought of, price only was considered. Overcoats at from $2.25 to $5, any price beyond this excluded the goods from the market. Suits made up cheaply as possible were alone saleable, style and finish being altogether out of the question, goods were made up without reference to shape or form. Mr. Sanford, by his travels, having thoroughly felt the public pulse throughout the country, the firm realized that the day had come for a sweeping revolution in this department of trade. The firm set about in good earnest to fill the bill; they engaged the services of a number of skillful artisans from the neighboring republic, and from that day forward, Mr. Sanford’s chief study was to keep thoroughly up with the American standard of readymade clothing, and the standard of this house was universally accepted as being second to none in the world.

The warehouse in which the firm commenced business was the center of the three buildings now occupied by W. E. Sanford and Co.; it had a frontage of 25 feet, three stories high, and running back half the length of the lot, with a small extension in the rear. This small store has given way to a building of the first rank, with a frontage of 75 feet and 140 feet deep, four stories high, provides a commodious basement under the entire building. The partnership expired by limitation to 1871, and Mr. McInnes retired and joined his brother in the wholesale dry goods trade.

Mr. Sanford then invested two of his employees with a small interest in the business, which was carried on under the name Sanford, Vail & Riddley. The same indomitable pluck and perseverance which had in so marked a degree been displayed in the past continued, the business rapidly growing the next five years when Mr. Riddley retired in 1875. The business was then carried on for some years as Sanford, Vail & Co. Thus far we have given but a brief sketch of the business career of one of the most successful enterprises in the Dominion.

Whenin lies the secret of success? We shall see. As a good captain who is thoroughly skilled in navigation steers his shape safely past the shoals and rocks into port, so we shall find upon investigating the inner works going into the cabin as it were – that the man in command had mastered all difficulties and earned success as much as Wellington did in the field of Waterloo: read the rest of the story as see if the humble editors are correct. The chief of this great establishment, Mr. W. E. Sanford, being one of the men who, with a handful of others, have made Hamilton the thriving center of trade it is, the story of his life, briefly told, will be interesting. His birthplace was New York City; his father was an American and his mother English. But as both died during his childhood, the greater part of his early life was spent with his adopted father, the late Edward Jackson, who is mentioned in the historical sketch of Hamilton as one of the first men who opened business here.

As 16 years of age, young Sanford found employment in a wholesale publishing and stationery house in New York City, and now we shall shortly see the man in the boy as the old proverb has it. He continued in this house until his 21st year, and was to have an interest in the firm. Owing to the death of the senior member of the firm, and the consequent readjustment of the business, Mr. Sanford was thrown out. True worth finds its level, and the young Sanford’s abilities and talent as a commercial traveler were recognized by a rival house, and he was urged to make an engagement with them at a salary of $3,000 a year, which at the day was a figure seldom reached by the best men even in that city of large salaries. Young Sanford, however, feeling sore over his disappointment in not having secured an interest in the business of his late employers, thanked the gentleman who made him the generous offer, but declined, with the remark, “I am determined never again to accept a position of clerk in any firm.’ How doggedly he kept his resolution, the following lines will show. A week afterwards we find him in London, Canada, having entered the foundry business under the name of Anderson, Sanford & Co. Eighteen months later, Mr. Sanford withdrew from this firm and entered the wool business. In two years’ time, we find him in complete control of the wool market of the country, and generally known under the sobriquet of “the Wool King of Canada.”

Mr. Sanford, in connection with some gentlemen in New York, at this period, made the first shipment of 29 carloads of Canadian butter to the gold mines of Fraser river, British Columbia, which at this first were in full operation.

A few months later, Mr. Sanford entered on the business, where for 22 years he so successfully carried on in the spot where the elegant warehouse now stands. The history of such men comprises the history of a town. The growth of such a man’s business is the growth of the city. From a small beginning, with the first year’s sales of $32,000, this great house had grown until its sales for several years reached nearly a million a year. It employed nearly 2,000 people in the manufacture of clothing. , without doubt the largest and leading house in that branch of trade in the Dominion, and unquestionably almost, if not quite doubled the business of any other house in Canada. One has only to gaze through their vast warehouse to see the piles of manufactured and unmanufactured clothing, together with their system of working, to see the method, almost like music, by which every department works under its proper head, to be convinced of its magnitude. The whole establishment is a model of order. The office and staff, the Canadian and foreign buyers, the warehouses, the shipping room, the manufacturing department, the retailing room, the buttonhole department, are all worked under proper heads, who employ and discharge all help.

One of the advantages of the firm was the system adopted, in the early stages of its career, of employing a large number of German tailors. These men took the work by lots of 19 to 30 hands. Each man having some part of the work to perform secured to the firm a uniformity of style and finish impossible in any other system. The Canadian government felt the want of having their military goods manufactured in a uniform manner. Now, it is patent that no firm in the country are in a position to handle this trade anything near on an equality with Sanford and company.

An interesting fact in the cutting room was the cost of these curious cutting machines, amounting to $1,000 each, which, with their surplus arms, are capable, in the hands of an expert, of being run in any direction; of these, Mr. Sanford had two in constant operation. One of the troublesome bits of labor on the part of cutters by the old hand shears is the cutting of notches in the cloth at certain points for the guidance of the tailor. An ingenious inventor had provided a notcher about the size of an old-fashioned candlestick to do this work, but carefully made his fortune by fixing its price high – at 50 cents each. Mr. Sanford’s establishment was, of course, fully equipped with all that mechanical art can supply. In the matter of buttons, a machine button is used, which is stronger than any thread could attach, and placed on garments with the speed of the ticking of a clock.

As an example of the perfect working of this system, Mr. Sanford himself pointed to a young girl in charge of the cash desk of the work room, saying: “There is a young lady who has amounts from 70 cents to thousands of dollars a day in paying out wages, and while she has handled from $150,000 to $200,000, never yet has she made a mistake of a penny.” The precision and regularity is so uniform in every department that no losses are incurred. The goods are entered in the workroom, and all work going out is charged to the parties who handle it; then the receiving department is chargeable until the work is paid for, and if the goods are not in the proper department they must show up in the sales, so that there is no possibility of loss. Every garment, from the time it is cut is followed until it is shipped to the customer, so that when 500 garments have been cut, there must have been 500 in stock or else the sales must account for them.

A very large proportion of Hamilton industries have been born and nursed by a few leading pubic-spirited citizens. Mr. Sanford, with the few in the front rank, took an active part in the boards of insurance, banks and educational institutions, until quite recently but found his own business growing so rapidly and demanding his entire time, and was obliged to withdraw and devote his whole energies to the huge concern he has so successfully created.

The great work of establishing the trade of the house was mainly done by Mr. Sanford himself, who pushed his trade from the east to the west. Mr. Sanford was the first commercial representative to visit the Red River country in the days of Riel, and in the early days of confederation, when a Canadian was received with the greatest coldness in the Maritime provinces. Mr. Sanford was foremost in pushing his business in that section. At the request of the Great Western railway, he went to British Columbia when it wa received into confederation and arranged for the shipment of freight through in bond; and hs early, energetic efforts being ably followed up by competent representatives, the great increase of business in these later years is the natural result of his in dominatable energy in that province. The firm now employs an army of commercial travelers, who periodically push their weat throughout the length and breadth of our great Dominion, visiting every one of its thousands of villages, towns and cities in British North America.

A few more words and we have done. This great institution, the structure raised by the vigorous and prudent push and enterprise of W. E. Sanford himself, is itself the greatest tribute and testimony to his genius, and while working himself, he abled in making others successful. While his talents were developed by his own efforts, others caught the fire. Some very bright men occupying eminent positions are not ashamed to say they have been in Mr. Sanford’s employ. One of the greatest railway men of this continent,  John Muir, general manager of the Northern Pacific railway, began life, as the first office boy in this establishment. The constant tribute to this city’s business in the distribution of salaries to the hundreds of employees of such a firm is not the least of the benefits Hamilton receives from the house.


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