Blog Rewind: Automotive Industry: In the Words of Col. R.S. McLaughlin

This post was originally published on March 1, 2013.

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

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I recently came across a fascinating magazine in our archival collection.  The magazine, entitled The Canadian Military Journal featured a lengthy article on Col. Sam to celebrate his 100th birthday.

What stood out in the article were quotes from Col. Sam regarding the birth of the auto industry here in Oshawa.  The development of the auto industry in Oshawa has been well documented but this is a truly unique view from the man who played such a pivotal role.

The day before I had wired William C. Durant, head of the young Buick company in Flint, Mich., to ask for help. The McLaughlin automobile, which we had started to make ourselves after I had failed to arrive at a co-operative manufacturing arrangement with Durant and other U.S. car makers, had run into trouble. Two days before, with the parts of our first car laid out ready for assembly – and the components of one hundred more in various stages of completion – our engineer had suffered a severe attack of pleurisy. In my wire I asked Durant to lend us an engineer until our own man recovered.

Durant arrived in Oshawa not with an engineer but with two of his top executives. He took up the discussion of our last meeting – when we had failed to get together on a manufacturing arrangement – Justas if we had merely paused for breath. “I’ve been thinking it over,” he said, “and I have the solution to the problem we couldn’t overcome in our figuring.” The deal he suggested was pretty close to what I had in mind in the first place, and I said : “ That will work.”  Durant nodded. “I thought it would,” he said, in that voice of his that was always so gentle – and always so much to the point.

We went into my father’s office with my brother George and Oliver Hezzelwood, who looked after our books, and in five minutes we had the contract settled. It ran just a page and a half and was a model agreement for lawyers to study. Chiefly it covered the terms under which we had 15-year rights to buy the Buick engine and some other parts. We could build and design out own bodies.

What a defining moment in Oshawa’s history.  I was left wondering what could have been if the engineer hadn’t gotten sick or if Durant had sent only an engineer.  Would the McLaughlin automobile have succeeded without the Buick engine or would it have been amongst the many car companies that came and went?

Moments such as this, from those who lived it, are what make the study of history so fascinating.

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Student Museum Musings – Peter

By Peter M., Archives Assistant Student

A train halted a moment at the station and the traveler reached out, called a small boy, and said, “Son, here’s fifty cents.  Get me a twenty-five cent sandwich and get one for yourself.  Hurry up!”
Just as the train pulled out, the boy ran up to the window.  “Here’s your quarter, mister,” he shouted.  “They only had one sandwich.”
(GM War-Craftsman, June 1943)

This is one example of a joke I came across during my cataloguing of various documents here in the archives of the Oshawa Museum.  I am a student that has been working here over the summer for just over a month now.  I have always been fascinated by the stories that new artefacts or documents coming to us can tell, but one theme that has really caught my eye recently is jokes.  Most of the documents I found containing jokes range throughout the 1940s.  Some appeared in sections of official newsletters, while others were scribbled into the pages of students’ workbooks, as they were each encouraged to write a page full of all the jokes they could think of as a class exercise.

Johnny: (buying a ticket for New York).
Clerk: “Would you care to go by Buffalo?”
Johnny: “I don’t know.  I’ve never ridden one.”
(GM War-Craftsman, October 1943)

The majority of the jokes I came across were gathered from a collection of General Motors newsletters called the War-Craftsman.  The newsletters in the museum’s collection range from 1942-1946.  These newsletters were a way of keeping the public informed of the events and contributions conducted by GM and its employees during World War II.  There was a column present in nearly all of these newsletters titled “Gems of Comedy,” where numerous jokes were printed each month.  Much like the rest of the War-Craftsman, these jokes served to keep spirits up, and inspire the public to keep moving forward during such trying times in our history.

At a recent shipyard launching, the woman who was to christen the boat was quite nervous.
“Do you have any questions, lady?” asked the shipyard manager, just before the ceremony.
“Yes,” she replied meekly.  “How hard do I have to hit it to knock it into the water?”
(GM War-Craftsman, October 1943)

It is interesting to see how comedy has evolved through the ages.  The jokes that I present you with are but a small few of the many that I found.  Most of the jokes I did not understand, showing how some comedy doesn’t quite translate through the ages.  Several others admittedly had themes that would be considered highly inappropriate by today’s standards, but they do serve show how society has changed, now having any jokes in publications today strive to be politically correct, while also maintaining the lightheartedness that was enjoyed by Oshawa citizens over sixty years ago.

Reporter:  To what do you to attribute your great age?
Grandpa:  The fact that I was born so long ago.
(GM War-Craftsman, December 1945)

 

ArteFACTS: Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Coach, 1933

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The artefact featured in today’s blog post is one of the Oshawa Museum’s recent acquisitions.  I was hoping that this artefact could be included in our latest exhibition Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting unfortunately the coach is very fragile and does require some conservation work before it is placed on display for a period of time.  Although anyone that attends our Exhibition Opening next week will get an opportunity to view the coach as it will be on display, for one week only, along with the original plans and instructions for building the coach.

So what exactly was the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild, and what was its purpose?

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Fisher Body was an automobile coachbuilder founded by the Fisher Brothers in 1908 in Detroit Michigan.  By the 1920s, the Fisher Body Company had become one of the biggest and best known suppliers of automobile bodies in North America.  General Motors acquired the majority of the holdings of the Fisher Body Company in the early 1920s.  By 1926, General Motors turned the company into its main coach-building factory.   One of the obstacles that General Motors faced at the time was the lack of designers available for hire.

Starting in the 1930s, The Fisher Body Company in Detroit, in conjunction with General Motors in Detroit and Oshawa where the Canadian Headquarters was located, ran a series of competitions in design and styling for teenage students.  In the early years of the competition, contestants ordered a set of model plans to build a Napoleonic Carriage which was the signature logo of the company.

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The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild became the major recruiting tool for young artistic talent.  Each year twenty-four scholarships were awarded to boys between the ages of 12 and 16 in Canada and the United States.  These scholarships ranged in value from $500 up to $5000 in 1933.

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The Oshawa Museum has one of the earliest surviving Napoleonic carriages from the Guild competition in Canada.  This particular model was submitted for competition in 1933 by Floyd Hembruff.   When this carriage was submitted for donation to the Oshawa Museum it was accompanied by the original plans, contest rules, model diagrams and cut outs with assembly instructions.  The coach itself is 46 cm long, with the tongue added the total length is 71cm, the height is 28 cm and the width is 23 cm.  The finished model weighs about 7 pounds (3 Kg).

By 1938, with the increasing interest in car styling, the Craftsman’s Guild introduced a new category – designing and building a model car. The interest in the car design competition was so overwhelming that the Napoleonic Coach was dropped. By 1968, when the Craftsman’s Guild was concluded, over 8.7 million youths had enrolled over the life of the competition, millions of dollars in Awards had been given and many lives had been touched – some profoundly. Thru the years, the Craftsman’s Guild represented rock-solid values. Young men learned that perseverance was essential and that hard work paid off. They enjoyed a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from a constructive and positive activity – plus the joy of working with their hands and mind to create their very own design.

Many scholarships are given each year to young people with outstanding athletic ability or outstanding scholastic record.  What made the Craftsman’s Guild unique was recognition and reward for young people with outstanding creative ability.  Many of the winners went on to become designers themselves and others such as Floyd Hembruff became Mayor of his community and founding partner of a respected construction company in Matheson Ontario, Hembruff & Dambrowitz Construction Ltd. which built extensively throughout Northern Ontario.

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Phillip Murray Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Another month, a new street history!  In honour of the Labour Day weekend, I thought sharing the history behind Phillip Murray Avenue would be rather appropriate.

Phillip Murray Avenue is an east-west artery in south Oshawa, running from the western boundary with Whitby to Valley Drive.  A quick review of City Directories indicate that in 1957, Philip Murray Avenue (note the spelling) was ‘not built on’, meaning it was in the process of being developed.  By 1958, Philip Murray featured a number of new houses and new residents.  This means that Phillip Murray Avenue is a relatively ‘new’ street in our City, being just shy of 60 years old.

Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica

Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica

So who was Philip Murray?  He was a Scottish born American labour leader, the first president of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), the first president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), and the longest-serving president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  He passed away of a heart attack in late 1952.

Oshawa 1937 Strike - outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012

Oshawa 1937 Strike – outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012

While Murray may not have hailed from Oshawa, he was an important figure in the history of labour relations, a subject of importance for our industrial city.  In 1937, a strike occurred in Oshawa, the implications of which not only impacted our City but also had effect on a provincial and national level.

“In 1937, when several thousand members signed union cards, the hopelessness of the depression gave way to a new hope, a new confidence.  UAW 222 was born”

– Local 222

In 1937, the workers of General Motors had four requests: an 8-hour day; better wages and working conditions; a seniority system; and, recognition of their union, the new United Automobile Workers, which was affiliated with CIO.  The recognition of the union brought about the strike, for GM management and Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn wanted to keep the CIO out of Ontario.  The strike lasted two weeks; the union was not recognized, however, this strike was regarded as a victory for CIO and is often seen as the birth of Canadian Industrial Unionism.

“A stand-up strike not a sit-down strike with 260 women joining the men on the picket line.  It begins quietly with workers first filing into work as usual at 7am and then five minutes later just as peacefully, exiting the plant.  Simultaneously, 400 pickets are flung up aroung the works with pre-arranged precision.”

– April 8, 1937 Toronto Star

In 1943, following a few walk outs in Oshawa (this was during WWII when strikes were illegal), CAW Local 222 was recognized by General Motors as the exclusive bargaining agency.  War production became the priority at General Motors in 1942 and the workers in Local 222 alone, produced over 30 000 armoured vehicles.

The 1950s saw another GM strike.  During the winter of 1955-56, 17 000 General Motors employees went on strike, and after five months received what they were asking for: a pay raise, more secure working conditions, and a health plan covered by GM.

1950s GM Strike

1950s GM Strike

The 1950s saw the death of an important labour figure and a labour strike by one of the largest industries in Oshawa.  Phillip Murray Avenue received its name against the backdrop of these historical events.

On behalf of the Oshawa Museum, enjoy the Labour Day Weekend!

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Col. Sam Drive

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Two years ago, at this time, I wrote a post about how Oshawa celebrates the Civic Holiday –  we have done so by naming the day after the prolific citizen, Col. RS McLaughlin.  Knowing that this weekend is McLaughlin Day, I thought I would keep this month’s Street Name Story simple, and share the story behind Colonel Sam Drive.

Farewell Street is the western beginning to this street which leads to the headquarters of General Motors of Canada.  East of Farewell, one can travel along Wentworth Street and eventually arrive at the productions facilities for GM.  Colonel Sam Drive was named in 1989.

 

The Honourable Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin was born on September 8, 1871 in Enniskillen Ontario. He was born to Robert McLaughlin and his wife Mary (nee Smith).  Along with Sam, as he was affectionately known, Robert and Mary were blessed with two other sons, George and John and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

In 1887 Sam became an apprentice in the upholstery shop of his father’s business.  It was during this time that Sam learned all that a journeyman upholsterer needed to know to be successful such as stitching and fitting the cloth.  And so, in 1890 Sam decided to move to Watertown, New York to test his workmanship.  Sam wanted an unbiased opinion of his work and so he tried to keep the identity of his father a secret.  Sam was hired as an upholsterer with H.H. Babcock Co. but his plan to keep his father’s identity a secret did not work and within a couple of days the other employees were aware of who he was.  Sam stayed on at H.H. Babcock Co. for another two months, during which time he learned a great deal about plant management.  After leaving H.H. Babcock Co., Sam stayed in New York to work with two other companies before deciding to come back to Canada to work with his father.  In 1892 Robert formed a business partnership with two of his sons, Sam and George.

In 1897 Sam decided to break away from the carriage company to try his hand at being a politician.  He was successful at this endeavor as he became the head of Oshawa Town Council.  However, this experience allowed him to realize that he did not have the same love for politics as he did for carriages and he returned to building carriages.

In 1898, at the age of 26, Sam met his future wife Adelaide Louise Mowbray.  Within two weeks of meeting Adelaide, Sam proposed.  On February 2, 1898 they were married.  They were married for 59 years and had five daughters: Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda and Eleanor (Billie).

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

On December 7, 1899 the McLaughlin Carriage Company burned to the ground.  The Town of Belleville was the first of 15 cities to offer the McLaughlin’s cash and bonds to rebuild their factory in their town.  The McLaughlin’s chose to accept Oshawa’s deal to loan them $50 000 until they were able to pay the Town back.  While they were rebuilding the factory, production was moved temporarily to Gananoque. The McLaughlin Carriage Company returned to Oshawa in the summer of 1900. In 1907 the McLaughlin Carriage Company began to build automobiles; in that first year they produced 193 cars.

Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

In 1915 Sam and Adelaide bought Prospect Park to become their family home. Sam tore down the original home and in 1917 built Parkwood, a state-of-the-art home for his family.

George and Sam McLaughlin sold the family business to General Motors in 1918.  Many factors weighed in this decision.   A personal factor that led to this decision was that Sam had five daughters and no sons to carry on the family business.  George was preparing to retire and Sam did not want to run the business without him because he considered it a partnership.  George’s two sons were not interested in the business either and therefore there was no one to pass the business on to.  After selling the Carriage Company to General Motors, Sam, at the age of 47, became President of the Canadian Division.

Sam also focused on contributing back to the City that he had called home for so many years, Oshawa.  He was always considered a philanthropist and the donations of his time and money to the City of Oshawa were considerable.  Sam donated money to aid in the creation of many things including Camp Samac, the maternity wing at the Oshawa General Hospital, the McLaughlin Band Shell in Memorial Park, the Union Cemetery War Veterans Plot and the McLaughlin Library.

In 1920, Sam and George bought the land for Lakeview Park in the name of General Motors of Canada Limited.  The land was then deeded to the Town of Oshawa for one dollar with only one restriction: that the land was to be used as a public park for the citizens of Oshawa under the control of the council and parks commission.  The firm also forwarded a cheque for $3,000 to cover initial improvements and another $6,000 for a suitable park playground.

Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

In 1936, Sam was named Honorary Colonel due to his involvement with the Ontario Regiment.  It is from this honour that Sam earned his nickname of “Colonel Sam”.  Sam retired as President of GM in 1945 and took on the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Sam’s wife of 59 years, Adelaide, died January 10, 1958 at the age of 82.  On January 6, 1972 in his 101st year, Sam passed away.¹

 

As previously shared, Adelaide Avenue has been named for Col Sam’s wife, and there is another street in Oshawa, McLaughlin Boulevard, which has also been named for this noteworthy citizen.

 

¹The preceeding was adapted from the Historical Information Sheet: Col. R.S. McLaughlin, ©Oshawa Historical Society.