This company was one of the largest clothing manufacturers in Canada in the late 19th century. Hamilton businessman and manufacturer W.E. Sanford teamed up with local dry goods wholesaler Alexander McInnes in 1862 to produce ready-made clothes. Sanford was always the driving force behind this company. By 1887, he had assumed full control, renaming it the W.E. Sanford Manufacturing Company.
Inside Sanford’s factory, large numbers of workers used the most modern machinery to produce reams of clothing. Most of the inside workers were men, employed at such skilled tasks as cutting cloth in preparation for sewing. Female outworkers made up the majority of Sanford’s workforce. They picked up pre-cut cloth at the factory to sew together at home. These women were paid by the piece and earned miserable wages. But in a world that offered women — especially married women — a limited number of occupational choices, outwork did have its attractions. As one defender of the system explained, “the work suits women because they can carry on household work at the same time.” These women were among the first in Hamilton to experience the “double day” of housework and waged work.
In the mid-1880s, one Sanford foreman estimated that, inside the plant, some 150 male cutters and trimmers produced enough work to keep close to 2,000 female outworkers busy in homes throughout the city. A workforce of this size was unprecedented in the city at this time.
Sanford and McInnes made a $12,000 profit in its first year of business. This was a handsome sum at a time when the yearly wages of skilled workers likely averaged only a few hundred dollars.