The Fabulous Peirce & Whaling Hardware
Circa 1873, a celebrated company located on what is now Plankinton and Michigan.
As our last column noted, one of Milwaukee’s less-known strengths in the 19th century was the hardware business. Three of the leading hardware businesses in town were the Nazro, Pritzlaff and Frankfurth companies.
Another company was Peirce & Whaling. This is a view of their establishment c. 1873 during a time of rapid growth for the firm. This was at their location on the west side of W. Water St. (now Plankinton) between Sycamore (now Michigan) and Clybourn streets. Note the wide range of products offered and listed toward the top of the building, as well as the oversized wheelbarrow and anvil used to attract customers.
Pierce & Whaling were first listed at this address in the 1870 Milwaukee city directory, and before this were listed on Main St. (now Broadway). The company was founded in 1867, according to an account in the January 1875 issue of the Milwaukee Monthly Magazine:
A publication called The Wisconsin Lumberman, and published around the same time, in August 1874, also lauded the company for “their perfect machinery and admirable methods of doing business [and] their wisely liberal style of advertising… this energetic house is as widely-known as any wholesale house in any line of business in the northwest…We have learned, to our surprise, that the item of railway supplies was never more than one-fifth of the entire business of the house and that this proportion has been materially lessened…during the past year… but has been more than balanced by gains in the trade with manufacturers and dealers in all parts of the northwest.”
On December 26, 1883, the New York Times reported that James Whaling, “the well-known hardware man,” was killed by an accident in Milwaukee, “but the particulars cannot be ascertained.” The story said the Peirce & Whaling company had failed “a half-dozen years earlier,” or about 1877, and Whaling had moved to Chicago, than later New York City, doing business in both cities before moving back to Milwaukee.
Today the building where Peirce & Whaling was located no longer exists and is the site of the Gimbels parking structure.
Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.