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McNeil & Higgins

 

-Wholesale Grocers of Chicago, Illinois-

 Source: A History of the City of Chicago: Its Men and Institutions. - Published 1900

The McNeil & Higgins Company,
wholesale grocery house of McNeil & Higgins Company was organized in 1872 by Malcolm McNeil and his brother, John, both of whom had previously been mutually interested in a general mercantile business, conducted at Elgin, Illinois, under the name of M. & J. McNeil ; and by Charles Higgins, previously of the wholesale grocery house of Mead & Higgins. For the first three years the business was conducted at the corner of Michigan avenue and South Water street, but an enlarging trade made it advisable to locate in more commodious quarters, and in 1875 the business was removed to Nos. 11-13 Lake street, where it remained until 1897, when it was again removed. to its present large building at 19-25 Market street. From a small beginning the business has had an existence which has been most encouraging, inasmuch as the close of each year has shown a proportionate increase over the year before. Its trade in the early 70's was almost entirely local, but time has increased the field of its operations, until today it does a large volume of business throughout the entire West and Northwest, its extreme limits of trade being difficult to define, because of the constantly increasing territory which is being opened. The business was incorporated in 1888, with a paid in capital of $500,000. Malcolm McNeil became president of the company at this time, with John McNeil as vice-president, and Charles Higgins as secretary and treasurer. Within the past few years the firm has been doing a large business in staple brands of their own manufacture. These special lines, of which may be mentioned the "None Such," "Empire" and "Blossom" brands, have found favor among the consuming class, and the production of them has been a source of much pride and satisfaction to the firm.

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          At the present time the company engages the services of about seventy traveling salesmen, and a force of over two hundred clerks and other help are employed in the store. While the firm has passed its first quarter century of successful business, it does not believe that all possible fields have been conquered, and, following their usual custom of winning the patronage of the great American people by fair and honest dealings, they aim to continue their business with an increasing trade in the future, as they have clone in the past. Malcolm McNeil, president of the wholesale grocery house of McNeil & Higgins Company, is a native of Ardrie, Scotland, where he was born September 12, 1832. His father and mother, Daniel and Jane (Crichton) McNeil, were both of the thrifty, intellectual class, and Malcolm, in common with the other children, inherited from them the many traits of character which enabled him to make his start in life, and pursue it successfully with no other capital than a strong heart, a steady mind and an abundance of perseverance and independence. At the time of Malcolm's birth his father was a merchant in Ardrie, and was also interested in the operation of extensive coal mines in that vicinity. It was due to his mother, however, that the family, which consisted of father, mother and three children, came to America. The country across the seas, with its wealth of possibilities, seemed to present an ideal place for her two sons and one daughter to grow to manhood and womanhood, and it was through her influence that the business in Scotland was brought to a close and the journey toward the new home begun. An ocean voyage of six weeks brought them to New York, and a further trip of ten days carried them to their destination, the little village of Dundee, Illinois, where they arrived in the summer of 1848. A piece of land three. miles north of here was purchased, and the family took up their work anew, amid strangely different surroundings and conditions from those of their native land. Malcolm spent his early manhood on the farm, and it was not until he was twenty-six years of age that he turned his attention to the mercantile business, in which he has since been successful to a marked degree. In 1858 he went to Elgin, Illinois, and there established a small grocery store. It was on a very small scale that he began his business career, for he had no capital, and it was with the feeling that his success should come through his own efforts entirely, rather than through the use of another's capital, that he launched forth and placed his foot on the first round of the ladder leading to the success which came later. It was slow and hard work, but his honest efforts and upright dealings found favor with the citizens of Elgin, and little by little the business was enlarged, until it became a store, dealing in everything usually handled by a merchant in a small town. Prosperity seemed to shine on everything he did, and at the close of thirteen years he found himself proprietor of a business controlling the largest trade of its kind in the city of Elgin. It was at this time that Chicago suffered the almost entire loss of its business interests through the disastrous fire ; and with the determination of repeating his success, he disposed of his Elgin business, and, together with his brother, John, and Mr. Charles Higgins, located in Chicago, establishing the present wholesale firm of McNeil & Higgins Company, in the spring of 1872. Through all the financial troubles which have come to pass in the quarter of a century and more that this firm has had a place among the wholesale interests of Chicago, it has had the guidance of the master-mind of Malcolm McNeil. How well he has accomplished his work can be no better shown than the present house, which stands solidly upon its reputation a success financially and otherwise. Mr. McNeil has had many business interests from time to time, both in Elgin and in this city, but for the most part he has preferred to devote his entire time to the one business, which is the result of his own genius, and which has grown from the smallest possible beginning to its present proportions. His one investment, aside from the firm which bears his name, in which he takes a just amount of pride, is his interest in three large dairy farms near Elgin. These he considers well worth the time and attention which he gives to them, and they are regarded by him as giving good returns for the money invested. Adjoining the farms is his beautiful country residence, named Glenora Springs. Mr. McNeil has been twice married, the first time, in 1859, to Catherine Dempster, a daughter of A. R. Dempster of Dundee. She was the first white girl born in Dundee, and was a woman much beloved by all who knew her. She died at the close of twelve years of happy wedded life. Her one child, a boy, died when but four years of age. The year before locating in Chicago Mr. McNeil was married again, this time to a Miss Orel Martin, a daughter of Charles W. Martin of Wayne, Illinois. Seven children have been born of this union, six of whom survive, three girls and three boys.

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           Charles Higgins, secretary and treasurer of the McNeil & Higgins Company, was born in Staffordshire, England, May 28, 1831. He is the son of William Tether Higgins, whose wife, Jane Poiser Higgins, was the daughter of Mr. Poiser, a French prisoner of war on parole, who settled in Staffordshire in the early '20S. Mr. Higgins received his education at private schools in England, but he left school at the age of thirteen to accept a position as clerk in a store. Like many other young men of that period, he was attracted to the United States by stories which he had heard, but more particularly, perhaps, from the glowing letters which came from an older brother, who had come here some years previous and located at Waterford, New York. Accordingly, in the fall of 1853, Mr. Higgins turned his face westward, and began the long voyage to this country. He landed at Philadelphia, but went from there to Waterford, where, in a short time, he became interested in business with his brother, and where he remained for the following three years, coming to Chicago in 1856. Arriving in this city, he entered the establishment of Bailey & Mead, wholesale grocers, then located on South Water street, near Wells. Some years later Mr. Bailey died, and the firm then became known as Mead & Johnson. In all this time Mr. Higgins had had an interest in the business, but it was not until the death of Mr. Johnson that his name appeared in the firm title. The business was then located in larger quarters, at 5o South Water street, near Wabash avenue, and in this location, under the firm name of Mead & Higgins, the firm remained until the fire of 1871. A year later Mr. Higgins became interested with Messrs. Malcolm and John McNeil in the present firm of McNeil & Higgins Company, of which he is secretary and treasurer. Since then his life has been wholly devoted to the interests of his business, with the exception of such short periods as he takes for hasty vacation trips. Although never away from his business for any great length of time, Mr. Higgins has been an extensive traveler, and has crossed the Atlantic no less than seventeen times, visiting all the more important parts of Europe, from Norway to Egypt. He has likewise traveled to all points of interest in this country, including Alaska. Mr. Higgins takes much pride in the fact that he is the oldest wholesale grocery-man in Chicago in the point of active service. He was married in 1853 to a sister of Judge Gary. His wife is still living, and they occupy a pleasant home at the corner of Ontario and St. Clair streets, on the North Side. 

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John McNeil, who occupies the responsible position of vice-president of the firm of McNeil & Higgins Company, wholesale grocers, was born in Ardrie, Scotland, May 22, 1839. His parents, Daniel and Jane (Crichton) McNeil, came to this country with their family of two sons and a daughter, when John was nine years of age, and took up their residence a few miles north of the village of Dundee, Illinois, where they engaged in agricultural pursuits. Here it was that their son John grew to manhood, acquiring, through the many hardships common to all settlers at that time in this region, the many qualities of industry and perseverance which have since marked his career in the business world as that of a successful merchant. He was given an opportunity at an early age to make use of the educational advantages offered by the district schools of his locality, and upon completing all the work which they offered, he came to Chicago at the age of twenty-three, and entered a well-known commercial college, where he pursued a thorough business course and gained many practical ideas of business and business methods, which were valuable and enabled him to begin his career in the commercial world without much hesitation because of any lack of experience. His attendance at this college continued until his graduation in June, 1863, at which time he went to Elgin, Illinois, where his brother, Malcolm, had established himself in business in a small way some four or five years previous. During this period the business had grown, little by little, and when the younger brother arrived there was ample work to which he could turn his attention and abundant opportunities for him to demonstrate his ability and aptitude for this kind of work. Being possessed of a quick and intuitive mind, it was not long before he succeeded in making his services of particular value, and in a few years the business, which had hitherto been known under the name of "Malcolm McNeil," was changed to that of "M. & J. McNeil." Since then Mr. McNeil's connection with this firm has continued uninterruptedly and no small share of credit is due him for the success which has attended the growth of what is now one of Chicago's oldest and best known wholesale grocery houses. In 1872 the Elgin business of M. & J. McNeil was disposed of, and the brothers came to Chicago, where, with Mr. Charles Higgins, who had been in the wholesale business here for some years, the present firm of McNeil & Higgins Company was established. Throughout the early years of its existence, Mr. John McNeil was unceasing in his efforts to advance the interests of this firm along the lines of unquestioned stability and superiority, his labors not being limited to his place at his desk,. but, sample case in hand, he was no stranger to the trials of a traveling man representing a house, the merit of whose goods had yet to be established. Mr. McNeil still claims Elgin as his residence, although his career in Chicago dates back to the time of the present firm's establishment. While his labors in this period have been chiefly along mercantile lines, he has, nevertheless, become prominently identified with many of the financial interests of the former place, among them being the Home Savings and Home National Banks, in both of which institutions he is a director, and the West Elgin Improvement Association, of which he is one of the principal stockholders. Like his brother, Malcolm, he also owns a large and well stocked dairy farm near Elgin, from which large quantities of cream and milk are sent daily to the condensing factory. He was married in 1864 to Miss Janet Crichton of Dundee, Illinois, and four children have been born to them, three of whom are boys. Two sons, both recently have been graduated from Harvard College, are interested in the business with their father, and the third son is now completing his course at the same classic institution of learning. Mr. McNeil is a man of much public spirit, earnest in thought and endeavor, and belongs to the ranks of those, who, by their combined efforts, have made Chicago renowned as a city, where business industry and integrity find their reward, if conscientiously pursued.

HIGGINS-CHARLES-68-M-W-IL-COOK-24-WD-CHICAGO-1900
1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 24, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 274; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 732
Name Age

Charles Higgins 68 Widowed Occ: Wholesale Grocer




 

Obituary of Frances Higgins, wife of Charles Higgins 
Chicago Daily Tribune 28 Feb 1900
. . . . . . . . . . 

Source: Manufacturing and wholesale industries of Chicago, Volume 2 - By Josiah Seymour Currey - Published 1918

- McNeil & Higgins Company -

In the year following that of the ever memorable Chicago fire of 1871 there came to the city the vital and courageous spirit that was destined to overcome disaster and disruption and usher in an era of remarkable and virtually unprecedented progress along civic, commercial and industrial lines, and among those who in that year became closely identified with this great phase of recrudescence and advancement that foreshadowed the up building of the present great metropolis of the west were the vigorous and far-sighted men who became at that time the founders of the now extensive and representative wholesale grocery business of the McNeil & Higgins Company. The original firm and its succeeding corporate organization have kept pace with the march of advancement during the long intervening years and the company now maintains status as one of the most important in the wholesale grocery trade centered in Chicago. The McNeil brothers, Malcolm and John, had previously been successfully established in the general merchandise business at Elgin, Illinois, and after the devastation of Chicago by the great fire of 1871 they determined to transfer their base of operations to the prostrate city, in which they discerned broader opportunities. In 1872, therefore, they came to Chicago and here they formed a partnership with Charles Higgins, who had been a member of the wholesale grocery firm of Mead & Higgins, and who had lost all of his property in the great fire. Appreciative of the sterling character and the fortifying experience of Mr. Higgins, the McNeil brothers gave to him a working interest in the new firm that at this time initiated its wholesale grocery business, the original quarters of. the concern having been at the corner of Michigan avenue and South Water street. In 1875 the expanding business led to the securing of large and more eligible quarters, at 11-13 Lake street, where the enterprise wassuccessfully continued until 1897, Avhen removal was made to more commodious headquarters at 19-25 Market street.
Concerning the cumulative tendency ever manifest in the history of this important commercial house the following pertinent statements have been written: "By close attention to business, upright and honorable dealing with all customers, selling only the best goods and that on as close a margin as possible, the business increased from year to year, and finally, as a matter of commercial expediency, the partners decided to incorporate the business under the laws of the state, with the result that in 1888 the present McNeil & Higgins Company was organized and incorporated, with a capital stock of five hundred thousand dollars, all paid in. In the early -70s the trade of the concern was almost entirely local, but time has expanded its field of operations until to-day it controls a large volume of business throughout the entire west and northwest, its extreme limits of trade being difficult to define, because of the constantly increased ramifications of the business. -- In addition to handling all lines of staple and fancy groceries and general food products, the company now controls a substantial trade in the handling of staple brands of its own manufacture, and such special brands as the "None Such," "Glenora," "Holly" and "Blossom" have met with unequivocal popular favor and insured materially to the reputation of the house. An idea of the broad scope of the business is conveyed by the statement that in 1917 the company retains in its employ about one hundred traveling salesmen, and that in the house itself a corps of more than three hundred clerks, office executives and other assistants is employed. In the entire history of the McNeil & Higgins Company the policy has been one of advancement and expansion, and this spirit dominates the entire organization at the present time.
The new home of the McNeil & Higgins Company was completed and occupied by them in May, 1917. The building, a modern structure of eight stories with basement, covers a tract of ground 400 x 100 feet located at No. 251-316 East Grand avenue, and was erected at a cost of about $400,000. The plant is served by about 800 feet of railroad trackage so arranged as to permit the loading or unloading of cars either directly into or from the warehouse, or to or from wagons, as may be desired, thereby eliminating the unnecessary handling of merchandise intended for re-shipment.
From the receiving and shipping rooms, connection is made with the IllinoisTunnel Company's system of underground transportation whereby direct connection is made with the various freight houses of the city and railroad receipts are obtained by the company in its own building for all shipments leaving the city.
In the construction and arrangement of the new and modern plant, no expense was spared to make it the very best. The requirements of trade and commerce have been skillfully blended with the refinements of art and science, giving the McNeil & Higgins Company one of the most modern, thoroughly equipped, up-to-the-minute, wholesale grocery plants in the United States.
The business methods of the company are also in keeping with modern requirements and progress. Much thought and attention are given to the production of food products of a superior quality and their preparation requires the service of skilled experts in the packing and preserving art, while careful study of climate, soil and season in growing orchard, field and garden products, together with rigid selection and grading of fruits and vegetables has enabled the company to maintain a high standard of excellence and uniform quality in its private brands.
The officers of the company that has attained a commanding position in Chicago's commercial activity, are: Malcolm McNeil, president; John McNeil, vice-president; Oscar McGlasson, secretary; J. Leo McNeil, treasurer.


   This information compiled by Michael James Higgins Your Webmaster  

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