Biography of James Cooper

One of the leading manufacturers in the Dominion a self made man in the fullest sense of the term a man of the people, and one held in the highest esteem by those who know him; is the subject of this sketch, senior member of the firm of Messrs. Cooper and Smith, wholesale boot and shoe manufacturers. Mr. Cooper is a native of Gainsboro, Lincolnshire, England, where he was born in 182S, the thirteenth of a family of fifteen children of whom twelve are still living.

He received but a limited education, such as was attainable forty years ago in the mother country, by children of people in ordinary circumstances, and at an early age was apprenticed to learn the shoemaking trade. Not satisfied with home prospects, he, in 1847, immigrated to Canada, and is the only one of the family who ever crossed the Atlantic with the single exception of a younger brother who came on a visit a few years ago. When he landed in this country his worldly possessions were only sufficient to meet his immediate wants, but he was endowed with a wonderful amount of energy, courage, and perseverance, and these traits of character, added to his knowledge of the shoemaking business, laid the foundation of his success as one of the foremost business men of Canada.

After working for a short time in Quebec he removed to Toronto, where his home has since been. For several years after his arrival in Toronto, he worked at his trade as a journeyman until having by close industry accumulated sufficient capital he was enabled to engage in the retail business. But this occupation not being suited to his active temperament he, in 1860, commenced to manufacture for Messrs. Sessions, Carpenter and Co., which he continued until he became a member of the firm. It is worthy of record as showing the untiring industry of Mr. Cooper that, at the time he was manufacturing for this firm, he was in the habit, at the conclusion of his day’s labor, of adjourning to a retail store on Yonge street to superintend the getting up of the custom work, and not content with the severe labor of the day, it was his custom to work at home many times till after midnight.

When Mr. Cooper first commenced manufacturing for Sessions, Carpenter and Co., his entire force consisted of one sewing machine and seven operatives; but radical changes were soon made and additional help secured, until the reputation of the goods made by him gained a firm footing in the market, and he became recognized as one of the leading manufacturers. From that time to the present his facilities have increased, and he now controls one of the best business plants in Canada. In 1867 he was admitted a full partner in the firm mentioned which, by the retirement of Mr. Carpenter, became Sessions, Turner and Cooper. Two years later Mr. Sessions died, but his name has been retained in the firm out of respect for his memory as the founder of the business, although his interest in it ceased at his death. In 1871 Mr. John C. Smith became a partner, and the following year Mr. Turner retired, since which time the business has been conducted by Messrs. Cooper and Smith. The business of the firm is the most extensive in the Dominion. They furnish employment to about six hundred hands, of whom nearly two hundred are girls, and their large factory, on Front street, West, in Toronto, is a model of perfection in every detail, all branches being conducted systematically, under the watchful and experienced eye of Mr. Cooper. In addition to the large quantity of goods manufactured by this firm, they are heavy manufacturers in Montreal and Quebec, and also import extensively from the United States. They do a large business with the merchants in all parts of the Dominion and also in the West Indies and Australia.

During his entire business career Mr. Cooper has retained the esteem and confidence of his business associates and fellow citizens, and the fact of his extreme popularity with the working classes is well known. In I872 the presiding officers of the fifteen trades unions of the city presented him with a beautifully illuminated address, “expressive of the deep sense of respect they felt for one who has the interests and welfare of their class at heart.” The address was the highest mark of approbation that could have been conferred by the societies and is rarely bestowed. He is past President of St. George’s society, and has received at different times testimonials attesting the high esteem with which he is regarded by those in his employ.

The habits of Mr. Cooper are as regular as clock work, and he has not missed more than half a dozen times during the last twenty-five years of being down to his place of business at seven o’clock in the morning. His disposition is open hearted and generous, giving freely yet advisedly to needful and deserving charitable institutions, with a face expressive of that firmness of purpose and determination of will which have been characteristic traits of his career, showing at a glance that he is a shrewd, thorough going, pushing business man.

There is much to be learned from the record of a man like the subject of this sketch. It clearly demonstrates what energy, prudence, and integrity will accomplish; it also shows that a person may advance in wealth and position, and yet retain the confidence and affection of those whose lot is constant toil. It conclusively proves that there is not the slightest occasion for that marked distinction between the master and the man that is so often seen. It proves that the kindest relations can exist between capital and labor, and it also proves that this pleasing condition of things serves to advance the interests of both parties. To the industrious young mechanic this brief sketch offers many valuable suggestions, as it forcibly illustrates that honor, wealth, and position are often attainable even when the outlook is most discouraging; that industry, temperance, and perseverance will eventually win success. Let the workman who, at times, bemoans his lack of fortune or education, think of Mr. Cooper, and remember, that where there is a will there is a way.



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