HARRIS, FREDERICK WARREN, manufacturer; b. 1823 in Lancaster, Mass., son of Emery Harris, manufacturer, and Sally Wilder; d. 13 July 1863 at Montreal.
Frederick Warren Harris attended Harvard University and graduated in 1845. While still an undergraduate he became interested in mechanical inventions, and spent considerable time and money developing a number of his own. After graduation he moved to Middlebury, Vt, where he opened a cotton factory. He soon began taking an interest in the Canadian market, as a considerable portion of his production was being sold in Montreal, the traditional metropolis of northern Vermont. He realized that the expanding market in Canada could be more readily exploited by producing goods there in order to avoid the new 12 1/2 per cent general duty on imports. Harris was also excited by the possibilities offered by the hydraulic power resources of the Lachine Canal which by the early 1850s had attracted large-scale industrial development.
Harris probably arrived in Montreal in 1852 or 1853. An unknown manufacturer with limited means, he nevertheless impressed a number of Montrealers as a shrewd businessman. Ira Gould and John Young*, the two owners of the St Gabriel Hydraulic Company, which controlled water rights at the St Gabriel lock on the Lachine Canal, thought Harris to be a good enough risk that in 1853 they extended a cash loan of £1,000 and at the additional cost of £1,500 also erected a three-storey mill, called the St Gabriel Cotton Mills, to start him in business. Despite some difficulties – a major one being the lack of trained operatives – Harris invested £6,500 within the first two years in up-to-date machinery: willows, pickers, carding and drawing machines, 1,500 spindles, and 46 looms. He was engaged principally in manufacturing denim cloth at the rate of 300 yds daily and employed 70 people, mainly women and children. In 1855 he added at a cost of £3,000 a batting and wadding mill with carding and other machines capable of producing 6,000 yds of wadding and 1,200 lbs of batting each day.
In 1857 a fire in the factory seriously impaired production and a secret investigator for R. G. Dun Company reported that Harris had “little or no means.” Within three years, however, he was back in business and thriving. A short time later he set up a large woollen factory beside the cotton mill. When he died at the early age of 40 Harris’ factories were doing well. Not only had he become one of the city’s major industrialists, but he was also one of the pioneers of Montreal’s textile manufacturing industry which was to be such an important component of its economic life by the end of the 19th century.
Baker Library, Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), R. G. Dun Co. credit ledger, Canada, 5, pp.4, 40, 53. Montreal Gazette, 16 July 1863. Montreal Herald, 14 July 1863. Quinquennial catalogue of the officers and graduates of Harvard University, 1636–1930 (Cambridge, Mass., 1930), 244. Montreal in 1856; a sketch prepared for the celebration of the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Montreal, 1856), 40.