HISTORIC ST. MARYS - DeLong Hook and Eye Company

In the years just preceding World War I, St. Marys looked to a prosperous future. It had a number of well-established industries, including foundries and mills, and there had been some new arrivals.

  • History   Wednesday, April 14, 2021   Historic St. Marys Columnist Mary Smith

By Historic St. Marys Columnist Mary Smith
In the years just preceding World War I, St. Marys looked to a prosperous future. It had a number of well-established industries, including foundries and mills, and there had been some new arrivals. The St. Marys Cement Company had begun operations in 1912 and the Wood Specialty Company had started up on James Street South. The town also laid claim to having “the only Pin Factory in Canada!”
This factory had been a presence in St. Marys – more or less – since 1908. Early that year, the town gave conditional support for a loan of $20,000 so that a new industry to manufacture smallware could be established. W. G. McCrimmon, a Toronto businessman leading this project, explained that the factory would produce small metal items such as straight pins, hair pins and garment fasteners. The new company began looking for local investors and constructed a two-storey limestone factory with a full basement on three acres of land on the west side of Emily Street, just south of the Sarnia Bridge.
This week’s photograph, taken from the railway trestle, is rather blurry but it gives an idea of the size and location of the factory building. The brick house, still standing on the west side of Water Street North, can also be seen in the photograph and, beyond it is the St. Marys Collegiate Institute, its cupola showing through the spruce trees. The Presbyterian Church steeple is further to the right.
Once the building was up, preparations were made for the installation of specialized machinery and an experienced machinist, William Eggleton, arrived in St. Marys from Waterbury, New York, specifically to oversee this project. Throughout the summer, things seemed to be progressing. But by December 1908, the scheme had fallen through. Investment capital had not been secured and the town withdrew its loan agreement. Local contractors who had built and provided services to the new building had not been paid. Eggleton, also unpaid, was alone with his machinery in an otherwise empty factory.
On July 31, 1909, by court order, there was a public auction of the property in front of the town hall but the highest bid of $2,500 did not meet the reserve. Eventually, in September 1909, H. H. Stevenson, the manager of the local Molson’s Bank, paid a mere $2,100 for the property and all its assets. Stevenson had no intention of running a smallware factory himself but did hope that his investment would pay off in the future.
In June 1910, a reporter for the St. Marys Journal, possibly Lorne A. Eedy himself, visited the factory and interviewed Eggleton who had been putting in his time by fine-tuning the machinery and adding modifications of his own invention. While he lived in St. Marys, Eggleton boarded at Frank Willard’s Emily Street home, close to the factory. Born in 1860 in New Brunswick, he had moved with his family to the United States when he was young and had learned his trade in a number of factories in New York State.
The Journal reporter was clearly impressed both by the man and by his tour of the building. The basement contained the boiler to provide heating and an electric engine to power the machinery. There was also an oven for finishing lacquered products. The metal-working equipment was on the main floor and included “a milling machine, a shaper for planing steel, a lathe for turning anything in metal or screws, a two spindle metal drill, a power back saw for sawing metal and an emery wheel.” What was to be manufactured? The Journal reported: “Anything that can be made out of wire – hair pins, safety pins, hooks and eyes, paper fasteners, garment fasteners, suspender buckles, brass headed upholstering nails, etc., etc.” The second floor was for finishing and packaging. At two benches along the walls, 18 girls would work at machines that put the shields on safety pins. Eggleton explained: “The entire equipment on this floor, including assorting, packing and shipping, will give employment to 45 girls.”
Eggleton had everything set to go and, in fact, a few weeks after the Journal report, a new company was incorporated. A lease was signed with H. H. Stevenson for the building and property and the National Pin Company was established with Eggleton as manager. The other company officers were local men: president, Sidney Fraleigh, a druggist; treasurer, John Pool, a bank manager; secretary, Joseph Patterson, a contractor. These were all men capable in their own fields but they had never run a factory. Operations began but were plagued with problems and the enterprise might have faded out of existence if it had not been for a fortunate intervention.
On August 15, 1912, both local newspapers carried the announcement that the National Pin Company had been sold to the prosperous and well-established Philadelphia firm, the DeLong Hook and Eye Company. DeLong had been looking for a Canadian base and here in St. Marys was a factory, already built and ready for production. It was probably with considerable relief that H. H. Stevenson accepted $3,000 for the property. Eggleton remained to work with the new management during the transition and then returned to his family in the United States. He died in 1936 in Pennsylvania.
DeLong expanded the St. Marys operations. With wider marketing and distribution now available, the pin factory took off and for years was part of the life of many St. Marys families. It had many women employees. Some were literally “girls.” Barbara (Wright) Favacho recalled that she worked there after school and during the summer, starting at the age of 12! For the women on the floor, it was mainly piecework, payment depending on how quickly and accurately work at the machines was accomplished. Some piecework was sent out to women who could do tasks, such as packaging small items, at home. Piece work paid very little – but it did provide a small income that women earned themselves. Cards of bobby pins, hooks and eyes, straight pins stuck neatly in paper sleeves can still be found labelled: DeLong Hook and Eye Co., Philadelphia U.S.A. and St. Marys Canada. They are now collectible items.
Eventually, operations outgrew the old Emily Street factory and the company – now DeLong Scovill – moved to a new site on Egan Avenue. Through the years, this plant expanded, changed ownership and became Dresden Industries, a much different operation. When Dresden relocated to Stratford, the site was left vacant. Recently cleaned up, this part of Egan Avenue is set to become a new residential development. The limestone factory on Emily Street survived into the 1980s, was used for storage and had several short-term industrial tenants. Today there are residences along Emily Street where the factory once stood and the west portion of the property is part of Lions Park.
Rob and Barb Favacho’s generous assistance is gratefully acknowledged. They have much more information than could fit into this one column.