International Harvester Company of Canada, Limited

Location: North side of Burlington Street, between Harvey Lane and Sherman Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario

I.H.C. Logo Circa 1902International Harvester's existence in Hamilton was set into motion in 1902 by a man named Alexander Dunn. A member of the finance committee of the city council in Hamilton, Dunn had heard through a friend that the Deering Harvester Company of Illinois was looking to build a branch factory in Canada. Realizing that this company could bring many jobs to Hamilton, he promptly went to Chicago and managed to convince the company to consider Hamilton as its Canadian location. Deering sent an expert to examine the city after which the company proposed to build there. However, the proposition was dependent on a $50,000 bonus from the city to aid with construction costs. A by-law to authorize the bonus was prepared, but local labour unions campaigned against it claiming the company (due to its open shop policy in the U.S.) would not let labour unions manage employee affairs. Consequently, a large majority rejected the bylaw. Nonetheless, city officials were determined to bring Deering to Hamilton and so they annexed the waterfront property that the company had selected as their building site. Deering LogoThey offered the company the farmland tax rate as opposed to the industrial tax rate that was significantly higher. Though the offer was only good for 15 years, Deering recognized that it was worth substantially more than the original bonus and therefore they decided to locate there.

Cyrus Hall McCormickThe citizens of Hamilton knew that they would be getting a large industry but they did not realize how large it would be. Deering had only constructed a few buildings before it was amalgamated with four other harvesting companies: McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, Plano Harvester Company, Warder, Bushnell & Glessner Company, and Milwaukee Harvester Company. Together, the five businesses formed the International Harvester Company. Plans for the new plant were expanded and construction resumed. McCormick LogoUpon the plant's completion in 1903, 1,400 (union and non-union) workers were employed. One of the International Harvester Company of Canada's (I.H.C.) first actions was to create a council, composed of managers and employees. To this council differences and problems could be submitted, helping to prevent employee unrest. In 1905 two docks were constructed, one was devoted to the harvester works, the other to the binder twine industry. Though I.H.C. originally imported twine, it would create a mill for its manufacture in 1925. Initially I.H.C. prospered, with employment reaching 4,000 in 1912. Part of the company's success can be attributed to the fact that vast quantities of food were needed to support the Allies in World War I. In order to meet the demands, farms became increasingly mechanized, thus providing I.H.C. with an expanded market.

The I.H.C. Plant Circa 1919

The company had four products at the outset: harvesting machines, seeding machines, tillage implements, and threshers. By 1919 however, the lineup had expanded to include cultivators, harrows, land rollers, and (with the purchase of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works plow factory) plows. The first major industry to locate in Hamilton, I.H.C. was now the largest farm implement plant in the British Empire. In 1929 it occupied 199 acres: 123 for the harvester works, and 67 for the twine mill.

I.H.C. knew that without a satisfied workforce it could not prosper. With this in mind, in 1939 the company's Employees' Benefit association adopted a hospitalization plan where workers would receive benefits of $4.50 per day for up to 31 days when hospitalized. Similarly, in 1940 the Employees' Savings and Extra Compensation plan was introduced, allowing employees to save for retirement or unemployment. In this plan the company matched 50% of the employee's investments into their savings fund.

The I.H.C. Plant in Hamilton

During World War II, I.H.C. produced a restricted amount of farm machinery. I.H.C. Logo Circa 1946This was due to the fact that it was simultaneously manufacturing equipment for the war, including all the Canadian universal carrier hulls. 1944 marked the transition of I.H.C. to a completely autonomous Canadian company (though it was still owned by I.H.). In 1945 a $2.5 million modernization plan was announced by I.H.C. It was completed in 1948 and included a drill plant and a new plant for the manufacture of seeding machines. Additionally, a plant was built in Chatham, Ontario for the exclusive production of I.H.C. trucks (a new market for them). I.H.C. now provided all the seeding machines for its parent company's world market. By 1952, I.H.C had expanded its product line to include over 40 types of farm implements. That same year I.H.C. employees threatened to strike for the first time due to delays in contract negotiations and wage disputes. However, they were able to reach a settlement with a 17-cent per hour pay increase (among other things). In 1953 I.H.C. constructed a $750,000 advanced engineering and product engineering building for research into new agricultural apparatuses. This investment soon paid off since that very year a new fast-hitch coupler was introduced which allowed a farmer to change the equipment hooked up to his tractor in a matter of seconds. In 1954, 150 workers were hired to aid in the manufacture of hay balers, a new product for I.H.C.

Workers in Front of I.H.C.1956 signaled the start of major expansions for I.H.C. Beginning with a $650,000 district building as the headquarters of its motor truck and farm equipment sales and service operations, I.H.C. would spend $1 million in 1958 to improve its docks for seaway shipping. That same year a production expansion program was launched, dividing the plant into three operations. The first division, the Hamilton Works, designed and produced farm equipment. The second division, the Hamilton Heavy-duty Equipment Works, manufactured diesel transport trucks and construction equipment. The last division, the Hamilton Tractor Works, was responsible for the first crawler tractors to be made in Canada. Additionally, the work schedule was increased from 10 months per year to a full 12 months (though the company frequently shutdown during the summer). The total cost of the expansion was $8.5 million and it boosted the number of employees from 1,815 to 2,895. In 1960 another $8.5 million expansion commenced and included a $3.5 million plant which increased farm equipment production.

In 1965 1,500 workers staged a lunch-hour walkout, which was followed by a two-day shutdown caused by a "wildcat" strike involving 2,300 unionized workers. A full-on strike was averted with the acceptance of a three year contract that included higher wages, longer vacations, and bigger pensions. The following year, a $5 million addition to the assembly building replaced older multi-storey buildings which were deemed inefficient. In 1968, despite having the highest sales in its history, I.H.C.'s profits dropped 40%. More advancements in 1969 included the $200,000 conversion of I.H.C.'s power house to natural gas operation, which increased operating efficiency and allowed the company to conform to Ontario's Air Pollution Act.

The I.H.C. ClockWith the arrival of the 1970's, I.H.C. saw a return to increased profitability. This was accomplished through plant-wide restructuring, which involved the closing of its grey iron foundry and twine mill. In 1971 the plant shut down in April for what was supposed to be three months. However, a strike by the skeleton crew and office workers in July prevented the recall of employees. The strike lasted until November with the workers' acceptance of a 20% wage increase over three years. Despite the strike, profits rose in 1971 by $6 million. The next year I.H.C.'s financial rebound continued with profits of almost $18 million. However, due to a declining market in North America for construction and agricultural equipment commencing in 1977, I.H.C. began to concentrate on exports to developing countries. The next year the company centralized its national agricultural and truck marketing offices in Burlington, eliminating smaller offices in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia. Also in 1978, I.H.C. was able to avoid its traditional summer shutdown due to increased business.

Fortune would not favour I.H.C. for much longer though. 1980 saw a $53.4 million drop in profits due to a five-and-a-half month strike by I.H.C.'s parent company, International Harvester, as well as a weak dollar and high interest rates. This signaled the beginning of the end for I.H.C. Two years later I.H.C.'s engineering section was shut down as part of its parent company's restructuring efforts to save money in the face of a $4.2 billion debt. Further cutbacks in 1982 included the elimination of I.H.C.'s construction division as well as its truck service centers. Despite these reductions, for the first time since 1934 I.H.C. lost money; $39.5 million to be exact. In 1984, International Harvester's farm equipment operations were sold to Tenneco Incorporated for $430 million in cash and stock and from that point on would be operated by Tenneco's affiliate J.I. Case Company. Although I.H.C. still retained its truck operations in Chatham, its long life in Hamilton had come to a conclusion.

J.I. Case Company

One of J.I. Case Company's (J.I.) first actions upon obtaining ownership of I.H.C.'s farming operations was to close down 15% of J.I. and I.H.C. dealerships. This occurred in 1985 along with the acceptance of a three year contract by the former I.H.C. employees, restoring some of the concessions they gave up in an attempt to save I.H.C two years earlier. Furthermore, J.I. invested in new equipment and product lines at the Hamilton plant. Under new ownership, the plant was successful once again. In the second quarter of 1986 it had an operating profit of $18 million, compared to an operating loss of $22 million during the same time in the previous year. Despite earning profits, in 1988 J.I. eliminated 30 full-time jobs in Hamilton as part of a company-wide corporate restructuring. However, workers at the plant accepted a new contract with pension increases convincing some senior members to retire early, thus allowing some of the laid-off workers to return. In 1990 $12.5 million was invested in a modernization program. It included an electrostatic paint system, as well as the reorganization of sheet metal fabricating, welding, and assembly operations into manufacturing cells to increase efficiency. The following year, the material handling and crop harvesting product lines were phased out to make way for new product lines: disc harrows and plows. Apparently, further streamlining was required as employment at the Hamilton plant was reduced to 930, compared to 1,600 in 1990.

These statistics foreshadowed the announcement by J.I. of the plant's closing in 1992. Fortunately for the workers, the plant was saved by its managers through various cost-cutting measures. A year later, a $14 million survival plan was approved. Product lines were rationalized, production facilities were consolidated, obsolete buildings were demolished, excess land was sold off, and computer controlled punching and cutting machines were installed. After all this reorganization the plant occupied 60 acres, less than one third of the total acreage during I.H.C. control. In 1995, production of planting equipment was transferred to Hamilton necessitating a $6 million investment. In addition, the overall restructuring of the plant was successful seeing that J.I. more than doubled its profits with a net income of $346 million for that year. In spite of those profits, the Hamilton workforce was reduced by half in 1998. Similar to the situation in 1989, the closing of the plant was soon to be announced. In 1999, the J.I. plant in Hamilton closed due to declining dealer orders.

A Graph Depicting the Net Income of I.H.C. from 1951 to 1984



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