The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Commercial Times (Oswego, NY), Sept.15, 1891

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Senators Morrill and McPherson in Oswego Last Night

They meet the business men of Oswego and get their ideas on the tariff. The Barley men and Malsters present the view of the effects of the McKinley Bill. Senator Morrill wants to know what if would cost to complete the Harbor. Mr. Kingsford says that only the duty prevented his factory from closing its doors. Senator Morrill favors the ship canal.

The steam barge McVittie from Ogdensburg steamed into the harbor yesterday, having on board U. S. Senators John R. McPherson, democrat of New Jersey, and Justin S. Morrill. Republican, of Vermont, sub committee of the senate finance committee, who are taking evidence as regard to the effects of duties upon the different ports along the line of the lakes. As the McVittie was drawing thirteen feet, she steamed into the upper harbor and sent the distinguished visitors back on a tug. They were received by a committee of the board of trade and conducted to the Doolittle House, where they were met last evening by a large number of gentlemen engaged in business of various kinds in this city. Of course the grain men predominated, as they are the gentlemen who take most exception to the workings of the McKinley Tariff bill. The senators are accompanied by Mr. Durfee as stenographer. The meeting was held in the parlors of the Doolittle house, and after the gentlemen had been introduced Senator Morrill stated that they were here to investigate the trade relations with Canada; wherein duties were beneficial and wherein the reverse whether the Canadians paid the tax or we paid it. He had understood that one prominent industry was most affected here in Oswego. They did not come here to hear arguments, but facts, and thought they would be able to make up their own argument from these facts. He then read from a list which had been furnished him the names of the gentlemen who were expected to speak of the various industries.


Mr. Thomas Gordon said in substance that the malting business in this city was built up for the purpose of manufacturing malt from the Canadian barley. While the duty was at ten cents per

bushel they had managed to get along with a small margin of profit, but since the 30 cent tariff went into effect he did not see how they could get any more Canadian barley. He proceeded to

recount the reasons why malsters here could not compete with western malsters and said that if Oswego malsters went to Chicago or Milwaukee for barley and brought it here and paid the freight and then manufactured it here, the must pay another freight to get the malt to market. They must also pay the freight on wastage in manufacture and taking all things into consideration, it would amount to about six cents per bushel. On the other hand, the western masters had only to pay a single freight, that of getting their malt to market; and taking every view of it, the Oswego maltster would be at the disadvantage stated.

Mr. McPherson asked if Canadian barley made the best beer.

Mr. Gordon- On the average, the Canadian barley is superior. Brewers are willing to pay a fair price for malt, but not an exorbitant rate. If the duty is continued it will drive the business, not only out of Oswego, but out of the east entirely.

Mr. Merrill- Then the competition is really with the western states?

Mr. Gordon- Yes.

Mr McPherson- Then the fault you find is that you have to pay the difference in shrinkage?

Mr. Gordon said it was partly that, but no entirely. In answer to Mr. McPherson he said that malsters must have a uniform grade of barley in order to make good malt. In answer to a question by the same gentleman he said that the Canadians, if they lost our market would only raise barley for feed. At present they had no other market. We are not doing a large export trade in barley except at certain seasons and if the duty was continued the barley and malting interest were doomed. State barley was regarded by malsters as very good, but it could not be obtained in sufficient quantities to make it desirable. In Canada, they could get as high as 200,000 bushels of the same grade whenever required.

Mr. Lyon,, of the firm of Penfield, Lyons & Co., wished to emphasize all that Mr. Gordon had said. The barley schedule of 1890 would utterly destroy the malting interest. He thought the disadvantage under which home malsters would labor would reach as high as eight cents per bushel. Under the tariff of 1883 the malting business in Canadian barley was taken care of. The duty was lowered on Canadian barley and raised on Canadian malt, the business was increased everywhere, and even Canadians came over here and engaged in the industry.

Mr. McPherson asked if in 1883, they could not import malt as cheaply as barley.

Mr. Lyon thought it was about an even thing, but you could not to-day buy Canadian barley at any proportionate price with western barley. We have here six large and well appointed malt bouses which malt one million bushels annually. We were invited to malt in 1883 and went to work to do it and now under this tariff all this was to be taken away from us. No adequate supply of barley could be secured in this state. We tried to encourage its growth, but could not get any decent. Oswego is exactly the place for the malting of Canadian barley and no other.

Senator Sloan asked if it were not true that the malting interest had been built up here since 1883.

Mr. Lyon- Yes, in the main. Most of the buildings were put up new and others largely increased in capacity.

Mr. Sloan said that as he understood it from five to eight million dollars were invested to malting property between this city and Detroit.

Mr. Lyon thought it would reach ten millions, and added that New York was their principal market. They sold some malt to smaller breweries.


Mr. C. H. Bond was called upon to speak for the lumber interest. He said that he had really no statistics but would be willing to anser any questions put to him. He would say in general that we in Oswego wanted free lumber. That is - lumber sawed and in the rough. Oswego used to handle 320,000,000 feet as lumber as near by as 18 years ago, but now he thought 160,000,000 feet would be about the figure. The firm by which he was employed 20 years ago handled more Michigan than Canadian lumber, but practically no Michigan lumber is handled here to-day. This is the natural receiving point for Canadian lumber. He wold not say that on this side of the line we were getting to the end of our lumber districts. There was plenty in the West and South but no so much white pine. He though the trade would increase with free lumber.

In answer to a question by Mr McPherson, Mr. Bond said that many lumber owners in Canada were Americans but had naturally become citizens over there.

Mr. McPherson- If we are importing as much lumber as ever, as the statistics show, why has the trade of Oswego fallen off? Does it not show a shipment through other ports to the loss of Oswego?

Mr. Bond replied that the falling off was mainly in Michigan lumber. Most of the Canadian lumber was still brought here. His firm (Rathbun & Co.,) imported last year 39,000,000 feet of pine lumber and about as much half as of different kinds as spruce, ash, cedar, etc. The duty had been reduced from $2 to $1 on white pine. In regard to the question of wages he said that men working in their yard here piling and shoving lumber, could make from $12 to $18 per week. If they got $16 or $18 pr month and board in the Canadian woods they thought themselves doing well.

Mr. McPherson- Why can't you saw the lumber here, since the export duty on logs is removed?

Mr. Bond- There is such an uncertainty about this matter. We do not know how long this duty will last and don't want to be caught twice. He thought the duty should be removed from sawed rough lumber.

Mr. A. H. Failing was called on to speak for the grain trade and said that the speakers on the barley question had anticipated about al he had to say. But he insisted that he McKinley bill was utterly destructive to the barley and malting interests here. He showed the great falling off in barley imports and said that since the bill went into effect practically no barley came here except in bond for Europe. A little rye and pes came in the same way. The effect had been disaster to what had been a very valuable industry, for now elevator men would almost give away their elevators to any one who would take them.

Mr. Morrill- Do you not think there will be an increased crop of barley grown in New York this year?

Mr. Failing- It may stimulate the trade for a year or so, but when the malt houses are driven out there will be no market. Canadian barley has been about ten cents in excess of western barely. Now state barley must come in competition with the cheap barley of the west and the price will go down.

Mr. Gaylord said that only about 15,000 bushels of Canadian barley had been imported since October-that is barley which had stopped here. Over a million had been received the preceding year after October.

Mr. McPherson- Then I understand that the bill is not only destructive to the malting interests but is of no benefit to the farmers.

Mr. Morrell*-I think, under the stimulating circumstances, the state farmers will sow more barley. Then they will reap the benefit.

Mr. McPherson asked how much was invested in elevators here.

Mr. Failing replied that there were here five or six buildings with a capacity of a million and a half bushels. They were large and expensive buildings and three of them were utterly worthless. A large class of men, perhaps 500 to 600 depended on handling grain for existence.

Mr. Morrill asked if new manufacturing enterprises had not sprung up and Mr. Failing admitted it and named the Kingsford starch factory, Oswego Manufacturing Co., two shade cloth factories, Ames Iron works, the Car Spring works and others and gave about the number of men employed.

Mr. Morrill- Then do not the men who have been moving grain get employment in these works?

Mr. Failing- Some of them do and others stand on the corners and wait for a job. They are not used to any other kind of work.

The Coal Trade

Mr. J. B. McMurrich spoke of the coal interest and said he could not see theat the tariff had any particular effect on that industry. There was a 60 cent duty on bituminous coal. The only bad effect was that on account of the falling of the barley trade 40 per cent of the vessels on this lake had laid up and they could not get enough carriers to transport their coal. The coal continued to go over, however, either by rail or by boat but the increased cost of transportation had enabled Nova Scotian and New Brunswick coal to compete somewhat. Mr. McPherson endeavored to show that the Canadian coals not good enough to compete with American coal but failed to convince Mr McMurrich of the fact. He said we could however, continue to compete with the Canadians and pay the duty.

Canals and Harbor

Captain Kingman of the of the U.S. Engineer office, was called out to speak in regard to canals and harbor. He said he was resident United States Engineer here and in charge of work in the harbor and was ready to answer questions.

Mr. Morrill- When we came up to-day we found some difficulty in getting in and had to come up on a tug boat.

Captain Kingman explained the amount of water required for large steamers here and described the manner in which the upper harbor was build and the commencement of the outer breakwater to increase harbor facilities, and said that as it stood now Oswego had only half a harbor. It could be greatly improved if carried below the fort as first intended.

Senator Morrill- How much will it cost to complete the work?

Captain Kingman-about $500,000. The total cost since 1826 has been $1,700,000 which includes of course the cost of maintenance and repairs of every kind.

Mr McPherson made a jesting remark about there being no necessity of doing more than put on another custom house officer, as the trade had all vanished.

Senator Morrill retorted that he was not there to make stump speeches but to get information.

Captain Kingman went on to say that the cause of the falling off of the Oswego trade was, as he believed, attributable to discrimination against American ports in Welland canal tolls. On account of this it was cheaper to send grain through the Erie Canal.

Senator Morrill- When reciprocity was formerly agitated it mentioned this fact.

Capt. Kingman- If we had a free canal on the American side.-

Senator Morrill- That's what we ought to have! (Applause.)

Captain Kingman said that the government had already ordered preliminary surveys for such a canal. The route by Lockport and Olcott as surveyed called for an estimate of $26,000,000 but he thought $17,000,000 was nearer the correct sum needed. The conditions were very favorable.


Mr. Thompson Kingsford spoke in regard to the starch factory and its product. He said the output was about 20,000,000 pounds per year. The duty on Canadian starch was two cents and the Canadians imposed a like duty on American starch. He employed 600 to 700 men in the starch factory and about 60 in his box shop.

Senator Morrell*-Does the importation of potato starch from New Brunswick affect your trade?

Mr. Kingsford-It effects us so much that but for the duty we should be obliged to close our works. It is the duty which protects us, otherwise the factory must have closed.

Mr. McPherson-Your industry is prosperous, then. But let me ask you why, as you have to bring your corn from the west, taking the argument on barley to guide us, why is it not better to go there to manufacture it.

Mr. Kingsford answered that it would not do to go west. The facilities for shipping corn cheaply from the west were very good. Taking into consideration the price of labor, the admirable water power here and other advantages, made it about equal.

Mr. McPherson- But your market is the west.

Mr. Kingsford- No; only about one-third of the product goes west, the balance east and much is exported. Some even goes into Canada at the two cent duty.

Mr McPherson-Oh!

Some one asked Mr .Kingsford if his factory was not the largest in the world.

Mr. Kingsford-I think so.

Question-And the best.

Mr. Kingsford, modestly:"We try to make it so."

Mr. Sloan called attention to the fact that Senator McPherson's comparison between the manufacture of malt and starch were scarcely fair. The conditions were not the same. There was a value to the wastage of the corn which offsets somewhat the shrinkage. He desired to show that there was an actual gain in the starch manufacture over the malt manufacture. The conditions were not equal as between malting and starch manufacture, as in malting the loss was absolute and he believed this refuse of corn had a greater value here than in the west, although he disliked to contradict Senator McPherson.

Mr. Kingsford- The refuse is much sought after and we could sell double the amount if we had it.

Senator McPherson finally conceded that perhaps here this refuse had a greater value her but it was not so in Ne Jersey, where he lived.

Shade Cloth

In speaking of the manufacture of shade cloth, which he said did not come in competition with foreign goods, but was a product peculiar to this country, Mr. A. S. Page happened to say that lead, entered into the composition. Senator McPherson immediately wanted to know how much the price of lead had advanced since the McKinley bill passed. Mr. Page thought it must be ten per cent and Mr. McPherson at once set it down as an enormity of the McKinley bill.

Senator Morrill- I do not think that the duty on lead was increased.

Mr. McPherson insisted on his point. Two or three gentlemen present gave it as their opinion that the duty on lead had not been increased, but Mr. McPherson would no give it up. The tariff law was handed him and he was shown that the duty on white lead had not been increased and that on another grade the duty had been decreased. Mr. McPherson admitted his mistake and Senator Morrill thanked him for helping him to make a point.

Mr. Dudley Irwin returned to the subject of barley and spoke of the amount of capital invested in elevators, vessels and canal boats rendered comparatively worthless by this duty. One elevator he said, had actually been abandoned to the city for taxes. He also claimed that Canadian barley was already being diverted to foreign countries by way of Montreal, in consequences of the bill.

Collector Lyman furnished the committee with a statement of exports and imports for several years back and the meeting broke up, although a number of gentlemen remained to talk with the senators to quite a late hour.

Media Type:
Item Type:
*Please note that in this article Senator Morrill is sometime seen as Morrell This is an interesting follow up to the affects of the McKinley Tariff
Date of Original:
Sept.15, 1891
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Language of Item:
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Commercial Times (Oswego, NY), Sept.15, 1891