Tuesday 30 January 2024

Charles Raymond and the sewing machine empire he stitched together

One of the significant industrial leaders of 19th century Guelph still somewhat familiar to current Guelphites would be Charles Raymond. Following a fire in 2015, Tom Lammer, owner of Raymond's old brick factory on Yarmouth Street, had the original, building-length sign restored, so that "Raymond's Sewing Machines" once again proclaims the existence of Raymond and his business to passers-by.
(The old Raymond Sewing Machines factory on Yarmouth street, Guelph. Courtesy of Google Street View.)

But, who was Charles Raymond and what was his role in Guelph's industrialization? The whole story is quite a lengthy one but the basic thread may be instructively picked out of the details.

A good place to begin is near the end, with the postcard image of the Raymond factory facilities below.

("Raymond Manufacturing Co.y, Limited, Guelph, Ontario, Canada." Postcard published ca. 1910 by the Valentine & Sons Publishing Company.)

As pointed out in my post about the Baker Street lot, this postcard gives a synopsis of the development of much of Raymond's business: His early stone factories facing Suffolk street stand in the foreground, the later brick factories facing Yarmouth street in the middle, and the latest cream separator plant facing Baker street near the back.

To understand how this industrial complex came about, we have to go back to Charles Raymond and his entry into the sewing machine business.

Charles Raymond was born on 6 January 1826 in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. His father Daniel was a carpenter and carriage-maker, and it seems that young Charles demonstrated a facility with mechanics early on. In 1843, Raymond became an apprentice machinist at the Massachusetts Cotton Mills Co., in Lowell, which was a center of the American textile industry in that era, and then on to Bristol, Connecticut, where he began his own business. He married Mary Marston of Lowell in 1847 and the 1850 US Census locates him in Fitchburg, Massachusets, with Mary and three children.

In 1852, Raymond produced his first sewing machine. Given his mechanial inclination and experience in textiles, it is easy to imagine why he was interested in devices for sewing. Textile making had become highly mechanized by mid-century, notwithstanding the Luddite riots in England in the 1810s upon the introduction of mechanized looms. Yet, although textile making had been industrialized, making clothing or other wares like bedding, drapery, etc., from textiles was still a cottage industry in many respects.

("An engraving of Thimonnier and his sewing machine of 1830, from Sewing Machine News, 1880. Courtesy Smithsonian photo 10569-C.)

Many individuals pursued designs and patents for a machine that could mechanize sewing. A notable step was the creation of a feasible lock-stitch machine by Barthélemy Thimonnier in 1829, who set up a factory in Paris to make uniforms for the French army. However, the factory was attacked, reportedly by tailors afraid that it would put them out of work.

("Drawing of the first patented lockstitch sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe in 1845 and patented in 1846." Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Several Americans also got into the act, notably Elias Howe and Isaac Singer, resulting in one of the US's first big patent fights. Apparently not wanting to get involved in the fracas, Raymond put his own designs to one side. Nevertheless, in partnership with Willford Nettleton of Bristol, Conn., Raymond registered a sewing machine patent in 1857 and the Nettleton & Raymond Empire Family Sewing Machine was launched. The term "family sewing machine" refers to the fact that the design was intended for household use, as opposed to factory work. The Nettleton & Raymond went for $25, which was a huge advantage against competitors, whose machines typically retailed for $100 or more.

Despite the machine's virtues and its low price, success did not seem to attend its introduction. In 1858, Raymond set up a new business in Brattleboro, Vermont, selling the "New England Family Sewing Machine." In 1860, Raymond turned his eyes north of the border and tried to set up shop in Montreal, a move that was also unsuccessful.

(Charles Raymond, ca. 1860. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-15-0-0-294.)

Perhaps continued patent litigation or the outbreak of the US Civil War undermined his plans. In any event, Raymond and 15 hands from his Brattleboro works arrived in Guelph in 1862, looking to set up operations there. Canada had lax patent legislation, which attracted foreign investment and may well have influenced Raymond's move, though why he located in Guelph in particular is unclear. In any event, the new locale certainly worked in his favour.

The commercial success of Raymond's company is reflected in its rapidly expanded building program. The first Raymond factory was sited on Norfolk street on the lot where Raymond also built his house. This building was a two-storey stone structure mere 24x50 feet. In 1865, a 30x40 frame extension was built onto it in order to accommodate the expanding business.

(Raymond family home, in the gore between Norfolk and Yarmouth streets (left), and the sewing machine factory on Yarmouth street (right), as seen from across the Nelson Crescent park, now the site of the Guelph Public Library main branch, ca. 1865. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, C6-0-0-0-0-793.)

Around this time, Raymond also built a factory 26x108 on the other side of Yarmouth street, on the lot where the building bearing his name now stands. Even this could not accommodate his needs for long. Thus, in 1869, the neighbouring Knox Presbyterian Church was purchased and annexed to the Yarmouth street factory. (Not to worry: a new Knox Church was built around the corner on Quebec street.)

In June 1869, Raymond's wife Mary died, leaving two daughters, Emma and Ada. In August of the following year, Raymond married Miss Helen Gill, of Brattleboro. Charles and Helen had two children together, Elizabeth and Charles (Jr.).

("Suffolk Street and Raymond Factory, Guelph, Canada." Postcard published by Rumsey & Co., ca. 1905. Suffolk Street (right) here intersects with Yarmouth Street (left), with Woolwich Street in the foreground.)

As the appetite for Raymond machines contingued to grow, Raymond purchased the Arms & Worswick sewing machine factory, then a frame building at the corner of Yarmouth and Suffolk streets, in 1870. Only two years later, this "branch plant" burned to the ground. Raymond had it expanded and rebuilt in stone, so that it reopened in 1874. The building remains there to this day and its end can be seen in the postcard above.

(Raymond's Sewing Machine factory on Yarmouth street (left) and the old Knox Church (right), which was incorporated into the factory, ca. 1870. Courtesy of the Guelph Public Library, F38-0-14-0-0-414.)

Fire tested Raymond's resolve yet again in 1875, when a blaze consumed the Yarmouth steet factory, including the former Knox church. He took the opportunity to expand his plant again, this time building the three storey, 120x108 brick factory that now (once again) carries the company's name.

("Raymond's Machine and Moulding Shop, Guelph, Ont.," ca. 1905. Postcard published for A.B. Petrie. Note that the factory is buff-coloured and not gray as the lithographer has depicted it here.)

In 1878, Raymond had an iron foundry built on the lot adjoining the north side of the Yarmouth street factory.

(Advertisement showing both Raymond factories, plus Yarmouth street foundry, ca. 1895. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-7-0-0-89.)

The early 1880s probably represents the apogee of the Raymond Sewing Machine company. As Brent (1980) notes, initial resistance to sewing machines in Canada had largely abated by 1860. (In 1852, the introduction of sewing machines to the Toronto tailoring firm of Walker and Hutchison occasioned Toronto the Good's first organized labour strike.) On the home front, most women, including the well-to-do ones, had daily sewing tasks to perform for their families. Sewing machines could considerably shorten this labour. A frock coat that took 16 1/2 hours to sew by hand could be sewn in 2 1/2 hours with a machine!

(Charles Raymond, printed in 1880 biography.)

As it became recognized as a labour-saving device, the sewing machine became a social status item (Connolly 1999). Having a machine at home, visible to guests and visitors, suggested that a household was up-to-date and its womenfolk well supported and domestic. Manufacturers responded by dressing their wares in appropriately domestic garb. Whereas early household machines were often iron gadgets simply clamped to existing furniture, later machines were nicely japanned and painted with feminine designs, and housed in smart looking, special-purpose furniture. A great deal of factory space, including in Raymond's facilities, were dedicated to japanning and cabinet making as a result.

Raymond, or his marketing department, made generous use of trade cards to help drum up business. By the mid-1870s, printing technology allowed for cheap cards carrying colourful images to be made up in large quantities. Businesses ordered cards to hand out for free to potential customers with the idea that they would keep the brand in their client's minds when buying decisions were made. Space was left on the cards, sometimes just on the back, for each business to print information about itself.

("Before purchasing see the “New Raymond” with compliments of Charles Raymond, Guelph, Ont. // Copyright 1884 by J.H. Buffords Sons."

Images on the cards tended to be generic. For example, the card above shows a scene of a group of well-dressed Victorians out for some fun roller skating. There seems to be little relation of roller skating to sewing machines, unless viewers were supposed to associate the fancy clothing with their sewing needs.

(Front of a Raymond trade card, ca. 1900.)

Much like postcards in the Edwardian era, trade cards appealed to collectors and so were probably reasonably effective in drumming up interest in a business's goods or service.

(Back of the Raymond trade card above. "National Cream Separator // Manufactured by The Raymond Mfg. Co. Limited, Guelph, Ont. Also manufacturers of the celebrated Raymond Sewing Machines.")

The Raymond Manufacturing Company stuck with the trade cards for some time. Many of them advertise not only sewing machines but the cream separators that were made under license in the early 20th century.

(Raymond sewing machine with table, ca. 1879. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1978X.00.145.3.)

Raymond's Sewing Machines became the second-biggest manufacturer in Canada, behind only Wanzer & Co. of Hamilton. Sewing machines were a solid Canadian export in this era as well, and Raymond was quite invested in markets abroad. A note in the Mercury (13 May 1876) records that Raymond shipped a consignment of machines, worth $10,000, to Cuba and Brazil!

(The beaver logo that became the trademark of the Raymond "beaver" sewing machines. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Musuems, 1988.30.37.)

Yet, what goes up must come down, they say, and this was true of Raymond's Sewing Machines. A number of factors ate into the trade during the 1880s. The depression of 1882–1885 cut into business, especially iron and steel, which was crucial to the sewing machine trade. Changes in Canadian law opened domestic markets to American firms, such as the giant Singer Co., which unloaded low-priced machines north of the border. In addition, ready-to-wear clothing began to rise in popularity. Instead of making clothes at home, families could simply purchase clothing made in factories (using commercial sewing machines), the beginning of the modern clothing and fashion industries. Domestic sewing certainly didn't vanish but the trend towards consumable clothing did begin to undercut the need people felt to have their own machines.

("Raymond "Beaver" Sewing Machine," ca. 1880. Here, the machine has been concealed by the "drop table." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2012.67.1.1.)

This change in trends was duly reflected in the design of sewing machines themselves. In particular, sewing machines began to appear in "drop cabinets," in which the machine itself could be hidden from sight by being lowered beneath the cabinet top when not in use. Thus, visitors to a home need not be confronted with the sight of a sewing machine and would, therefore, not infer that the householders weren't up to buying their clothes at a specialty store. Descriptions of Raymond sewing machines shown in exhibitions in the 1890s make note of the "latest thing in drop cabinets, of which Mr. Raymond is the only manufacturer in Canada" (Globe, 8 September 1892).

("Sewing Machine, Raymond Sewing Machine Company, circa 1900." Courtesy Guelph Civic Museums, 1978.55.1.5.)

Anyone curious about more information regarding the details of Raymond's sewing machines is directed to Vern Schafer's Raymond Sewing Machine Research Project.

("Livingroom of Mr. C. Raymond," ca. 1870. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2014.84.69.)

Partly in response to the difficulties of Canadian manufacturers, the government of John A. Macdonald implemented the "National Policy" in 1879. A key element of this policy was raising tariffs against imports in order to make Canadian-made goods more competitive domestically. In the case of sewing machines, imports went from a tariff of 17.5% to a 20% tariff, plus $2. At first, Raymond was against this policy, arguing that, by sheltering Canadian products against American ones, it would allow Canadian producers to market inferior goods (Globe, 14 September 1878). In addition, it would encourage Canadian manufacturers to inflate their prices, thus making their goods uncompetitive on the export market.

(Charles Raymond and family in their front garden, 187?. Courtesy of Guelph Public Library, F38-0-14-0-0-417. This image may be from a set of photographs of the Raymond house and grounds taken by local photographer W. Marshall in 1879.)

However, experience changed his tune. Raymond later admitted that the National Policy had helped his business. Mainly, it mitigated the impact of American manufacturers dumping inexpensive machines on the Canadian market, which buoyed sales of Raymond machines (Globe, 19 April 1882). These sales helped to support the company despite the lower margins it realized on sales abroad.

(Detail of a portrait of Chas. Raymond, 1892. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2016.3.1.)

By the 1890s, the difficulties of the sewing machine business were telling. In 1895, the Raymond Sewing Machine Company was sold to the "Raymond Manufacturing Company," which diversified into other lines, such as bicycles, cash registers, silver platters, and sundry brass and iron goods.

(The Raymond Sewing Machine factory (foreground) and the National Separator Works (background), 1905. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.820.)

In 1897, Charles Raymond retired as president of the Raymond Manufacturing Company. Thirty-five years in charge was certainly a long time, and new perspective might help keep the business afloat. Raymond was succeeded by the vice-president, Christian Kloepfer. That same year, the company was sold to the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio. By 1899, the company joined the rush to market mechanical cream separators. For this purpose, a new, three-storey factory was built on the Baker Street lot, where the old burying ground once stood.

(Detail of "Insurance plan of the city of Guelph, Ontario, Canada," 1911, page 6. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, R6990-430-9-E.)

However, the decline of Raymond Manufacturing Company continued. In 1916, the White Sewing Machine Company took over direct management of it and, in 1922, the company's affairs were wound up.

However, Charles Raymond did not live to see its dissolution. He died on 4 June 1904 due to complications of a surgery meant to alleviate a threatening illness.

(First Baptist Church, still sporting its steeple, printed by the International Stationery Company, ca. 1910.)

Raymond's obituary in the local paper has not survived. However, it would certainly mention not only his business life but also his involvement in public affairs. For example, Charles Raymond was a deacon of the Baptist church and a Superintendent of its Sunday School. An 1880 biography also states that Raymond was a prime mover behind the construction of the First Baptist Church on Woolwich street, not far from his residence. Besides this, Raymond also had been President of both the Home and Foreign Baptist Missionary Societies. The biography also mentions that he contributed a "large sum" to the construction of the Congregational church, which was sited across Norfolk street from his residence. Apparently, Raymond attended Congregationalist services early in his residence in Guelph, having found the Baptist minister too Calvanist. (Also, his daughter Emma married John Crowe, another prominent local business figure and Congregationalist.)

Raymond was also active in civic affairs. He served on the local School Board and was Chairman of the city's Building Committee during his stint as a city alderman (councilor). In this office, Raymond was credited with playing an indispensible part in the building of the Central School on Dublin street.

("Portrait of Wellington County Council members, 1875." Courtesy of Wellington County Museum and Archives, A1981.90. Chas. Raymond is front row, centre.)

Besides Guelph, Raymond was active in County politics, serving as deputy Reeve of Wellington County and, as such, being instrumental in the building of the County "Poor House," now the Wellington County Museum in Aboyne.

("Raymond family on grounds in front of their second house, from a photograph that appeared in The Globe (Toronto) newspaper, 06 August 1892." Courtesy Wellington County Museum, A1985.110, ph. 7608.)

One other thing that Charles Raymond was remembered for was his hosting of His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General, and Her Royal Highness, the Princess Louise, during their tour of Guelph on 17 September 1879. The Marquis and his royal wife holed up at Raymond's residence for an hour or so during a break in official engagements in town, during their tour of Ontario cites. This visit was remembered in the city as it afforded the occasion when Guelph was semi-offically christened "The Royal City." For his part, Raymond commemorated the visit by naming his house Lornewood, a moniker that is still sometimes remembered today.

(Lornewood, 2009. Courtesy of Google Steet View.)

However, Raymond's name is today remembered mainly in connection with "Raymond's Sewing Machines" as it once again says on the sign over his old Yarmouth street factory.

Of course, Charles Raymond did not build and run the Sewing Machine factory by himself. At its height in the 1880s, the business employed about 200 people, a considerable number in a city of about 12,000.
("Raymond Sewing Machine Factory Employees circa 1890." Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1985.73.2.)

When Raymond first moved to Guelph in 1862, he brought 15 hands with him from Brattleboro (Mercury, 20 July 1927). One of those hands was Myron Burr, who later set up the "Burr & Skinner" furniture company with F.W. Skinner, at the corner of Oxford and Yorkshire streets. After Skinner retired from the firm, Myron and his brother Frank changed it to the Burr Bros. furniture company. This was bought up by the Canada Furniture Manufacturers in 1900.

In 1873, the Mercury (21 August) made note of J.B. Clyne, a young mechanic employed by Raymond who invented a kind of mechanical pigeon, after reading a description of one in an English newspaper. Called the "gyros pigeon," copies of the invention were available for purchase from Mr. P. Kribs. The Mercury reported its working as follows:

The flyer is a piece of tin, resembling in shape a two-bladed screw propeller, and a swift rotatory motion is given to this by an apparatus worked by a spring, which can be held in the hand or affixed to any stationary substance. The flight of the mock pigeon resembles curiously that of the living bird, and the direction of its movements can be controlled, by the person flying it; it can be made to skim along the ground, or to soar upwards; and one of its usual flights is to describe a circular path in the air like a boomerang.
The purpose of the automaton was to substitute for live pigeons in the popular sport of pigeon shooting, which had become controversial due to the cruelty it involved. Unfortunately, unlike the gyro pigeon, this idea never flew.
("Raymond Sewing Machine Office, Guelph," ca. 1903. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 1989.7.2.)

Another employee of note was Sam Terrell, who worked at the Raymond factory for 35 years, 20 as a foreman. When he retired in 1913, he was presented with a silver service of four pieces plus a tray. Terrell then moved to Victoria, B.C., to live with his daugther and son-in-law. However, he was interred in the Union (now Woodlawn) cemetery in Guelph after his death in 1923.

("Raymond Sewing Machine Factory Workers," 1910. Courtesy of Guelph Civic Museums, 2009.32.822.)

A final special employee was Mr. Isaac Spencer, an African American who was born in Virginia and enslaved there. Fortunately, he found his way to freedom and became an employee of the Raymond company around 1865. He worked there for some 30 years, nearly to the day of his death (Mercury, 21 October 1895). His obituary adds the following details:

He delighted to amuse his hearers by telling thrilling reminiscences of his early slavery days. Though he could neither read nor write he was possessed of a shrewd sense of fair judgment, and withal was honest and upright, and led a good life. His age is given as 75 years, but many believe he is much older. He was married the second time a few years ago, and his widow survives him. He was well known in the city, and respected by all for his honesty, industry and good character.
It is a shame that his story, and his stories, are not better known.
Works consulted for this post include: