Biltmore Hats: A Major Part of Guelph’s Industrial History: From Beginnings to 1930
In 1917, Fried Grill Hats arrived in Guelph. Their owners, John Fried and Mr. Grills had previously operated out of Niagara Falls and Toronto. By 1919, the company had settled in premises located at 154 Suffolk Street. Thirty hands were at work producing various types of hats. A year later, they sold the business at the price of $45,000 to be paid over 6 years. The purchasing group consisted of three partners:
1. Arthur W. Mead
2. Edward L. Macdonald
3. Frank Ramsey
All held one third of the company while Ramsey had voting control. It was his idea to change the name of the company to Biltmore Hats. It was intended to conjure up the luxury and elegance of the Biltmore Hotel in NYC. It was, from the beginning, Ramsey’s show. He brought in William Franke as VP/Treasurer in 1922, the same year he bought out his partner’s shares.
By the 1920s, the Company had expanded. They boasted two divisions – one for straw hats at 82 Yarmouth and a regular division on the corner of Yorkshire and Suffolk. From the original 30 employees, the number had grown to more than 165 – a figure that was to increase over the coming years. The company continued to grow. By 1927, the workforce grew to over 100 hands.
However, with low wages, long hours and dangerous working conditions on the line, several workers decided to strike. Thirty-five employees walked out on Tuesday, June 28, 1927
The 1927 Strike
The 35 employees were part of the sizing department. At the heart of their strike was a demand for reduced hours. These employees worked 10 hours a day. They wanted a reduction to 9.5. It was something the company refused to even consider. The workers remained out until July 4th. The result was a compromise.