INCO’s Roots: How Far Back? – by Marty McAllister (Inco Triangle – January 1990)

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This article came from the January 1990 issue of the Inco Triangle:

It has taken more than a century — actually, quite a lot more — to build the Inco Limited of today. There have been good times and bad times — and successes and failures, you bet. Throughout, we’ve demonstrated a capacity to learn from the things we’ve done, to grow, as our current motto says, “Stronger For Our Experience.

I think that’s a pretty good motto, don’t you? It doesn’t say anything about being perfect, but it implies a process of continuous improvement. In order to learn from our collective experience, we have to study it. As we face the changes and challenges of the future, we’ll want to know how we’ve coped with such things in the past. History is more than just nostalgic fun, although that’s what carries us past the boring parts. Confucius said: “Study the past if you would divine the future.”

To start 1990 off on the right foot, I want to back up to square one and give you a clearer picture of the many pieces that came together to form the company as we know it, and to maybe change a few pre-conceived notions in the bargain.

Where should we start? With the discovery of sulphide ore at the Murray site in 1883? With the survey of the Creighton area in 1856? Or did it have something to do with that ill-fated Central Ontario Railway? I guess we need a couple of rules, huh?

Let’s try this: Inco Limited is made up of scores of organizational pieces that became part of the `family tree’ at some point in the past. In turn, each organizational piece can reasonably be considered as part of our evolution — if we can accurately trace a continuous path to its beginning. We didn’t just suddenly begin with the founding of International Nickel Company (no `The’) in 1902; the half-dozen or so companies that came together each had a certain history of its own. So, is that it? Do we just have to look at that group, as listed below with their founding dates?

● Canadian Copper Company (1886)
● Orford Copper Company (1887)
● The Anglo-American Iron Company (1886)
● American Nickel Works (1902)
● Nickel Corporation, Limited (1899)
● Vermilion Mining Company of Ontario (1888)
● Societe Miniere Caledonienne of New Caledonia (1900)

Each one was of vital importance to the new holding company, and each is worthy of detailed study, but they don’t take us to our oldest roots. Remember, we’re looking back from today, not from 1902.

Roots of A Fresh Branch

Going back a mere sixty-one years, to 1929, we find a fresh branch to follow. That’s when Mond became part of us — bringing its past with it. Surely the Mond heritage is as much ours as is that of “The Original Seven”. We can’t exclude a `branch’ lineage just because it merged with the `mainstream’ at a later date. Sure, Inco was the dominant player before that merger, but we’re tracing our roots — not relative strength.

The emphasis, however, has to be on organizational continuity, or we’ll end up on some strange paths — such as the ridiculous assumption that the old Orford company began in the U.S. Naval Academy, because R.M. Thompson once belonged to it!

So, following this rule of organizational continuity, how far back can we go?

Inco’s Oldest Segment

Of the pieces that are part of today’s Inco Limited, by far the oldest is the operating unit we now know as Wiggin Steel and Alloys, in Birmingham, England. Surprised? Well, a rule’s a rule, folks.

The year was 1835. Charles Askin and Brooke Evans formed a partnership to “produce economically the highest possible grade of nickel silver.” See? They were even in the right business! In 1842, a fellow named Henry Wiggin joined the Evans and Askin firm, in which he also became a partner in 1848. With the death of the founding partners, the name was changed in 1870 to Henry Wiggin & Company. In 1892, it was converted to a limited liability company, under the name of Henry Wiggin & Company, Limited — but it was still very much a family business.

Around 1888 (when Canadian Copper was trying its darnedest to get a furnace going over here in Copper Cliff), the Wiggin Company purchased a small works from a Thomas Adkins in Smethwick, near Birmingham. Between 1890 and 1900, a section of this property and certain buildings were leased to Ludwig Mond and Carl Langer, where they might continue the experiments that followed the discovery of the now-famous carbonyl process. The result was that the first carbonyl-refined nickel produced on an industrial scale came from a model plant erected at Smethwick. It’s hardly surprising that such cooperation would ultimately lead to an even closer relationship.

As you know, when Ludwig Mond failed to find a buyer for his patent, he formed his own company in 1900. That, of course, led to Mond’s heavy investment in the Sudbury area, and in Wales.

Meanwhile, the Wiggin company had continued to prosper and grow, and, in 1919, the important producer of non-ferrous alloys became a subsidiary of the Mond Nickel Company. Thus, with the Inco/Mond merger of 1929, the Wiggin lineage became an integral part of Inco history.

People Like You

I guess that makes us about a half-century older than most of us figured, in terms of our oldest organizational component. So, here’s a tip of the heritage hat to our colleagues at Wiggin Steel and Alloys, still shooting for “the highest possible grade”.

Of course, neither Charles Askin nor Brooke Evans dreamed in 1835 that they were sowing seeds that would one day be part of the world’s greatest nickel company. They just did what they were good at, and kept getting better. Our heritage is filled with people like that — people like you; is it any wonder we’re STRONGER FOR OUR EXPERIENCE?