J.M. Williams & Co.

J.M. Williams & Co. was founded by James Miller Williams in 1871, it was one of the first pressed tinware companies in Hamilton, Ontario. This company was actually the second company formed by Williams under the same name.

James Miller Williams

J.M. Williams Portrait

Portrait of James Miller Williams. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

James Miller Williams was born September 14, 1818, in New Jersey. While still in the states he apprenticed and became a carriage builder. In the 1840s he moved to London, Ontario (then Canada West). Williams formed a business with another man, making carriages, railcars and public transport vehicles. He soon moved to Hamilton, Ontario and started the Hamilton Coach and Carriage Company. Williams had a contract with the Great Western Railway to build coaches for the railway. Around 1855 business started to dry up when the Great Western began building their own coaches.

With his carriage business slowing, Williams then set his sites on the petroleum industry. Sometime around 1855 he formed the J.M. Williams & Co. to begin refining bitumen into a lamp oil. In 1856 he bought the International Mining and Manufacturing Company from his competitor Charles Nelson Tripp. That company operated a small Asphalt well in Oil Springs, Ontario. During a drought in 1858, Williams went on the property to dig a well to try and find water. Instead, he found free flowing crude oil. He quickly set up an oil well on the site. Williams is credited with being the first man to set up a commercial oil well in North America. He soon after set up a refinery in Oil Springs, as well as a refinery in Hamilton. Around 1860, the J.M. Williams & Co. was renamed to the Canada Oil Company.

The Second J.M. Williams & Co.

In 1871 Williams set his sights on a new business again. This time it was pressed tinware. Tinware had just started booming in Canada, and it was quite lucrative at the time. This company quickly grew to make all kinds of tinware: buckets, shovels, kitchen items, birdcages, are just some of the things this company made. In 1872, J.M. Williams also began making tubular lanterns. This is an important milestone for Canadian lanterns, because Williams was the first manufacturer to make tubular lanterns in Canada.

John Henry Stone worked for Williams as the superintendent of the company. They were his designs and 1872 patent that the first Williams lanterns were made from. Stone quickly realized lanterns could be a big business and left Williams to start his own company, the J.H. Stone & Co. Even though Stone was gone, Williams kept making lanterns. Williams was making lanterns through his tinware company, and producing the fuel for the lanterns through his other companies. Williams also began growing his business, and made an additional foundry to go along with the business. The foundry side of the company made stoves, pans, etc.

In 1883, Williams made an agreement with George Fifield, of the USA, to make his patented hinge lantern. This lantern went on to be named the Williams Hinge lantern. It proved to be really successful for the time. This lantern was made until 1887-88, when Williams sold the tinware side of the company to the Wright brothers ( The Canadian version), Edwin Thomas Wright and Harry G. Wright. They owned the E.T. Wright & Co. Before 1887 they only made a limited amount of Japanned tinware, and mostly focused on bird cages, fly traps, coal hods, and coal vases.

J.M. Williams Later in Life

J.M. Williams sold his companies to his son, who carried on the businesses under the original names. Williams went on to be involved in politics, he was elected to the Ontario legislature in Hamilton in 1867, 1871 and 1875. After leaving provincial politics in 1879, he was appointed as the registrar of Wentworth County (the county Hamilton is located in) until his death.

James Miller Williams died in 1890, at the age of 72. There is no doubt Williams played an important role in Canadian industrial history. For lantern collectors like myself, his role in lanterns were equally important. J.H. Stone who got his start in lanterns would end up being the most prolific lantern inventor in Canada, and likely the world. His designs inspired many and he had a direct hand in most Canadian lantern companies. E.T. Wright became the largest lantern producer in Canada, which would not have happened unless they bought the tinware side of J.M. Williams & Co. Their lanterns also retained a lot of features and designs originally from Williams.

You can read more about J.M Williams here. You can also read more about William’s petroleum businesses here. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time Williams’ lanterns have ever been written about. As always, if you have more information about Williams, or have a Williams lantern, get in touch with me here.