BRUSH, GEORGE, shipbuilder and industrialist; b. 6 Jan. 1793 at Vergennes, Vt, son of Elkanah Brush and Alathea Frink; m. Eliza Maria Seymour of Vergennes, and they had nine children, six of whom survived him; d. 21 March 1883 at Montreal, Que.
After a common school education in Vergennes and six years of employment in a country store, George Brush became one of the earliest steamboat entrepreneurs on Lake Champlain; in 1815 he commanded the Champlain, the second steamboat built on the lake. Two years later Brush moved to Montreal where he became a captain and engineer on steamboats operated by the Torrance family [see David Torrance*]. Although Brush may have continued to command steamboats until 1834, he became increasingly involved in their construction. In 1823 he supervised the building of the Hercules, which under his command was the first tow-boat to bring ocean-going vessels through the difficult Sainte-Marie current near Montreal. Other important steamboats on the St Lawrence, the British America, the St. George, and the Canada, were also built for the Torrances under Brush’s watchful eye. In 1834 he was hired by the Ottawa and Rideau Forwarding Company, of which Peter McGill [McCutcheon*] was one of the principal owners, to manage their operations in Kingston, Upper Canada.
While supervising the construction of steamboats at various towns along the St Lawrence, Brush probably came in contact with the Ward brothers, John D.*, Lebbeus B., and Samuel, also originally from Vergennes, who built steamboat engines at the Eagle Foundry in Griffintown (now part of Montreal). By 1838 Brush was back in Montreal as a one-third partner with the Wards in the Eagle Foundry. In that same year the firm constructed an engine for the Sydenham: commissioned by the Royal Navy through Hugh Allan’s company, this ship proved to be the fastest steamboat in the fleet. Within seven years Brush was sole proprietor of the firm, having purchased the remaining Ward interest.
From shipbuilder, captain, and engineer, Brush successfully made the transition to owner-manager of a substantial business in the very competitive engine-building industry [see Augustin Cantin*]. Joined in 1852 by his eldest son, George S., Brush expanded and diversified his business to meet the competition of the new foundries attracted to the banks of the Lachine Canal where cheap hydraulic power was available. Brush and his son manufactured “steam engines, steam boilers, hoisting engines, steam pumps, circular saw mills, bark mills, shingle mills, ore crushers, mill gearing, shafting, hangers and pullies, hand and power hoists for warehouses,” and numerous other products. Although the Eagle Foundry remained relatively small, it was evaluated at between £10,000 and £25,000 in 1866. By the early 1880s it employed a modest-sized work-force of 60 to 100 skilled workmen and made products, worth approximately £70,000 to £100,000 annually, which were sold across the country.
Brush was a member of the American Presbyterian Church in Montreal. A “man of immense energy,” “great determination of spirit,” and “of the most scrupulous honour,” he was successful in the city’s business community although he seems to have restricted his entrepreneurial activities to his own firm, not diversifying his interests as did most Montreal industrialists.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Presbytériens, American Presbyterian Church (Montréal), 23 March 1883. Montreal in 1856; a sketch prepared for the celebration of the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Montreal, 1856), 47. Montreal Daily Star, 22 March 1883. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer, 314. Canadian biog. dict., II: 99–100. Dominion annual register, 1883: 302. Terrill, Chronology of Montreal. James Croil, Steam navigation and its relation to the commerce of Canada and the United States (Toronto and Montreal, 1898; repr. Toronto, 1973), 310–11. Tulchinsky, River barons, 213–18.