When hats are mentioned in Guelph, everyone thinks about Biltmore Hats. While the position of this company and its products is important, it was not the sole producer of hats in this city. Two other companies made hats in Guelph; both have connections to Biltmore.
In Guelph’s history, Fried-Grills Hats receives merely a footnote. It is only mentioned as the company purchased by Fred Ramsey and renamed Biltmore. However, this does Fried-Grills a disservice. The company was not a flash-in-the-pan. It only sold its Guelph factory on Suffolk Street, not its Toronto business. According to Men’s Wear, a trade magazine, it was still creating stylish men’s hats for the spring of 1920.
The Fried-Grills Company was founded in Toronto around 1907. It was described in the American Hatter as a wholesale company “located at 60 Front Street, West, Toronto, Ontario, who will carry complete lines of hats, caps and furs.” The members of the firm are listed as:
1. John Fried: a man identified with the “wholesale hat house of Wright & Company of London Ontario” for 12 years
2. William Walter Grills: a traveller with “A. Ansley & Co., wholesalers of hats, of Toronto”
The name of this Toronto company was Fried, Grills & Company. It rapidly established itself in the industry appearing as trendsetters and experienced hatters from 1907 until at least 1921. The company held at least two patents: “Phit-eese” a hat-related process in 1907, and “The Arrow” in 1911 – describing a specific hat.
In the beginning, it seems Fried, Grills & Company was a warehouse and wholesaler. However, according to the American Hatter, in 1916, they “equipped a soft hat finishing plant which will be operated in conjunction with their business.” This was the start of a new phase for the company. It is unclear whether this factory is separate from the one that was to be built and opened in Guelph the following year. However, in a 1921 Ad, Fried Grills Hat Company Ltd. stated it had factories in Guelph and Toronto. By that time, the company was producing and selling “Fur, Felt, Straw and Panama Hats.”
The Guelph Enterprise
The Guelph company referred to as Fried-Grills Hats, was first remarked upon in 1917. This “New Hat Concern” was mentioned in the Financial Post of Canada on April 7, 1917. The article states:
On June 1st, Fried, Grills Hat Company, Ltd., will commence the manufacture of hard and soft felt hats in Guelph. A building affording a floor space of 2,200 square feet has been secured, and machinery is now being installed.
The individuals behind this branch are listed as:
- John Fried
- William W. Grills
- Walter Ellis Buckingham, barrister
- Margaret Nairn, stenographer
- Archibald Holm, mechanic
The latter three names were all residents of Guelph.
Only Fried, Grills and Buckingham were listed as Provisional Directors of the company. Buckingham seems to have been a busy barrister that year. He was also a provisional director (with well-known Guelphite Horace Gordon Mack) in the Sterling Textile Company and the Woodstock Cotton Spinning Company. Ltd – both in Woodstock and the Guelph Carpet and Worsted Spinning Mills, Limited.
During its three years in Guelph, John Fried remained president of both the Guelph and Toronto companies. The head office was on Front Street West in Toronto; the Guelph factory was located on Suffolk Street. In 1917, the foreman was George Desmarais.
In 1917, however, the Fried-Lee Hat Company bought Fried, Grills & Company of Toronto. In Guelph, it was still referred to as the Fried-Grills Company. In 1919, it purportedly employed 125 workers. This was the same year, Fried was trapped in the Royal Alex Hotel in Winnipeg during the now-famous Winnipeg General Strike.
Enter Frank Ramsey
In 1920, Frank Ralph Ramsey purchased the company. He took over the facilities on Suffolk Street. He also decided to rename the company into something he thought was more glamorous and classier. The Fried-Grills Hat Company became Biltmore Hats. Interestingly enough, in 1921, the barrister and, therefore, provisional director for the incorporation of Biltmore Hats was none other than Buckingham.
Jochimeck-Drone Hat Company
On February 8, 1929, a company located in Guelph at 34 Huskisson (lower Wyndham/York Rd) Street received its incorporation papers. Guelph now had its second hat manufacturer. It was the Jochimeck-Drone Hat Company, Inc. At this initial point, the capital stock consisted of “900 shares of preferred stock of the par value of $100 each, and 10,000 shares of common stock without nominal or par value.” The Canada Gazette provided a list of the directors as well as the major officers in the company.
The two men behind the company were Lazare Louis Jochimeck and William Falconer Drone. Other names provided were:
- Henry Alexander Hignell and Evelyn Tierney – accountants
- John Ranson Howitt – barrister-at-law
- Grace McCartney – Stenographer
- Thomas McCrae Matthews
All, except Matthews, were from Guelph. Matthews was from Guelph Township. A 1921 OAC Grad, he had been hired in 1929 as a sales manager for the company. Employees in 1930 included Gaston and Harvey Lussier. Eleanor Hohenadel held the position of stenographer.
That same year, the company took out a patent for a hat called the Falcon. Things must have looked promising to the two owners of the company in 1929. They were not aware the Great Depression was less than a year away.
The Men Behind the Company
Extraordinarily little is known about the men who founded the Jochimeck-Drone Hat Company, Inc. Wm F. Drone may have been born in Guelph. He is listed as a machinist for Gilson’s in 1920 in the city directory and in the 1921 census. He lived at 199 Suffolk in 1920 and 113 Norfolk in 1920. He had a wife, Maud and a family of 3 children in 1921. He was around 36 years old when he partnered with Jochimeck.
Even less is known about Jochimeck. He is first noted in Guelph as secretary for the company. In 1930, he was living in the Tolton Apartments. Later that year, he and his wife, Helen, were ensconced in a house at 173 Woolwich Street. His name does not appear in the census for 1921 or in the city directories until he is mentioned in conjunction with Drone-Jochimeck Hats.
Little remains to indicate, display or even denote the product produced by this hat company. It did have a patent on the word “Falcon.” Obtained on May 31, 1929, it probably referred to a specific model of hat. No pictures or mentions in the various hat magazines currently exist to explain the hat, its types or the market.
The Company Folds
The Jochimeck-Drone Hat Company was active in Guelph for a brief period. Nothing is heard from Drone after the company had ceased production in around 1931. However, Jochimeck found a new existence in the hat business. In 1932, he is listed as the Production Manager of a new business in town – Lancashire Felt. This was the Canadian Branch of the British parent company of the same name.
By 1939, Jochimeck was living at 11 Barber Avenue. Lancashire Felt was prospering – even during the Depression. He was to remain in charge of the company even after Biltmore took control of the Morris Street premises in 1953. He retired soon afterwards.