William H. Kennedy – Merchant Tailor

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were thousands of tailors, milliners, and dressmakers working across Canada. Some had labels that identified the name of their business and location, but most didn’t. A donation that came into the museum a few years ago had a label that identified the merchant tailor’s shop in Galt (Cambridge), and the name of the buyer. A merchant tailor was essentially a men’s wear shop that offered ready-made suits that could be adjusted to the buyer’s measurements.

The shop was owned by William H. Kennedy who was born in Caledonia, Ontario in about 1860. He learned his trade in merchant tailoring at establishments south of the border in Chicago and St. Louis, but by 1900 Kennedy had returned to Canada and set up a merchant tailoring business on Main street in Galt. He retired in 1915 and moved to California in the early 1920s, but returned to Canada in about 1929 and died in 1933.

The wearer of this suit is well known in local history. William Stahlschmidt was born in Germany in 1844 and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four.  In 1859 he came to Canada and trained to be a teacher. By 1869 he had become the principal of the Preston public school. He married in 1871, and in 1884 founded W. Stahlschmidt & Co., a business that specialized in making furniture for schools and businesses. In 1889 the company went public and was renamed the Canadian Office and School Furniture Company. Stahlschmidt died in 1929 and that same year the company amalgamated with the Preston furniture company that survived until the 1960s.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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