William Blair & Co.
Life Span: 1842-1888
Location: Near NE corner of Randolph and Wells, 179 & 181 Randolph, and others
Chicago Tribune, March 26, 1859
William Blair & Co. are the oldest jobbing house in their line in the city, and probably in the State. For several years past they have imported all their English and foreign Hardware, and obtained their American Hardware direct from manufacturers, and offer to the trade inducements equal to houses in their line in New York. Their stock of English goods is probably the largest in the city. Messrs. Tuttle, Hibbard & Co. are also a leading house in general Hardware, uniting with the same, like the house before named, a heavy trade in tinners stock and tools. In this latter, the general Heavy Metal Trade exclusively, the house of Thomas S. Dickerson is the pioneer in the North-west, and has an established reputation inseparable from its facilities, and inducements offered to buyers. Messrs. E. G. Hall & Co., Jewett & Butler, J. K. Botsford, E. W. Hunt & Co., A. G. Garfield & Co.and Lake & Brown are among our best known dealers in heavy and shelf hardware, with some of them their wholesale department being united with their retail trade.
Chicago Illustrated July 1866
William Blair & Co.’s Hardware store, the white building, next door to the Brigg’s House.
Excerpted from Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men in Chicago, Photographically Illustrated by John Carbutt, 1868, William Blair, Pages 105-110
Few of the mercantile interests of our city have attained to greater importance than that of hardware and iron, and none require the employment of more capital, or call for a more extended experience. The wholesale hardware merchants of this city have established Chicago as the headquarters of that business for the whole Northwest, as their brethren have made it the commercial emporium in all other regards. The pioneer in the exclusively wholesale line of this important branch of Chicago trade, and at present one of the largest dealers in the North-west, is William Blair, Esq., the senior partner of the firm of William Blair & Co.
Mr. Blair was born May 20, 1818, in Homer, Cortland County, New York. The family removed soon after to the adjoining town of Cortlandville, where he attended school until the age of fourteen. He then made an engagement with Mr. Oren North, who kept a stove and hardware establishment in that place, and became a member of his family, remaining Avith him a little more than four years, learning the business, and receiving the benefit of a good example and principles of the strictest integrity on the part of his employer, who was a prominent and highly esteemed citizen in the community.
Mr. Blair was but a little over eighteen years old when he set out to make a home in the great West. His employer had for sometime been anxious to establish a business in this region, and in July, 1836, he sent out his protege to Joliet, then a new settlement, with instructions to open up a branch there, intending to follow him during the subsequent year. He gave Mr. Blair letters of introduction to the late Martin H. Demmond, and others of that place, and the young man soon found himself among friends. His good knowledge of business, correct deportment and rigid punctuality, produced a favorable impression on all with whom he became acquainted, and he was soon doing a thriving trade.
The next year was, however, a disastrous one; 1837 is yet remembered, all over the West, as the first of the series of financial storms which visit this region at ten-year intervals. Tlie revulsion was deemed by Mr. North a good and sufficient reason for abandoning his intention to settle in the West and throwing up his establishment here. But Mr. Blair was not discouraged; he had full faith in the future. With the aid of his brothers, Chauiicey B. and Lyman, he purchased the small stock of goods at Joliet, and continued the business there on his own account till 1842, when he decided to remove to Chicago.
We may mention, en passant, that his two brothers, Chauncey B. and Lyman, both now of this city, were at that time located in ^Michigan City, Indiana; the former removing there in 1835, and the latter in the spring of 1836. That city was then competing with Cliicago for tlie position of Queen of the Lakes, and for some years the brothers Blair remained there, largely engaged in the mercantile and shipping business. They^ however, eventually saw that the Garden City was rapidly becoming the focus of the West, and followed the star of empire around the bend of Lake Michigan. Chauncey B.is now the President of the Merchants’ National Bank of Chicago, and Lyman is a member of the extensive packing firm of Culbertson, Blair & Co., and also of the commission house of Blair, Densmore & Co.
About the first of August, 1842, William Blair opened a store in this city, locating on the corner of Dearborn and South Water streets. He at first confined himself to retailing, but dealers from the country came in to make purchases for replenishing their stocks. He was thus involuntarily led to undertake the wholesale business. His brother, Chauncey B., became interested with him in the spring of 1844. A considerable amount of capital was thus added to the business, and a large extension was made in the wholesale department. Iron being added to the stock, a removal to more commodious quarters, at No. 75 Lake street, was effected.
In the spring of 1846, Mr. Blair purchased the interest of his brother Chauncey, and took in, as partner, his brother-in-law, Mr. William E. Stimson, a young man of great promise and possessed of excellent traits of character, who had come here from Cortlandville a year previous. The firm of Blair & Stimson was abundantly prospered, but the health of the junior partner failing, he was obliged to give up business. In the autumn of 1849, he went to Florida for the benefit of his health, and spent the winter there, but without any permanent benefit; he died of consumption, in December, 1850, universally respected.
Another movement was necessitated in the spring of 1847, and the larger store. No. 103 Lake street, was entered on. Mr. Blair began to see that another extension would ere long be required, and resolved to occupy quarters of his own. He purchased the lot No.176 Lake street, in 1848, at $225 per foot, and erected a commodious brick building thereon, to which the business of the firm was transferred in the following year. After the death of his partner, Mr. Blair continued the business in his own name until the spring of 1853, when Mr. Claudius B. Nelson, his present partner, who had been with the house for several years, became interested in the business, which was thenceforward conducted under the firm name of William Blair & Co. During the last named interval, about 1851, Mr. Blair commenced to sell hardware at wholesale exclusively, his beiug the first exclusively wholesale hardware house in this city. In the spring of 1853, in connection with Mr. E. G. Hall, he established a separate iron store on South Water street, under the name of E. G. Hall & Co. In 1860, Mr. Blair withdrew from this firm, transferring his interest to the senior partner. Notwithstanding the fact that the house of Blair & Co. had given up the sale of bar iron, the business increased very largely. Still another removal was necessary, and Mr. Blair, in order to make room enough, for at least a few years in the future, rebuilt the marble front stores, Nos. 179 and 181 Randolph street, and the business was transferred to the present location in the autumn of 1865. In the spring of 1856, Mr. Oliver W. Belden, a young man of large experience, who had been brought up at the business in the East, and connected with the house for several years, was admitted as a partner in the firm.
The business of the house, as now conducted, is a very extensive one, ramifying over nearly the whole West, and taking in a wide range of activity as well as country. From the time when the completion of our railroad lines to the Mississippi enabled our merchants to send out goods, which had always before that been bought in St. Louis or in the Atlantic! cities, the dealers of the Northwestern States have looked to Chicago for their supplies of hardware, and a large per centage of them have become accustomed to look on Mr. Blair as the representative of that business for this city. The extent of the connection may be judged from the fact, that the business of the house during the past two years has averaged over a million of dollars, and this amount of transactions is managed with as much ease as the winding of a watch, the perfection of method having been reached, both in arrangement of goods and distribution of effort. The business of the establishment is a perfect unity. It has ever been the aim of the firm to inculcate correct business principles in their clerks and other employes, that they may be fitted to fill responsible positions, if required, elsewhere. While insisting on a strict fulfilment of duties, Mr. Blair has always endeavored to secure good personal behavior, and it is one of the printed rules of the store that “each clerk is earnestly desired to attend Divine service on the Sabbath, as well as to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks.”
Blair & Co. Hardware
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1875
HARDWARE AND TINNERS’ STOCK.
William Blair & Co.
Not only is this house the pioneer of the hardware trade in Chicago, but it is, with very few exceptions, the oldest business house of any kind in the city. We can easily count on our fingers the firms now existing in Chicago which had started at the time William Blair & Co. began jobbing hardware thirty-three years ago. Without cessation, and with no change in the character of its business, save a continuous growth, this firm has held steadily along this many years, and stands to-day, as it has always stood, with an unblemished record. In the essentials of capital, experience, and integrity this house is one of the leading hardware establishments of this country. The warehouse, located at Nos. 172, 174, and 176 Lake street, is much the largest of the hardware establishments in this city. The unusual facilities which they enjoy,—their large force of employes, their complete appointment in every department,—enable them to handle large quantities of goods with economy and dispatch.
They purchase their goods exclusively for cash, directly from the manufacturers, whether foreign or domestic, and are thereby enabled to give their customers the benefit of the very lowest prices in the market. A very important feature in their business is the large amount done by direct mail-orders; and the best evidence of their success in filling these orders promptly, and to the satisfaction of their customers, is found in the large increase in this department, as well as in their general trade, which now extends to every portion of the North-western States and Territories.
The stock embraces a large variety of general hardware, agricultural implements, tin-plate, tinners’ goods, tinners’ tools and machines, stamped and japanned tinware, sheet-iron, nails, horseshoes, etc., etc., and they deal so heavily in each of these lines that they are able to offer to purchasers inducements in prices beyond the power of most merchants who make a specialty of dealing in any one or more of the lines. In addition to the saving in prices the customer has the advantage of fifilling his bills for all these goods at one house.
The firm consists of Messrs. William Blair, C. B Nelson, James M. Horton, and A. O. Hall.
Inter Ocean, January 1, 1884
WILLIAM BLAIR & CO.
Over Forty Years Old.
This extensive hardware house, established in 1842 under the above name, is located at 172, 174, and 176 Lake street. Mr. Blair, its present senior member, was its senior member then, and very properly Mr. Blair may be designated as the father of the hardware trade of Chicago, if not indeed as a business man of almost any other line of business in this progressive city. The firm has thus been in continuous existence, without change in name or government, fo a period of forty years. It is also a noteworthy fact that this firm commands a larger amount of actual capital than any other house in the West. The main secret of the great success of Messrs. William Blair & Co.’s house is due to their honorable dealing with their customers, and with careful study of the demands of the trade and the wants of the community. The firm deals largely in shelf-hardware of all varieties, tin plate, tinners’ tools and machines, stamped and japaanned tinware, tinners’ stock, metals, sheet iron, agricultural implements, plain and barbed wire fence, etc. Their trade now is unlimited, and covers every State and Territory in the West and Northwest, and as it is constantly increasing and assuming proportionals second to none in this line, they naturally wield a wide influence and enjoy the rich harvest that is now meted out to them. We can join with their many friends in best wishes for a continuance of their merited success.
Inter Ocean, December 23, 1887
An Old-Time Firm.
It was learned yesterday that there would probably be a change in the style of one of the oldest firms in this city Jan. 1. This was none other than the retirement of William Blair from the firm of William Blair & Co., the oldest hardware house in Chicago, and with but few exceptions the oldest firm of any kind doing business here. The style of the firm, William Blair & Co., is the oldest in the city, every other of the old concern haring changed their style since the early dugs of Chicago. In 1842 William Blair came to Chicago and opened a hardware store in a frame bwlding at the southeast corner of Dearborn and South Water streets. In 1844 his brother, Chauncey B. Blair, came from Michigan City, Ind., and went into partnership with William, under the style of William Blair & Co., and such it has remained to the present day. The firm at present consists of William Blair, James M. Horton, Edward T. Blair, and Albert Roof.
William Blair was born in Homer, Cortland N. Y., May 20, 1818. His father. Samuel Blair, and his mother, Hannah, were both natives of Blandford, Mass, his mother being the youngest daughter of Jonathan Frary, who was of English origin. On the paternal side Mr. Blair is oif Scottish descent. At the age of 14 he entered the employ and became a member of the family of Oren North, a hardware merchant of Cortland. In 1836 Mr. North, a hardware merchant of Cortland. In 1836 Mr, North decided upon removing his business to Joliet, Ill., and in July of that year he sent young Blair forward to the place, giving him letters of introduction to Martin H. Demmond and others. The financial troubles of 1837 however, deterred Mr. North from coming Went himself, and he determined to close out his Western branch. Mr. Blair, sided by his two brothers, Chauncy and Lyman, then located ar Michigan City, bought the stock of Mr. North, and continued the business at Joliet until 1842. He came to Chicago and established the house the here. Mr. Blair was marriod June 21, 1854, to Miss Sarah M. Seymour, daughter of John Seymour, of Lima, Ohio. They had two children, William Seymour Blair, who died at the age of 6 years, and Edward Tyler Blair, who graduated at Yale College in 1879, and is now a valued and trusted member of the firm.
Mr. Blair was seen at the office of the firm, and uin reply to the question of his proposed retirement he said: “There is something in it, but as the plans are not completed yet, I would much prefer to say nothing about it.”
“Have voit not made up vour mind to retire from business?”
*Possibly I have, but if by any chance the plans were not perfected I should continue in the firm.”
“Are you contemplating the admission of some of your old employes to the firm?”
“Yes, if it all goes well. But there are other partners in the business who will remain, and their wishes in the matter must be considered. We have a number of trusted employes who have been with us many years.”
“Will the new concern be a stock company?”
“Yes, I believe that is the idea. But I would rather not say anything about it just, at present.”
“Will there be any new members of the firm from outside?”
“Yes, and it is mainly in their interest that I prefer to say nothing until the proposed change is an accomplished fact. I do not think that matters will be arranged until a few days of the first of the year. When they are completed I shall be pleased to tell you all about it.”
The style of your firm is the oldest in the city is it not?”
“Yes, I believe it is.”
William Blair & Co.
Robinson Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1897
After an existence of twelve years as one of the largest wholesale hardware houses in the West, the firm of Horton, Gilmore, McWilliams & Co. yesterday passed into the hands of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank as assignee. The statement filed in the County Court estimated the liabilities at $210,000 and the assets at $300,000. The latter consist of $150,000 in outstanding accounts and the sum received from the sale on Monday to Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co., of the company’s stock. The purchase price is 73 cents on the dollar, according to the inventory now being taken, and to be completed not later than Jan. 20, which is expected to realize at least $125.000.
This action, it is said, was taken because the members of the firm preferred to dispose of the stock under their personal supervision, thinking it would realize more than if sold through an assignee.
The officers of the insolvent corporation are William Gilmore, President: J. Newton Cole, Vice President: James W. McWilliams, Secretary and Treasurer.
Attorney Flower’s Statement.
Attorney James M. Flower, whose firm has represented the corporation for years, said:
- The entire stock of the corporation has been sold to Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. and the property delivered. The sale was made on Monday and the proceeds will be turned over to the assignee as soon as the inventory has been completed. By this action the creditors will be directly benefited, as by a direct sale a wholesale house a better price was obtained for the stock than could possibly have been obtained by any assignee. The corporation expects to pay 100 cents on the dollar in the course of the administration of the estate. Ever since the late panic the house has been doing a losing business and the obligations have reached that point where they could not be taken care of as they matured. In order to prevent any preferences and the possible waste of the estate the present action was decided upon.
Doors of the Concern Closed.
As soon as the assignment was made in the County Court the doors of the concern were closed, and a custodian was placed at the front entrance who refused admittance to all visitors. Customers of the concern who desired to make purchases were referred to the house of Hibbard, Spencer. Bartlett & Co., while large signs had been previously placed in the windows announcing the sale of the stock to that concern.
The encroachment into the hardware business by concerns engaged in other lines has affected the general hardware trade to a large extent lately, and the insolvent concern suffered from this cause. For twelve years the corporation has been in business in Lake street, in its present location, and It probably had the largest city trade of any of the wholesale hardware houses in business here. It was the successor of the old firm of William Blair & Co., one of the pioneers in the hardware business in Chicago. With the assignment the firm ceased business permanently, and it was announced that it would not resume.
Another Business Purchased.
It will be recalled that about four weeks ago John Alling & Co., 53 Lake street, also sold out their stock and good will to Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. and retired from business.
Horton. Gilmore. McWilliams & Co. and John Alling & Co. were the two oldest in the business in this city. Their retirement leaves Edwin Hunt’s Sons the pioneer establishment.
In the purchase of John Alling & Co.’s business no stated price was paid. The stock was bought on inventory and the final price has not yet been ascertained. Mr. Alling proposed the sale to A. C. Bartlett and his offer was accepted without delay. Mr. Alling simply stated his firm desired to retire.
Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett Co
Catalog No. 6