Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History there lived an African American man named Gilbert C. Harris who became a wigmaker, learned the trade inside and out, and grew one of the largest wigmaking businesses in New England in the early 1900s.
Gilbert C. Harris was born in 1868 in Virginia and not much is known about his rearing, but it was at the age of 23 that he made the decision to move to Boston, Massachusetts.
Boston was a city where many Black men and women sought to move because there was a full network of successful Black people who worked in the large abolitionist movement and network in the area. It was in Boston where he and many other Black people would gain assistance with day to day life from others in the Black and white abolitionist communities and also gain employment or launch or take over businesses.
When Harris arrived in Boston in 1892, he found employment at a wigmaking business. While employed, it was during month of March in 1897 that he suffered a horrible accident when he fell through the of the second floor workroom window one evening. What saved his life in the fall was that he “struck and awning in his descent and rolled into the street, breaking his lower jaw.” From there he went to the hospital via “police ambulance.” This incident happened at 732 Washington Street.
At the time of this accident, Gilbert was already a married man and 30 years of age. Gilbert healed up just fine, and continued to learn all he could about the wigmaking business until he was able to run the shop all his own, and this is why, when the owner of the wig shop passed away, Gilbert C. Harris, became the owner.
He grew the shop to being one of the, if not the largest, wigmaking manufacturing businesses in New England by the year 1910, and he did this by providing wigs for not just individuals but for theatrical companies as well. His orders weren’t always done face to face either, but he would send his wigs by mail to clients upon receipt of orders.
His business boomed and his hair products had taken off. From there, he invested in real estate and supported his church while also co-founding the Boston branch of the Negro Business League, pictured below as number 2 in the photo. Harris was the treasurer, but in 1906 he was elected as president of the Boston branch during the national convention in Atlanta.
Gilbert and others of the National Negro Business League believed that no matter what the skill, the black man and woman must know how to conduct business in order to thrive in their skill.
There is no information on how or when Gilbert C. Harris passed away at this time.
The Boston Globe;Boston, Massachusetts;02 Mar 1897, Tue • Page 3
The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) 08 Aug 1906, Wed Page 2
The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1907. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-95a0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Bay State Banner; https://www.baystatebanner.com/2012/02/14/a-noble-history/