Inco’s Roots: The Sequel – by Marty McAllister (Inco Triangle – June 1990)

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This article came from the June 1990 issue of the Inco Triangle: t

“Fools rush in …” In my January column, I boldly wrestled with the objective of finding the very beginning of Inco’s oldest operation. I even set out a rule: there had to be evidence of organizational continuity, right through to the present. So, after a fair bit of research (and an assumption that came back to haunt me), I declared Wiggin Steel and Alloys the winner — because it started as a partnership in 1835.

Now, with not a steroid user in the lot, the Wiggin group has to be stripped of its medal. Sorry, Birmingham friends, I goofed — but I hope you enjoyed your few months in the sun.

For the benefit of Canadian readers, David Balchin is the Executive Vice-President with responsibility for Inco’s Alloys and Engineered Products segment. With extensive operations on both sides of the Atlantic, he’s a busy man. Not too busy to notice, however, when some self-styled authority hands a heritage award to the wrong member of his group! So gather `round, faithful readers, while I share the continuing story of Inco’s oldest roots.A Bicentennial, and Then Some

In the Western Hemisphere, the war of the American Revolution was still raging. The British were taking Philadelphia, and the Loyalists were escaping to Canada. It was five years after the Boston Tea Party, and thirteen years before our country was divided into Upper and Lower Canada. The grandparents of Samuel Ritchie (the founder of the Canadian Copper Company) were still young and active in Londonderry, Ireland. Some five hundred kilometres away, in Sheffield, England, another young man of only twenty-one years set out on his life’s work. In time, that work would carve a niche in the fine-steel industry for which Sheffield is famous.

It was 1778, and Daniel Doncaster had elected not to follow his father’s trade of “sope boiling.” Instead, he began making files — the hardware kind. The trademark awarded him, a diamond mounted above two capital D’s, has remained unchanged. After his death, the file business gave way to the converting of Swedish irons into blister steel, under the direction of Daniel II. That first converting furnace was erected on Doncaster Street (which still exists) in 1831, on land which had been the family garden and orchard.

Through several generations of Doncasters, the business grew, took new directions, and prospered. Bessemer steel from Sweden came in ingots and had to be hammered into billets and then into small bars. To do this on their own, in 1898 Doncasters bought from John Denton his forge on Penistone Road. I hate to say it, but this forge dated back to 1637 or earlier — so, if anyone digs up a solid connection, I’m going to have to do an Inco Roots III.

Birds Of A Feather

The twentieth century brought not only increasing demand for Doncasters’ Swedish steels, but also for more complicated alloy steels. At the end of World War II, Rolls Royce wanted an assortment of parts made almost entirely of nickel, for its famous Merlin engines. Those NIMONIC alloys were supplied by Henry Wiggin & Sons, by then already part of the Inco organization. The increasing interdependence between Doncasters and Wiggin was solidified by Inco’s 1975 purchase of Daniel Doncaster and Sons Limited.

For over two hundred years, the company was led by a member of the Doncaster Family. In each case, that senior officer was known both respectfully and affectionately by his first name, with the prefix `Mister’. It was Mr. Richard who, as Doncasters’ Chairman, guided the company to its integration with Inco, and to its two-hundredth anniversary.

A Visit To Birley House

Mike Heapey, now Internal Audit Manager for Canada, is nostalgic about his introduction to Doncasters in the late seventies. The internal audit function had to be extended to this newest member of the Inco family, so Mike journeyed from London to get things under way, aided by his New York boss, Jim Connelly. It was a trip to old elegance and charm.

As representatives of the new parent corporation, they were received by Mr. Richard himself, and were put up in a centuries-old stone guest house. Across the road was Birley House, the Doncasters head office — where they were honoured guests in the directors’ dining room. The entire experience pointed to a reverence for the Doncaster family, but Mike recalls the one person who could offer a firm, but polite challenge: “In the dining room, we were served by a gracious old lady who had probably spent her lifetime looking after the family. It would have insulted her, had we not taken something of everything. As we settled into the sumptuous meal, she made a point of ensuring that even the master ate heartily, as she reminded him: `Eat your greens, Mr. Richard.'”

The Doncaster Histories

Although I was a half-dozen columns late in finding it, there exists some wonderful documentation on the history of Daniel Doncaster & Sons. Just recently, I received a mint-condition copy of a 1938 history, containing the inscription: “Dedicated to all our business friends, both living and departed, who have given us their support during these one hundred and sixty years.” For that treasure, I am indebted to Dr. Ian Dillamore, Managing Director of Inco Engineered Products Limited, also in Birmingham.

In 1978, on the occasion of its two-hundredth anniversary, Doncasters published another, more comprehensive history. I have a photocopy of it, which was right under my nose — you guessed it, at our very own Record Centre.


I hope my light-humoured look at our company’s roots will encourage you to take a look at page 52 of your 1989 Annual Report. “Inco Worldwide” will show you how the various pieces fit together — how the many heritage threads have been woven into such a great tapestry, by you and your predecessors of countless generations.

Have a wonderful, safe summer!