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IV

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Title Page
Intro
I
II
III
IV
V
Notes
Table of Illustrations
Index

From this examination of the various foundries in the central Canadian trade it is possibly to make some observations about locational factors, capital and labour requirements, and markets. How competive had the Montreal founders been with those located elsewhere inside and outside the region?

Cost of entry into the engine building trades was relatively low. Part of this derives from the simple nature of the equipment required. A dirt floor was mandatory in the barnlike structure that sufficed to house the operation for the first few years. John Ward's first shop was built in less than a month for $250. Another $400 from his father enabled him to pay off his debts and acquire the requisite tools: a forge, a turning lathe, a punch and a set of boiler tools. (149) To this the better shops added a furnace, usually a cupola furnace, to handle the castings themselves. To supply a reasonably strong blast to this item, a small stationary steam engine was often assembled on the premises. In 1835, Bennet & Henderson's engine, blast cylinder, pipes and cupola furnace were valued at 700, and the balance of their equipment at nearly 1500. (150) A well established foundry, such as the Eagle Foundry in 1838, included machinery, raw materials and inventory worth over 5000. (151) The range of equipment found in these plants is comparable in scale and quality to the leading New York foundries.

However, a foundry's most valuable asset was the reputation and skill of its engineers and workmen. Much of this skilled labour moved freely back and forth across the border from the eastern United States. Nor were these men who could not find employment closer to home. The Wards were among the finest engine builders from the New York region, and having dominated the Canadian trade, moved back to the larger New York market. Adam Hall, both inventor and shop foreman at another leading New York foundry, was associated with both Montreal and Niagara engine works. Apart from John Bennet, the Scots made only a small mark on the trade. By the mid-1830s, men who had trained under Ward and Bennet and Henderson were taking major roles in Upper Canadian foundries.

The demand for a quality product is not hard to understand. The capital cost of the engine and the demand for reliability have already been touched upon. Perhaps more important is the fact that the financial risk for the production of the engine was squarely on the shoulders of the steamboat proprietors. In a Ward or Bennet & Henderson engine contract, payments were based on the production schedule. By the time that the engine was through its trials perhaps only a quarter of the contract price remained to be paid. Giving an engine founder 2000 or 3000 before ever seeing the results of his work was a powerful incentive to hire only those with proven skills.

A positive cash flow during the course of a contract was important to foundries, even those as large as the Eagle. Apart from a huge payroll, they had to assemble a variety of materials each season. Sources like the Van Norman's iron works or Les Forges du St. Maurice could supply only some of the necessary material; the rest would be recycled from scrap or imported from British works. Some evidence suggests that in the years between his management of the Eagle Foundry and the Novelty Ironworks, John D. Ward operated an ironworks near Vergennes, Vermont from which he may have supplied his brothers in Montreal. After 1834 the wrought iron shafts were brought in from Glasgow, and expensive sheets of boiler iron were usually imported from British rolling mills.

The combination of "buyer financing" and low capital costs meant that there were few capital barriers into the marine engine founding trade. The range of Upper Canadian firms which appeared in the mid-1830s is indicative of how quickly a firm could add steam engines to its general line of business. Management stayed firmly in the hands of family connections or partnerships which combined engineering with business knowledge.

Production remained, by and large, firmly rooted in the craft tradition. Producing and finishing iron castings and working malleable iron required large amounts of brute force. Despite the use of 10 to 15 h.p. engines in many of these plants, much of the work was done by hand. (152) As a result, a large work force was often required, many of whom needed to be skilled in the use of a variety of hand tools and low power machines.

At the same time the constant evolution of the low pressure marine engine and boiler encouraged experimenting with each unit produced. In the thirteen years before his bankruptcy, John Bennet and his partners are known to have built 18 marine and 5 stationary engines from 17 different models. (153) When important distinctions are made between high and low pressure, (154) marine and stationary, and side- and sternwheel, there were no duplications of power. As a result only a quarter of Bennet's sales could be described as coming from "stock models". But neither do his contracts suggest any differential pricing to encourage people to order duplicates. Indeed, given the premium placed by the founders on enhancing their reputation with various improvements, this pricing scheme appears intended to discourage potential buyers from ordering "the same old thing".

The ratio of marine to stationary engine production varies from foundry to foundry. Research to date has revealed only two Ward installations but Charles Perry's known output was half in the stationary line. The emphasis on marine engines in this era is not surprising. An abundance of mill sites still made water-powered mills more economical while demand for marine engines was expanding steadily. Nevertheless, although the percentage is unclear, a number of marine engines, like those of the Iroquois, ended their careers in industrial plants.

There was a definite bias in favour of "Canadian" engine builders in the region. To some degree, this may have been the product of the tariff on finished iron products, to which can be added the cost of transporting imports. This made British engines far too costly. One observer in 1831 added two other reasons for avoiding British engines: "principally the higher price demanded, and the chance of misunderstanding between the engineer and the builder of the Boat." (155)

In consequence, the Montreal foundries dominated the market between Quebec and Niagara before 1830. The emergence of Upper Canadian foundries was not a real threat to the Montreal dominance of this market until a talented Scotch and Montreal trained founder, John Lowe, set up shop in conjunction with the shipyard at Niagara. Above the falls, the Montreal presence was always negligible, with the initial demand being met by a number of relatively anonymous engines from small foundries in Buffalo and Cleveland.

The ability of Ward'sEagle Foundry to bridge the economic cycles while shops like St. Mary's seem to have fallen prey to each, deserves some explanation. Ward was an early entry into the trade. This position allowed him to build up his modest capital investments slowly--and remain out of debt. By contrast, the competitors frequently expanded rapidly, buying their land and machinery over a much shorter period using borrowed capital. Creditors who themselves were being squeezed in periods of tight money could easily break the smaller manufacturers. But facile descriptions of the varying long term capital requirements of mercantile as opposed to industrial establishments do not get to the heart of the matter.

The single most important asset of the engine builder was his skill and reputation. In unusual years like 1832 and 1833 the best builders were fully booked and opportunities for other potential engine founders opened up. But the first orders still went to the established foundries with the best reputation--in particular, the Eagle Foundry.

It should hardly come as a surprise that 1834 should have been a crisis year. Owners of the steamboats launched in the past two seasons were fighting for the most remunerative positions in various trades. New construction dropped off precipitously in the Canadas. While the established foundries were offered the few remaining contracts, the other survivors turned back to producing ploughs, pumps, stoves and hollowware. Because our focus has been the demand for, and production of marine engines, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that for most firms this was only a sideline--other castings remained the foundation on which they calculated their profits. Engine building--especially the more complicated, large low pressure marine engines--demanded specialized skills. Improved industrial financing might have helped John Bennet cross the gulf, but few of the others who leaped into the marine engine trades in the boom years had the skill or developed the reputation necessary to make a long term impact.

The inevitable comparisons with American foundry practice suggest some of the following conclusions. The principal Canadian foundry was as big and as well equipped as its American counterparts. With the eastern American builders, they shared a common set of preferences and biases about the appropriate technology to use, and worked constantly to improve it. In fact, the border is only relevant in terms of market definition and, at that, Canadian foundries made American sales. Those who controlled the foundries (with the notable exceptions of Bennet and Lowe) were American born, recruited their labour force from both sides of the border, and would invest wherever sufficient demand for their product could be found.

Before 1838, the exception was the Niagara Harbour & Dock Company. The Dock Company represents a new trend in the marine engine founding--that of integrating engine production into the shipyard. In the years to come Yarker's foundry would be incorporated into the Kingston Marine Railway complex. More significantly, the shipyard of Augustin Cantin in Montreal would come to include an engine works. Gradually, the Eagle and St. Mary's foundry would drift away from marine engines as Cantin's came to dominate Canadian steamboat production. (156) Similarly, the foundries would expand into manufacturing iron work for Canadian railway rolling stock--until the railways took it upon themselves to manage their own shops. (157)

 


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