Victor Canham And Company: Guelph’s Hanger King
Guelph has many companies that remain a footnote in its history. While Raymond Sewing Machine Company, and Bell Organ and Piano Company are names people recognize, V.H. Canham & Company is not. In fact, the company’s contributions are forgotten except by those who recognize his genius in creating common domestic products. In other words, Canham made products that housewives and small business owners could use to make their work easier.
A Man and His Patents
Canham is a bit of a mystery. Victor Canham came to Guelph in the late 1800s, possibly 1880. Born in St. Mary’s Ontario, to a Scottish mother and an English father in 1869, he spent some time in the United States. When he came to Guelph remains unclear. He did eventually arrive in this city where, before establishing his own business in, he was employed as a foreign agent for G. B. Ryan and Company – one of Guelph's leading dry goods store. During this period, he also worked on and registered several inventions for the domestic sector.
His life in Guelph, apart from his business involvement is vague. In fact, he does not seem to have a domestic residence in the city. His name appears only in relation to his business. He probably lived above his factory at 28-30 Essex Street – a building shared with the Guelph Carriage Top Stables (listed in 1917). It is from this address that he created and produced many of his useful products. He held patents during the early 1900s and the 1920s for a number of inventions including:
1. Patent Number US791451 Dressmaker's fitting-stand: Grant - Filed 8 Sep 1904 - Issued 6 Jun 1905. Another example of a Guelph-made idea.
2. Patent Number US837916 Dressmaker's fitting-stand: Filed 3 Mar 1906 - Issued 11 Dec 1906. This is another Guelph patent
3. Patent Number US972995 Hemmer-guide: Grant - Filed 4 May 1908 - Issued 18 Oct 1910. Another made-in-Guelph patent by Canham.
4. Patent Number US913692 Dressmaker's fitting-table: Grant - Filed 7 May 1908 - Issued 2 Mar 1909. Origins for this patent was Guelph, Ontario.
5. Patent Number US972160 Spool-holder: Grant - Filed 18 Feb 1909 - Issued 11 Oct 1910. Was registered while he was living in Guelph.
6. Patent Number US43074508A Garment Dress Stand: A variation on the fitting stand, this Guelph-based patent was granted in 1911.
7. Patent Number US 1444107 Garment hanger: Application filed February 9, 1922. Pub. Date, February 6, 1923. This is an improvement on an existing object and was filed when Canham was in residence in Buffalo, New York
V. H. Canham & Company were described as “novelty manufacturers” and patent holders. In fact, Victor H. Canham, who had worked as a foreign agent for G. B. Ryan and Company in Guelph, produced various domestic-type items. They all fell into the category of dry goods but appealed specifically to housewives, tailors, seamstresses and similar occupations.
One of several ads in the 1921 Spring edition of the trade magazine Dry Goods Review gives an overview of a few of his best sellers. It focused on “HANGERS for every use. For Retail – For Stock Use – For Advertising.” The specific hangers depicted were:
1. The Canham Felt-Padded Hanger
2. The Canham Star Skirt or Trouser Hanger
3. The Canham Felt Grip Combination Hanger
4. The Canham Wishbone Hanger
Other ads in the same publication touted other types of hangers. These became the company’s specialty some manufactured under the brand “Ideal.” The company kept on hand a professional work staff capable of making personalized hangers for their customers.
According to one source, (Vernon E. Webber, also an employee at Ryan's and later an agent for Canham) Canham got the idea to bring the coat hanger to North America after a buying spree for Ryan’s in Europe. There he came into possession of a German wooden hanger. This excited the entrepreneur in him.
The claim in this write-up for the Guelph Historical Society is made that they were not found in Canada or the United States. However, this is not the case. Coat hangers had been in use in the States in the late 1800s (the 1860s is the most common period given for their invention) and had been re-invented and upgraded about the time Canham began to produce his versions/variations. One invention of the time was a wire coat hanger supposedly created in 1903 by Albert J. Parkhouse an employee of the Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company as a response to complaints by fellow employees on a lack of coat hooks.
It was this product, however, that Canham and Webber took to dry goods stores across Canada and the United States. According To Webber, he had a specific territory that ran from Bangor, Maine to New Orleans, Louisiana. Canham handled sales for "Buffalo, New York, Chicago and Detroit." It was important for Canham to handle matters in Buffalo. This was the city in which he chose to locate his branch plant. At that time, it was at 1575 Niagara Street, Buffalo, New York.
Yet, as noted above, Canham did not restrict his products to coat hangers. He created various other products during his stay in Guelph. One of them was his company manufactured an adjustable dress form. The iron base for these products was produced by the moulders at Crowe’s Iron Works.
The Later Years of Canham
It is unclear exactly when and why Canham decided to leave Guelph and focus on his business in the United States. His wife, Mrs. Victor Canham may have been the incentive. She was from Buffalo New York and in that city in 1926. Whatever the rationale, Canham had released his Guelph business by 1928 into other hands. It was taken over at that point by Walter E. Buckingham, a barrister and solicitor. He continued to manufacture products under the Victor Canham and Company name. but with less success.
However, While the residence of Canham in Guelph seems to be an apartment or room above his business, this was not the case in the United States. In the 1920 and 1930 American census for Buffalo, New York., he appears as a boarder for both times. His business, originally located on Niagara Street, Buffalo, was later located to 83 Forest Avenue in the same city.
By the time of his death, however, he has a not only a permanent residence and a prominent business owner, but a respected and involved citizen.. Unlike in Guelph, he became involved in the local business community. He was a member of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce and active in his church. Canham's obituary lists his accomplishments and states that he had died at his home at 92 Bird Avenue in Buffalo, New York. on June 28, 1943.