Alexander Wood: Outstanding in farm implements
J.T. Schell, D.M. Macpherson, John D. McIntosh and Hugh Munro are well-known names synonymous with Glengarry’s industrial/manufacturing past.
However, one name – more often than not – is overlooked, despite the fact that it belongs to the man who was arguably more successful than any of the aforementioned group – or their contemporaries.
Perhaps Alexander Wood doesn’t receive his due because he sought – and very quickly, found – his fame and fortune not in his native Glengarry, but at the other end of today’s Highway 43, in Smiths Falls.
Born to Roger and Margaret Wood ( née McIntosh) on the South Branch Rd. in August 1823, young Alexander trained as a blacksmith and worked in a foundry owned by another branch of the Wood family in Osnabruck, where he learned the skills of a moulder.
He later worked for Ebenezer Frost at Mr. Frost’s foundry in Smiths Falls for six months in 1843 before going to Bytown.
Mr. Wood returned to Smiths Falls in May 1846, where he partnered with his one-time boss to form Frost & Wood – an expansion of the blacksmithy and foundry Mr. Frost had established seven years earlier.
Despite some early growing pains, the business, by 1864, was manufacturing and exporting a wide line of agricultural products to markets across the country and around the world.
A copy of its letterhead from that year lists cultivators, iron and steel plows, drag cross-cut sowing machines, horse hoes, road scrapers, the Buckeye mower and Daisy reaper, and threshing machines among its products, as well as “cooking, box and parlour stoves, circular sawing machines, grist and saw mill castings, and job work of all kinds.”
Later years saw the company’s product line expand to include other equipment such as binders, disc harrows and dump rakes. The Legacy of Frost & Wood:
Outstanding in Their Field –a VirtualMuseum.ca site dedicated to the history of the business – adds that the firm was a leader in servicing what it sold, ensuring that extra parts “were always available, which added to its reputation for being a reliable producer of durable machinery.”
Mr. Wood was instrumental in helping Frost & Wood achieve its latter 19th century success, having entered into a formal partnership with Ebenezer Frost’s sons, Charles and Francis T. Frost, following the co-founder’s death in 1863.
In 1886, the brothers bought out Mr. Wood’s partnership for $50,000 – about $1,620,000 in 2017 CDN dollars.
According to Royce McGillivray’s Dictionary of Glengarry Biography, Mr. Wood may have “maintained a financial interest in the firm,” even after cashing out his shares, and devoted much of his time thereafter to his other business interests in Smiths Falls, which included flour milling, saw mills
‘and shingle manufacturing interests.
He also built “a splendid sandstone mansion, called ‘Glenwood,’” on Chambers Street, adjacent to the Frost & Wood plant’s expansive location along the Rideau Canal in the town centre, an estate that had “servants’ quarters and its own ballroom.”
Mr. Wood died in January 1895 at the age of 71, having been predeceased by his wife, Henrietta (née Baird) in 1866, and five of the couple’s seven children who died between October 1853 and September 1862 – none older than five.
As for Frost & Wood, the Cockshut Plow Co. of Brantford, Ont. purchased 27 per cent of the company’s shares, circa 1909, and bought out the remaining shares in the 1920s. Frost & Wood continued on, and during the Second World War devoted much of its schedule and floor space to wartime production, like many industries across the country. It was the largest munitions manufacturer in Eastern Ontario during the war, producing hundreds of thousands of hand grenades and artillery shells, as well as bolts and bushings for Lancaster bombers.
However, the post-war years were lean.
In November 1954, the plant’s general manager Ed Ryan – citing low sales and demand, as well as parent Cockshutt’s decision to consolidate production in Brantford – announced to staff and the town that Frost & Wood would close in the spring of 1955.
After 116 years (Frost & Wood celebrated its centenary in 1939) production at the company ceased on April 27, 1955 leaving 400 employees out of work, but with a rich legacy that remains to this day – thanks in large part to one of Glengarry’s most successful, yet overlooked, native sons.
HUGE FACTORY: The Frost & Wood factory was massive.