HARRIS, JAMES STANLEY, blacksmith, manufacturer, merchant, and office-holder; b. 25 Oct. 1803 in Annapolis County, N. S.,the son of Benjamin Harris and Rachel Bolscomb (Balcomb); m. in 1837 Louisa Ann Wilson of Dorchester, NB., and they had one son and eight daughters; d. 11 June 1888 in Portland (now part of Saint John), NB.
James Stanley Harris received little formal education and at age 15 apprenticed as a blacksmith. In 1823 he moved to Saint John, N. B., where he finished his apprenticeship and became an expert edge-tool maker under the direction of James Wood, one of the most experienced ironworkers and the first edge-tool manufacturer in the city. In 1828 Harris and Thomas Allan (Allen), also an expert machinist, formed the firm of Harris and Allan to produce tools. With starting capital of about $5,000 they set up shop in Portland Bridge and also opened a hardware store to sell their products. Three years later they established the first foundry in New Brunswick. The foundry, located in Portland, was small. It smelted imported pig-iron in a furnace whose blast, originally produced by two large bellows worked by men in relays, became more powerful after the introduction of steam power. The partners pioneered the casting of Franklin stoves and were the first in New Brunswick to make cut nails and a set of mill castings. As their sales increased, Harris and Allan enlarged their buildings and added new ones, all of wood. By the early 1840s their plant comprised a foundry, machine, blacksmith, pattern, and fitting shops, and a large warehouse.
A fire in 1845 destroyed the moulding and machine shops, as well as other buildings, and a steam engine, lathes, and a large quantity of materials and manufactured stock were ruined. The uninsured loss to Harris and Allan was $30,000, but work was resumed in a new casting shop within 15 days of the fire. About 1856 another fire destroyed the machine and steam shops and a warehouse – again with a loss of $30,000. A three-floor, brick machine shop was immediately built, but other buildings were replaced in wood and were destroyed in a third fire in 1871; on this occasion the loss was $40,000, representing a warehouse, stove shop, and a shed containing a number of railway cars under construction.
For many years Harris and Allan did a large business in the manufacture and sale of stoves and agricultural machinery, grates, mantelpieces, nail plate, bar iron, ship’s iron knees, shafting, and all kinds of hammered shapes. The firm also operated a shop devoted to slate materials which they marbled and sold for home decoration. Their household products and agricultural machinery were sold at the firm’s store in Saint John. During the shipbuilding boom in Saint John in the 1850s the company made healthy profits from ship work, but Harris foresaw that land transportation would grow in importance and the company gradually decreased the manufacture of stoves and agricultural machinery to devote itself to the production of railway cars and parts. During the 1850s Harris and Allan had also been part-owners of the York and Carleton Mining Company, a New Brunswick concern which produced pig-iron. From 1855 to 1870 Harris was a major shareholder in the Saint John Manufacturing Company, which operated a woollen mill at Mispec, near Saint John.
When Thomas Allan died (either in 1860 or 1861) Harris purchased his interest in the business. The new firm, James Harris and Company, then began the manufacture of railway car wheels, and by keeping pace with improvements in manufacturing processes built itself a reputation as good as that of any wheel maker in North America. It soon began producing, as well, railway running gear and passenger, box, and platform cars. In 1870 Harris purchased large rolling-mills in Saint John which, combined with the existing plant, enabled the company to undertake heavy work beyond the capacity of any rival firm in Canada. Indeed, the history of the Harris works is coincident with the railway construction boom in New Brunswick which had begun in the 1850s. During the 1860s and 1870s the company did a large amount of work for the Intercolonial and Western Extension railways, and when the Intercolonial switched to a narrow gauge in 1875 Harris’ firm in six months completed a $300,000 contract which consumed 500 tons of wrought iron for axles, 1,500 tons of cast iron for trucks, and 1,000 tons of iron in other related works. In the early 1880s the firm’s shops were consuming more than 4,000 tons of iron annually, of which one-half was charcoal iron imported from the United States to produce car wheels, and the rest pig-iron and malleable iron imported mainly from England.
In 1881 Harris’ firm employed 230 men and had annual sales of $200,000; by 1888 its staff had increased to 282 in the railway car works and 78 in its rolling-mill. In the latter year the company was advertising that it manufactured railway cars of every description, steel tires, chilled car wheels, hammered railway car axles, steam engines, mill machinery, turbine water wheels, pump, bridge, fence, and ship’s castings, tapered and parallel bars for ship’s knees, nail plate, and shafting and shapes of all kinds. Harris personally supervised the operations of his company until a few months before his death in June 1888. His son-in-law, James C. Robertson, had been taken into partnership in December 1887 and assumed the management when Harris stepped down. In accordance with one of the terms of Harris’ will, the company was sold within three years of his death and in 1892, when the federal government expropriated its five-acre site in Saint John for $200,000, the company moved to Amherst, N.S., and merged with Rhodes Curry and Company.
Harris had played a modest role in local affairs, serving as a member of the Portland Town Council from 1871 to 1876 and as a justice of the peace for Saint John County from 1866 to 1884. He was a trustee of the Portland Methodist Church and at one time president of the Portland branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1875 he was both president of the Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Exhibition, held in Saint John in the fall, and chairman of the local advisory board for the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, held the following year. He also served on the board of the Dominion and Loyalist Centennial Exhibition of 1883.
Harris’ business sense and acumen are evident in his rise from a blacksmith’s apprentice to become a leading Canadian manufacturer; he left an estate valued at $235,000.
Fernhill Cemetery (Saint John, N.B.), Burial records, J. S. Harris. N.B. Museum, Allan’s Foundry, Ledger, 1866–70. Portland United Church (Saint John), Burial records, June 1888. N.B., Acts, 1847; 184; 1854–55. St. John and its business: a history of St. John . . . (Saint John, 1875), 128. Daily Sun (Saint John), 13 Dec. 1887–15 June 1888. Daily Telegraph (Saint John), 1 Oct. 1875–1 Oct. 1885. Saint John Globe, 25 Jan. 1892. Canadian biog. dict., II: 684–87. P. G. Hall, “A misplaced genius,” New Brunswick Magazine (Saint John), 1 (July-December 1898): 247–56.