The Ball Brothers Go into Business
Karen M. Vincent
Minnetrista Director of Collections
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As the five Ball brothers—Lucius L., William C., Edmund B., Frank C., and George A.—grew to adulthood in Canandaigua, New York, their uncle George Harvey Ball watched for business opportunities in nearby Buffalo. Uncle George, brother of Lucius Styles Ball, was the pastor of a Baptist church in Buffalo. In 1878, the first venture that he recommended was making wooden containers to pack fish in. Frank and Edmund were the principles in this endeavor, although it ended when their entire product was destroyed in a fire. The brothers returned to Canandaigua.
Uncle George soon discovered another opportunity for the brothers, and “The Elastic Steam Carpet Beating Works” was founded. After a carpet-cleaning encounter with “two beautiful” girls who attended the same church and Sunday School, Frank and Edmund decided that carpet cleaning was undignified and that they would close shop after the spring cleaning season ended.
The next business opportunity arose when Frank and Edmund had the chance to buy a portion of A.W. Aldrich’s business of making wood jacketed oil cans in one, two, three, five, and ten gallon sizes. Uncle George loaned them $200 for the purchase. Frank and Edmund made the wood jackets and hired a tin smith to make the cans. They paid a month’s royalty on the patent covering the method of attaching jackets to the can. After they developed a superior method of attaching the jackets, they were able to stop making royalty payments and making the cans became more profitable. Soon, the brothers were able to hire additional workers and machinery. Fire struck again, but the brothers had sufficient insurance to rebuild. Eventually, all of the brothers and their mother moved to Buffalo.
Because the acid used to refine kerosene caused corrosion in tin, the brothers decided to use glass for the inserts of the wood jacketed cans. Initially, they bought the glass containers from a factory in Poughkeepsie, New York. The resulting product was called the “Diamond Glass Oil Can.” In 1882, the factory that supplied the glass containers was destroyed by fire. Some of the glassblowers from that factory suggested to the Ball brothers that they build their own factory. They purchased land in East Buffalo and built a two-story brick building for the stamping works and a one-story frame factory for the glass works. Because of the volume of business, a larger furnace was soon needed. In order to use the full capacity of the furnace, it was decided that they would make other glass products.