HALL, THOMAS, mechanic and manufacturer; b. 1836 in Wilmot, Prince County, P.E.I., son of Jonathan Hall and Jane Ramsay; m. 14 Sept. 1867 Catherine McRae of Bonshaw, P E.I., and they had five children; d. 18 May 1919 in Wilmot.
Thomas Hall was a second-generation descendant of Irish immigrants. Brought up on a farm not far from Summerside, which was rapidly growing as a regional service centre, he apparently demonstrated from an early age a mastery of wood and iron. This, combined with direct agricultural experience, led to his establishing a carriage shop in Summerside by 1860. At least from 1866 he also built and repaired threshing-machines and other agricultural machinery. He is described in the provincial directory for 1871 as a “thrashing machine manufacturer.”
In 1873 the machine shop, now devoted exclusively to agricultural equipment, was destroyed by fire, a £1,000 non-insured loss for Hall. However, within a year he had erected a modern steam-powered three-storey factory, which added the milling of wood moulding to the manufacture of agricultural equipment. Demand for Hall’s machines increased as the acreage of the province’s farmers grew. The machines were demonstrated at agricultural exhibitions on the Island and the mainland. At the Dominion Exhibition in Halifax in 1881 Hall’s thresher-cleaner took first prize, and that year he sold 45 threshing-machines and 50 fanning-mills.
By 1884 the business was operating as the Hall Manufacturing Company, and over the years records show that Hall had a number of different partners in the enterprise. He continued to show at exhibitions but appears to have done little newspaper advertising, relying instead on testimonials and word of mouth. His factory specialized in a few established machines. The 1887 catalogue, for example, contained only five, two of which were horse-powers. The thresher is described as being “too well known to need description.” Hall’s machines, for the most part, represented improvements. One of them, the Eureka fanning-mill, combined the operations of a fanning-mill and seed separator in preparing seed for market or planting. It was not new technology but it worked better than many other fanning-mills. Hall, unlike some of his Island competitors, does not appear to have sought patent protection for any of his machines.
By the late 1890s the innovations that had been refined by Hall were being overtaken by more sophisticated machinery manufactured by others both on the Island and on the mainland. In addition, the local market had contracted as Islanders sought opportunity in the west and the United States. Hall retired about 1914 and the business was reorganized as the Hall Manufacturing and Cold Storage Company, controlled by the Holman family of Summerside. He died in Summerside following a short illness.
Local manufacture of agricultural equipment was a natural outgrowth of increasing demand and prosperity in the 1860s and 1870s. In communities all across the new dominion mechanics tinkered with designs, built factories, and filled local markets. Thomas Hall, who in his own community faced competition from Elias and George Bishop’s Western Boy ploughs and John Dickieson’s Challenge fanners, was one of the more successful. He supplied a good proportion of the Island market and had a few sales in neighbouring provinces. He was not, however, able to achieve the national importance of manufacturers such as the Masseys [see Hart Almerrin Massey*] and Noxons of Ontario. To compete on a national basis, invention rather than improvement was required. When the Hall Manufacturing Company discontinued its thresher in the 1950s, it was still recognizable as the machine designed by Hall 60 years earlier.
PARO, RG 16, land registry records, Prince County, conveyance reg., liber 12: f.242. Island Farmer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 23 May 1919. Patriot (Charlottetown), 1 March 1873. Pioneer (Summerside), 22, 29 Sept. 1880; 17 Aug., 5 Oct. 1881; 6 Sept. 1882; 29 June 1935. Prince Edward Island Agriculturist (Summerside), 7 Oct. 1886, 3 Oct. 1887, 8 Oct. 1888. Summerside Journal, 2 April 1874, 21 May 1919. Summerside Progress, 6 Aug. 1866. Catalogue of the Hall Manufacturing Company, Summerside, Prince Edward Island, manufacturers of threshing machines, horse powers, and the Eureka fanning mill and seed separator combined (Summerside, ; copy in PARO, Acc. 3466, ser.77.205). Directory, P.E.I., 1871. R. A. Rankin, Down at the shore: a history of Summerside, Prince Edward Island (1752–1945) ([Charlottetown], 1980); “Mister Hall’s machines,” Island Magazine (Charlottetown), no.8 (1980): 3–7.