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Shapleigh Family Association

Shapleigh Hardware Company


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IMPORTANT NOTICE!!
The Shapleigh Family Association has no detailed information
regarding any Shapleigh Hardware Company catalogs or products.
 
 
 
Shapleigh Hardware Company
                Saint Louis


  Augustus Frederick Shapleigh arrived in St. Louis in 1843 with a complete stock of hardware and the fixed resolve to set up a flourishing business. He had been a junior partner of the Philadelphia hardware firm of Rogers Brothers and Company.
  Augustus was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1810, a son of Captain Richard Shapleigh, who died in a ship wreck when Augustus was three. He sought employment at the age of fourteen. His pay was $50.00 a year, out of which he paid his own board; his hours were from daylight until dark. Being a true son of his father, love of the sea was too strong for him to be content to stay ashore and after about a year he shipped on a sailing vessel and spent three years before the mast. His mother, however, who still felt deeply the untimely loss of her husband, finally persuaded her son to abandon seafaring. When he was nineteen years old, he accepted the offer of a clerkship with Rogers Brothers and Company, wholesalers of hardware in Philadelphia since 1819. From the beginning, his aptitude won the trust and approval of his employers. After thirteen short years, he was made a junior partner of the firm.
  The policy of  Rogers Brothers was a farsighted one. They realized the vast possibilities of the great western empire then opening up, and resolved to establish a branch house at its gateway -- St. Louis. It was decided by members of the firm that young Shapleigh, because of his sound judgment and dependability, was the ideal person to carry on for them in the venture. Travel in those early days was a hazardous undertaking at best -- and for one burdened with a large stock of hardware, it assumed the proportions of a major project. Nonetheless, the resourcefulness of young Shapleigh brought him and his precious cargo safely to their destination.
  St. Louis doubtless appeared strange to his eastern eyes on that memorable day in 1843. It was a city of less than twenty thousand inhabitants, with cobbled or mud strees and wooden sidewalks -- where flour sold for $3.00 to $3.70 a barrel, and whiskey for 18 3/4 a gallon. Yet, virility and a lusty spirit of life and progress pervaded the very air of the place. Its streets teemed with colorful, romantic figures -- steamboat captains, trappers, fur traders, prospectors, pioneers, Indians, adventurers, gamblers -- wild, exciting men who lived perilous lives and told thrilling tales.
  To the youthful merchant these stimulating surroundings presented a challenge surpassing even that of the sea. He set about promptly to find a suitable location for the business, finally choosing a property on Main Street, known earlier as Rue Principale -- number 414 -- between Locust and Vine, near the courthouse then being built. This proved a wise selection because it was close to the public landing, convenient for visiting customers and for handling shipments. The house was established under the name of Rogers, Shapleigh and Company, and through Augustus Shapleigh's skillful management, soon occupied a prominent place in the business community of St. Louis.
  When the first inventory was taken, one year after the business was founded, total value of stock and fixtures amounted to $23,529.55. That early merchandise comprised the essentials of pioneer life. Axes, saws, hatchets, nails, rough hinges and locks, shoemakers', tanners' and carpenters' tools, some harness equipment, firearms and ammunition, mostly powder and ball, bear and animal traps, cutlery, razors, pocket knives, hunting knives, limited table and silverware, the barest household necessities, a few extremely crude stoves, farming implements, such as scythes, grain cradles, shovels and spades, and violins, harmonicas and Jew's harps. These simple musical instruments were considered indispensable, for no prospector's outfit, camping trip or expedition was complete without a musician to beguile the long, lonely nights spent by campfires in the great wilderness.
  When A. F. Shapleigh came to St. Louis, there were only 672 steamboats on the Missippi River. In three years the number had increased to 1,190. By 1850 river trade was booming, and St. Louis owned or controlled facilities for carrying on the river 24,959 tons a year. By 1853 St. Louis had forged far ahead of her two closest competitors, Cincinnati and Louisville, and now owned 45,451 tons. This meant a great advantage to St. Louis merchants over those of competing cities. The busy, noisy waterfront formed a picturesque backdrop for city life.
  The steady growth of Rogers, Shapleigh and Company soon made necessary the annexation of adjoining buildings. And, in 1848, they sent out the first traveling salesman to represent a St. Louis hardware house. His name was Ben Bogy, brother of senator Lewis V. Bogy of Missouri. Ben Bogy's trips were made by boat and on horseback. His catalogue was a handmade price book -- his samples were carried in saddle bags. He planned his own route -- went where he chose -- finally settling down to the southwestern portion of Missouri and Indian Territory. For fifty-two years, Ben Bogy traveled for the Shapleigh house -- until the time of his death in 1900.
  When Rogers -- senior partner of the Company -- died in Philadelphia in 1847, and Thomas D. Day was admitted to the firm, a reorganization took place and the name of Shapleigh, Day and Company was adopted. Policies established by A.F. Shapleigh remained unchanged and the firm's prosperity continued under his able guidance.
  In 1848 a rumor -- swept by hot winds across the western prairies -- came roaring into St. Louis, engulfing it like a tidal wave. Gold had been discovered in California! From that moment, thousands of gold seekers poured into St. Louis to begin the great trek west in search of the new-found Eldorado. The gold rush was on! The Shapleigh Company was kept busy outfitting these "Forty-niners" with the picks, shovels, pots, pans, rifles and ammunition needed to make the perilous journey. Some lucky ones reached their goal and made their fortunes. Others returned empty handed. Still others were lost on the vast prairies; but all were part of the epoch-making movement.
  By 1850 the population of St. Louis had reached 77, 860 -- and two years later the first steam railroad west of the Missippi made its initial run at St. Louis. A great holiday crowd watched the tiny engine puff off importantly down its narrow track. The trip was successfully completed -- from 14th Street to Manchester Crossing -- six miles -- end of the line! We smile today at the fanfare accompanying this first brief run, which now lies well within the  city's limits. But it cast the shadow of greater things to come. By 1854 the city of St. Louis and its citizens had subscribed the huge sum of $6,400,000.00 for railway construction, thereby contributing toward the birth of the Missouri Pacific, St. Louis and Iron Mountain, North Missouri -- now a part of the Wabash system -- and Ohio and Mississippi -- now the Southwest Division of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway.
  While all this was going on, Shapleigh, Day and Company was busy too, and in 1853 published the first hardware catalogue west of the Mississippi. It contained no illustrations and was little more than a price book -- but it was a step forward -- it was progress.
  In March, 1851, a throng of eager St. Louisans gathered at the waterfront to meet a boat carrying the most celebrated singer of the day -- Jenny Lind. The Swedish Nightingale had performed before the crowned heads of Europe, but it is doubtful if anywhere she received a greater ovation than in St. Louis. She sang to packed houses during her entire visit, with seats selling for $5.00 a piece -- standing room, $4.00.
  When Thomas D. Day retired from Shapleigh, Day and Company in 1863, the firm name was changed to A.F. Shapleigh and Company. A year later the house adopted their famous Diamond Edge trademark. The slogan "Diamond Edge is a quality pledge," became a by-word in the hardware world.
  The next ten years brought still greater prosperity to A.F. Shapleigh and Company, and many changes to St. Louis. Bands played and crowds cheered for the opening of Eads Bridge, first to span the Mississippi, and one of the proudest engineering feats of the time. To the gracious, hospitable shelter of the Planters' Hotel and the Southern Hotel -- fabulous hostelries whose very names still breathe romance -- came great and famous guests. The first cable car line in St. Louis came into being, and the city purchased a beautiful tract, 1,469 acres of woodland, which was called Forest Park.
  Another milestone in the growth of the Company came in 1880 when it ws incorporated under the name A.F. Shapleigh and Cantwell Hardware Company, of which A.F. Shapleigh was president. Frank Shapleigh, his eldest son -- who had been active in the business since 1857 -- now became a vice-president, which office he continued to hold until 1899. John Cantwell was also a vice-president and Alfred Lee Shapleigh, secretary and treasurer. Besides these men, Augustua F. Shapleigh, Jr. was now prominent in the Company. His connection dated back to 1874. He served as a vice-president during 1888 and 1889.
  That same year the firm issued their first general catalogue -- a substantial volume, fully illustrated -- contrasting strikingly with the first crude book published twenty-seven years before. It is noteworthy that this catalogue contained 224 different items -- important tools and cutlery bearing the Diamond Edge trademark.
  When Mr. Cantwell retired in 1886, the Company took the name A.F. Shapleigh Hardware Company. Shortly thereafter disaster struck -- the entire stock was destroyed by fire. For thirty days other St. Louis jobbers supplied the merchandise to fill orders without interruption to the business and, despite the heavy loss, no employee was discharged. The work of rebuilding the business was started immediately in the buildings at 519 and 521 North Main Street, north of Vine, which temporary quarters the Company occupied until January, 1891, when it removed to the Boatmen's Bank Building just completed at the northwest corner of Fourth and Washington.
  The turn of the century brought with it A.F. Shapleigh's decision to retire from the firm he had founded and directed during so many years, leaving its management to his sons. Already the drive and push of the Twentieth Century was in the air. The Shapleigh brothers, Alfred Lee and Richard W., felt it and realized that the business must be tuned to this new era. Meanwhile, a small group of key men in another St. Louis house felt the urge to seize the opportunity for advancement so obviously presented. Conferences followed, resulting in the reorganization of the Shapleigh firm in January, 1901, as the Norwell-Shapleigh Hardware Company. The offices of the new firm were Saunders Norvell, president -- Richard W. Shapleigh, William G. Yantis and Taylor D. Kelley, vice presidents -- Alfred Lee Shapleigh, treasurer -- and Harry B Gordon, secretary. A spacious, fireproof building was erected on the block bounded by Washington Avenue, Lucas Avenue, Third and Fourth Streets.
  Saunders Norvell, first president of the Norvell-Shapleigh Hardware Company, was born in 1864. He was employed by Simmons Hardware Company in 1880. His success as a traveling salesman led to his appointment as manager of the their Mail Order Department and subsequent election as a vice-president. His experience in the hardware business proved valuable in the reorganization of the Shapleigh firm -- and he held the office of president in the newly organized Norvell-Shapleigh Hardware Company from 1901 until 1911. The business was renovated from stem to stern -- all outmoded methods scrapped -- and Norvell-Shapleigh Company was ready to do battle in shining, modern armor.
  Heads were bowed and hearts sad in February of the year 1902 when A.F. Shapleigh, founder and patriach of the great firm, died at the age of ninety-two. Ye, in passing, he left a heritage of enterprise and tradition of square dealing by which the business still guides its course.
  In 1904 great excitement reigned in the city of St. Louis. No one talked of anything but "the Fair." And indeed, by many, the St. Louis World's Fair is still considered the finest ever held. Prominent businessmen of the City contributed their time, money and ideas toward making it a tremendous success. A.L. Shapleigh was a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of that Exposition which commemorated the Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Everyone was enthusiastically singing and whistling the hit song of the day -- "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis -- Meet Me at the Fair."
 



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Shapleigh Hardware Company Building
bounded by Washington, Lucas, Third and Fourth Streets

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