Portrait shows senior staff of a Canadian company that sold pills throughout Asia.
The above photo shows my grandfather Samuel Williamson Wolfe circa 1912 in Shanghai, China, with his senior staff. Seated front and centre, he was the Far Eastern branch manager for the G.T. Fulford Company, a Canadian patent medicine firm, from 1903 to 1941.
The company’s success depended on a single product — Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People, an iron-based fatigue remedy — the rights to which were secured by George Taylor Fulford, a Brockville, Ontario, businessman. The company eventually operated in more than eighty countries and survived until 1989.
Wolfe was born in 1872 in Cork, Ireland, and moved to London, England, about 1879. After working in a hardware store and attending night school, he answered a job ad and was sent to Cape Town, South Africa, where in 1895 he joined the Fulford Company.
He established offices in several Asian countries and in 1908 moved his headquarters to Shanghai. There his mostly Chinese staff grew to more than one hundred people, including forty men and more than sixty women. His Caucasian assistants were hired locally or came from the company’s London office.
Wolfe was involved in the community in Shanghai, organizing a Rotary Club, supporting the Salvation Army, and serving as president of the St. Patrick’s Society. Every Christmas morning, he visited the local jail to offer fruit and other objects to prisoners. His son Pierre called him “a champion for [the city’s] oppressed and the underprivileged.”
He left Shanghai for the last time on November 22, 1941, intent on rejoining his wife, Blanche, in Kingston, Ontario, and starting his retirement. But he was trapped in Manila, Phillipines, for two years during the Second World War.
His repatriation was achieved largely thanks to George Fulford Jr., a Liberal MP who wrote to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King requesting a “great favour.” After returning to Canada in December 1943, Wolfe accepted a promotion and continued to work for the Fulford Company.
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