By Brian Roulston
Near the end of the19th century, leather shoes and boots became affordable to the masses and one Hamilton company capitalized on that by manufacturing and selling a product to give them a shine. The company, F.F Dalley’s Co. Ltd, had plants in Hamilton, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Boston, New York City, and London, England.
It all started with Edwin Thomas Dalley, a chemist and pottery maker who sailed across the Atlantic in the 1830’s. In 1846 he and his new business partner Francis Stevens leased property from Allan McNab, and opened a small general store, Dalley’s & Stevens on the corner of York Boulevard and James St. North. Like most general stores of the day, they sold goods such as sugar, shotgun shells, nails, spices, jelly powder and fabrics for dress making. Some of the products were even made by Edwin himself, like ‘Dalley’s Ink’ which was one of their better sellers at the time. Edwin sold his ink in cone shape bottles made by the Hamilton Glass Factory in Hamilton’s North End.
Edwin didn’t stay very long at the general store. In 1851 he started a one-man operation, (about half a block north of Jackson Square) called the F.F Dalley Chemical Works, later re-named Hamilton Chemical Works. Edwin continued to develop better inks and also dabbled in chemical manure and bone dust fertilizers. Somehow, he got into making stove polish and leather polishes.
Edwin and his brothers started a wholesale business off York Boulevard between Queen and Ray Streets, then near Hamilton city limits. They sold groceries, liquors and patent drugs along with Edwin’s inks and fertilizers.
Since the Middle Ages, Dubbin, a waxy product has been used to soften and waterproof leather. Made from a natural wax, oil, soda ash and tallow it doesn’t impart a shine like shoe polish. Once leathers were introduced with a high natural veneer and became popular in the late18th century, a high glossy finish on shoes and boots became a fashion trend. Several kinds of shoe polishes started popping up in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. However, boot or shoe polish was called something different back then. It was called ‘blacking’ while the generation before referred to it as ‘dubbin’.
Edwin Adolphous Dalley, his son, moved back to Hamilton from New York City. And with his brother, Fenner Frederick, and nephew Samuel Dalley took over the business from the elder Dalley in1875.
Fenner incorporated the company as the F.F Dalley Co.,LTD. and moved their corporate headquarters to the Sun Life building on the south-east side of James and Main streets. He then built the newest and most modern factory in Hamilton on Hughson Street where they expanded their polish and wholesale lines and also produced food extracts and flavourings, different types of cooking oils, food colouring, baking powder, and spices. They even made some of their own over the counter drugs called Dalley’s Pills and Dalley’s Cholera Mixture among other drugs. F.F Dalley’s manufactured Boston Laundry Starch and Toledo Corn Starch both well-known brands at the time. F.F Dalley’s repackaged coffee and sold it under ‘Mocha & Java’. Dalley’s Spanish Bird Seed was another popular item, it sold in 18kg (40 lb.) boxes. Edwin Dalley, passed away in January 1884 at the age of 71.
Several years later Fenner Dalley threatened to sell out his Canadian empire over Unrestricted Reciprocity, a form of free trade that he was dead set against. Fortunately Canadians voted against this ‘free trade’ to the U.S in a general election held in1891.
In 1898 a branch opened in Toronto at 48 Front Street E. under the management of W.M Fielding in 1898. The branch carried their full line of products.
F.F Dalley’s brought out what would be their greatest product called “2 in 1 Shoe Polish” in 1902, the only one of its kind on the planet. It was both a cleaner and polish. This eventually made the F.F Dalley Company of Hamilton a household name around the world.
In 1907he company crossed the border into Buffalo, New York and built a factory at 227 Military Rd.
Shoeshine boys started around 1905. Kids as young as 12 years old could be seen shining shoes on busy street corners, inside train stations, luxury hotels and office buildings. Their tools of the trade were, rags for polishing shoes and boots, tins of shoe polish and a little wooden box with two metal handles on top. From the mid 1930’s to the 60’s shoeshine parlours started popping up across the continent. Once you stepped inside a parlour you were greeted with unmistakable smell of shoe polish, some would call this smell heaven. Like a barber shop, you would see several gentlemen sitting along the wall in oversized wooden chairs perched on a deck about knee high. This made it easier for shoe shiners who had to bend over all day polishing shoes. Shoeshine parlours were also considered a man’s domain where they would hang out, shoot the breeze and tell dirty jokes.
After Fenner’s death on August 12th 1913, his son Frederick took over the shoe polish business. With the start of the Great War in 1914, there became a demand for large numbers of polished army boots. This in turn led to the need of a product that would allow boots to be polished quickly, easily and efficiently. It would also be used to shine leather belts, gun holsters and horse tack. This became a lucrative market for the Dalley’s.