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ANGEL, JAMES, manufacturer and politician; b. 12 Jan. 1838 in Halifax, son of John Angel; m. 24 Feb. 1868 Malvina Percy in St John’s, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. there 23 Oct. 1918.

James Angel’s father, a marine engineer in Halifax, probably came to Newfoundland in 1847 in connection with the erection by Charles James Fox Bennett* of the first general ironworks on the island. The family moved to St John’s three years later, John Angel having been hired to manage the completed foundry and James taken on as an apprentice machinist. In November 1856 the Bennett foundry burned down, and the following year James joined his father in opening the New (or Angel) Foundry, which initially concentrated on the manufacture of consumer goods, particularly stoves and cut nails. Located in the city’s west end near the Bennett establishment, it eventually absorbed the remnants of the older foundry and rebuilt Bennett’s business in ship’s hardware and repairs, while continuing to expand its line of cast-iron stoves. In 1867 John Angel Jr joined the firm after training as a pattern maker in the United States. Three years later their father retired, and James and John Jr consolidated the business as the St John’s Foundry.

By this time, James, who had recently married, was emerging as head of the family, a major figure in Newfoundland heavy industry, and a leading citizen of St John’s industrial west end. A Methodist, he played a principal role in the building of George Street Wesleyan Church, of which he would remain a key supporter for the rest of his life. In 1873 the Angel brothers purchased a small foundry on Water Street, the Victoria Engine and Boiler Works, which James managed as a harbour depot and branch machine shop specializing in emergency ship repairs. Five years later he purchased his brother’s interest in the works.

These were busy times for the Victoria works because of the increasing use of steamships and, after 1881, the construction of a railway across the island. The railway was the dominant political issue of the 1880s and one which drew Angel into politics as a supporter of Premier Sir William Vallance Whiteway*. He was in the minority among St John’s businessmen in espousing Whiteway’s railway policy, since most Water Street merchants felt it better to focus on developing the fishery. In 1889 Whiteway appointed Angel to the Legislative Council. He was never one of its more political members, generally reserving his “ripe counsel” for the legislative chamber and for such matters as industrial development and restrictions on the sale of alcohol, of which he was a strenuous advocate. In 1906, however, he strongly supported two pieces of legislation, the Aliens Act and the Chinese Immigration Act, aimed at restricting immigration to Newfoundland, and through the press he engaged in debate with members of the immigrant community.

Angel had been one of several investors who in 1883 established the St John’s Nail Manufacturing Company, and he transferred to it cut-nail machinery from the St John’s Foundry. Within two years the foundry itself and two smaller operations were amalgamated under his management as the Newfoundland Consolidated Foundry Company. Other investors in the Consolidated Foundry included several businessmen with an interest in secondary manufacturing, among them Augustus William Harvey*, James Goodfellow*, and James Baird. Meanwhile, Angel had taken a son-in-law, Alexander D. Brown, into the business, in 1883 incorporating James Angel and Company to run the Victoria works. Later in the decade he was also joined by his elder son, John E.

On 22 Aug. 1891 the Consolidated Foundry, insured for only half its value, was destroyed by fire. Thereafter, although the Angel family would retain senior management positions until the foundry was closed in 1982, James’s energies seem to have been focused on the Victoria works and the dockside. At the Victoria works he built the first steam engine manufactured in Newfoundland, as well as the island’s first steam boiler and the “first and only” iron steamship. In 1894 Angel contracted to operate the government dry dock and moved his plant there. He and A. W. Harvey had originally submitted a joint tender; it was accepted, after several revisions, when put forward by Angel alone. Harvey apparently remained a silent partner. The dry dock was eventually sold to Robert Gillespie Reid* as part of the 1898 railway contract. A. D. Brown stayed with the Reid business, and James formed the Angel Engineering and Supply Company with his sons, John E. and Frederick William. In 1908 the Angels merged the Victoria works with their main competitor, the Terra Nova foundry, formerly owned by John Ledingham*. Frederick, who had been educated as an engineer, appears to have been running the firm on a day-today basis by 1905. However, James retained overall direction of the business, now called the Angel Engineering Company, until it was sold to the Reid Newfoundland Company in 1912.

About three years later he suffered a stroke and apparently had a second one in early 1917. He was confined to his home for more than a year before his death in October 1918. “Foremost in all good works for the bettering of the country in which he lives,” James Angel was a long-time governor of the Methodist College in St John’s and chairman of the Methodist orphanage committee. His obituary noted that in his community activities, as in his business dealings, “his was no milk and water policy . . . his firmness was his forte.”

Robert H. Cuff

Daily News (St John’s), 24 Oct. 1918. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 24 Oct. 1918. DNGB (Cuff et al.). Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.). J. L. Joy, “The growth and development of trades and manufacturing in St. John’s, 1870–1914” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s, 1977). Nfld, General Assembly, Proc., 1909–19. Newfoundland men . . . , ed. H. Y. Mott (Concord, N.H., 1894). “The United Nail and Foundry Company, Ltd.,” in The book of Newfoundland, ed. J. R. Smallwood et al. (6v., St John’s, 1937–75; vols.1–2 repr. [1968] and 1979), 2: 426–30 (advertisement sect.). [This section is not reproduced in the reprints.]

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Cite This Article

Robert H. Cuff, “ANGEL, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/angel_james_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/angel_james_14E.html
Author of Article:   Robert H. Cuff
Title of Article:   ANGEL, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   February 25, 2024