April 14, 2024

Black Entrepreneur History

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Gilbert C. Harris – African American Wig Manufacturer

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named Gilbert C. Harris who went on to become the largest wig manufacturer in New England America. He also became cofounder of the Boston Lodge, Colored Odd Fellows fraternal organization.


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Gilbert C. Harris – Largest Wig Manufacturer in the Northern USA

From Virginia, Gilbert C. Harris moved to the city of Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 23. There, he started work as an employee at a beauty supply store, and the result of him working there, he amassed much knowledge on hair and the hair care business which led him to the founding of his very own hair and wig business[1].

His wig business was located on Washington Street, and the purpose of the business was to supply his own handmade wigs to various groups in need of them around the nation. It was a success, and Harris’ wigs were serving theatrical groups in several areas, making him one of the most well known and the actual largest wig manufacturer at the time in the northern New England states in the year 1910[1].

New England States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

Harris accomplished this by much hard work and going door to door, selling his own product, and it was afterwards that he was able to buy his own shop. From there, he broke into selling to theaters, and huge profits came all at once, from such theatrical companies called Castle Square, Globe Theater, and Bowdoin Square, soon becoming a lucrative mail order business.

Gilbert C Harris – Co -Founder of Boston Lodge, Order of Colored Odd Fellows

Gilbert C. Harris among many African American men, knew their talents skills and abilities, but to naysayers and onlookers outside of the race during this particularly racist climate in the 1800s, it was always something amazing to see Black men in business successfully, as if it couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t be done.

Gilbert C. Harris was one of these African American men who made doubters turn their heads as he became a co-founder of the Boston Lodge, Order of Colored Odd Fellows which was under The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America, a fraternal organization founded in 1843 by African Americans and for African Americans. This organization’s main purpose was to be a charitable and social club while upholding high moral standards. The members of the organization would lean on one another as a brotherhood, assisting each other financially, in health as well as even death in burials.

African Americans had to form their own organizations because white people would not include them in any organizations. 

Below is what was written about this grand African American organization below, and it is still running today. Visit at guoof.org.

“This is the largest and wealthiest secret organization among the colored people in this country. Through it’s efforts colored men have been inspired to cultivate thrift, character and intelligence. It includes in its membership some of the leading and brightest men in the race. Since the war, in spite of discouragements, its progress has been rapid and it stands today as one of the proofs of the ability of colored men to manage affairs intelligently.” – The Boston Globe 03 Mar 1890, Mon · Page 3

Gilbert C. Harris was a well known, friendly man, and those of a friendly feather tended to flock together, and that could be seen at his 25th anniversary in the business, called the Silver Wedding Jubilee[2] in the newspapers in 1901. 200 of Harris’ friends celebrated with him at the Legion of Honor Hall on 200 Huntington Avenue. At this time, Gilbert C. Harris was also the treasurer of the Colored Men’s National League of Business Men. Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, was the president of the Colored Men’s National League of Business Men at the time, and he was present during this 25th anniversary celebration.


Sources

  1. The Bay State Banner https://www.baystatebanner.com/2012/02/14/a-noble-history/
  2. The Boston Globe Boston, Massachusetts · Saturday, November 23, 1901
  3. The Boston Globe Boston, Massachusetts · Friday, February 05, 1915