T.W. Ness History

Thomas Wood (T.W.) Ness was born May 2nd, 1860 in King City, Ontario, the first in his family to be born in Canada. His parents and older sister had immigrated from Scotland the year before. The family variously lived in Markham, Vaughan and King City, Ontario, just north of Toronto.

He was married Oct 2nd, 1882 in Markham, Ontario – details from the marriage record:
Groom’s Name: Thomas Wood Ness, Age 22. Parents James Ness and Jane Ness (Trench)
Bride’s Name: Alice Ambrosine Lever, Age 25. Parents Henry Lever and Charlotte Lever

In 1885 the family moved to Montreal, Quebec where T.W. started his business: T.W. Ness & Co. manufacturing Thymo-cresol which apparently was a disinfectant. By 1889 The business had shifted to selling pulleys, Electrical Supplies, Typewriters, Cash Registers and Office Specialities.

By 1891 T.W. and his growing family of four children also had living with them three of Thomas’ brothers, two of which were involved in the Electrical Supply business.

On September 12th, 1893 he was granted patent number 44246 for a “Telephone switch operating mechanism”. A patent was also granted in the United States: Patent US 505170A for a “Telephone switch” Sept 19, 1893.

Ness later forges a partnership with the Holtzer-Cabot Electric company. In 1893 the Ness Company was already the Canadian distributor for at least one Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company product: “The Acme Detector.”

In late 1895 TW Ness retires from Ness, McLaren & Bate although the company name does not change so it’s likely he retains his part ownership and stock in the company. He moves his family to Newton, Mass. and they become naturalized US citizens. Mr. Ness then worked as a manager at the Holtzer-Cabot Electric company who manufactured many things including telephone and telegraph related products as well as clocks and fire alarm systems. It seems likely that his Telephone switch operating mechanism patent is used by Holtzer-Cabot on their “Ness Automatic Telephone System” telephones as the same switch is used on certain telephones produced by the Ness company.

In 1897 the family is living in Newton, Mass. In 1900 they are shown to be living in Winthrop Town, Suffolk, Mass (Basically part of Boston now)
Details of the family as follows:

Thomas W. born May of 1860 occupation listed as Electrician Place of birth Canada (Eng) it indicates the family immigrated to the United States in 1895. It seems they owned their home and were mortgage free.
Alice A. Ness is listed as being born in April of 1858 – the mother of 7 children of which 6 are still living.
Harry James Oct. 1883 At school
Charles Archibald (Archie) July 1 1885 At School
Jessie Alice Nov 1887 (female) at school
William B. Aug 1890 at school
Florence W Oct 1895 (twins)
Gertrude Jean Oct 1895 (twins)

In 1910 They are listed at Newton Ward 5, Middlesex, Mass.
Thomas is listed as 49 years old, His wife Alice as 52, their son Harry is not living at the family home any more.
Archie, 26
Jessie 22
William 19
Florence 14
Gertrude 14

In 1920 They are still listed at Newton Ward 5, Middlesex, Mass.
Thomas is listed as 59 and Alice at 63. The only child still listed as living at their home is Florence W. at 24 years old.

In the 1945 US Census they are listed as living in Fort Myers Florida on 217 First Av. born in Canada
Thomas W. is listed as 85 years old, and Alsa (Alice) is listed as 88, both listed as having High School education and retired

T.W. Ness passed away on October 1st 1948 in Newton, Mass.

Company Details

From “Hardware Merchandising” 1893

Mr. T. W. Ness

T. W. Ness is one of our largest dealers in telephones and general electric supplies. He has recently supplied the town of Granby with a lot of telephones as the company there is adding extensively to its telephone exchange. The increasing business of the Citizens’ Co. at Waterloo has also led to a demand for telephone supplies, and among other articles Mr. Ness is supplying them with a lot of “head” receivers for their operators. In Chicoutimi, also, where Messrs. Gray and Co. are putting in an extensive telephone system, the complete outfit is being procured from Mr. Ness, the instruments being all fitted to connect with a central exchange, like the regular Bell offices.

A large exhibit of telephones, switchboards, transmitters, receivers and annunciators has been prepared for the World’s Columbian Exhibition at Chicago by T. W. Ness. Part of this was in the Herald window at the time of the recent fire and narrowly escaped being destroyed.

Mr. Ness has also furnished Messrs. Walker, and Sons & Co. of Walkerville, Ont., with a large number of Standard Telephones for their exchange (Hardware Merchandising 1893)

A photo of the Electrical Exhibit sent to Chicago by T. W. Ness of Montreal, is circulating among the trade. Besides a number of annunciators, a complete telephone switchboard is also shown. The principal exhibit, however is a display of telephones, which will be exceptionally interesting at the present time, owing to the patents expiring on them in the United States. Main Line Telephones, suitable for 200 miles use, are shown, receivers, Blake and Carbon Transmitters, etc. The warehouse telephones form a prominent feature, as these instruments are now largely used in factories and offices. With this system there is no central exchange required, each telephone having it’s own switchboard, and being able to communicate with any or all of the others. These are fully described in a new illustrated catalogue which will be send free to applicants.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company have ordered from Mr. T. W. Ness several large annunciators, which are now in course of construction.

The town of Chicoutimi has been lately fitted up with a complete telephone exchange. Messrs. Guoy & Co. were the contractors, and they procured their complete outfit form T. W. Ness, Montreal.

The 117 drop annunciator which is being placed in the new Queen’s Hotel by Messrs. McCrae & Watson was manufactured by T. W. Ness, of Montreal.

The Roherval Telephone Company, of Roherval, Que., have been increasing their number of subscribers recently. The telephones and switchboards were all manufactured by T. W. Ness, of Montreal.

The telephone business of the Citizen’s Telephone Co., at Sherbrooke, Que., has increased so rapidly that the central operators are now using head receivers. These are being made by T. W. Ness, of Montreal.

Mr. T. W. Ness has supplied the Montreal Show Case Company with a 5 h.p. Reliance motor.

Mr. T. W. Ness is supplying the Collegiate Institute of London, Ont., with an experimental electrical outfit.

Hardware Merchant is pleased to know that T. W. Ness, of Montreal, has had representatives in this city (Toronto) since October installing his Standard telephone and also receiving orders for other lines of electric supplies manufactured and handled by him. His business having grown to such proportions a branch house has been opened up at 106 King Street west, Toronto, where the public are cordially invited to call and quote prices before purchasing elsewhere. Nothing succeeds like success. Mr. Ness seems to be “in the swim” and it is hoped since his well directed efforts at Montreal have compelled him to open up here, in order to more satisfactorily supply the demand for his goods, his Toronto branch may share the good fortune of the older house at Montreal.

Norman W. McLaren is entering into partnership with Mr. T. W. Ness, of electrical supply fame. The firm’s new title will be T. W. Ness & Co. The firm’s business has more than doubled during the present summer, and they can hardly meet the demand for their specialties despite their increased facilities. (August, 1893)

T. W. Ness, manufacturer of electrical supplies, has admitted as partners P. H. Davidson, J. E. Adams, J. L. Rankin and N. W. McLaren under the style of T. W. Ness & Co.

From “Hardware Merchandising” 1895:

Thomas Wood Ness, Norman Westwood McLaren and Chas. Bate have been registered proprietors of Ness, McLaren & Bate, electrical supplies, Montreal.

From “Hardware – A practical journal for the Wrought, Cast, Stamped, Sheet and Spun Metal Trades” Toronto & Montreal April 6th, 1895:

“T. W. Ness & Co., electrical supplies, Montreal, have dissolved, and a new partnership has been formed between T. W. Ness, W. McLaren and Chas. Bate. Style Unchanged”

Then on September 21st 1895 in the same journal:

“Messrs. McLaren & Bate, electrical supplies, Montreal, have dissolved. T. W. Ness retires, and the business is continued under the old style by N.W. McLaren and Chas. Bate.

Ness, McLaren & Bate insulator specifics

As of early 2023 there is only one known example of the Ness, McLaren & Bate insulator. We can narrow the timeline that the insulator was made by looking at the changes to the company name. Up until 1893 the business was known as T.W. Ness Electrical Supplies. In August of 1893 the business name changed to T.W. Ness & Co. “Norman W. McLaren is entering into partnership with Mr. T. W. Ness, of electrical supply fame. The firm’s new title will be T. W. Ness & Co. The firm’s business has more than doubled during the present summer, and they can hardly meet the demand for their specialties despite their increased facilities.”

The Ness, McLaren & Bate partnership was announced in the May 18th, 1895 issue of Hardware Merchandising. T. W. Ness and Co. was dissolved and the business name was officially changed: “Thos. Wood Ness, Norman Westwood McLaren and Chas. Bate have been registered proprietors of Ness, McLaren & Bate, electrical supplies, Montreal.” The Ness, McLaren & Bate insulator therefore must have been produced after the company was renamed in May of 1895.

There was a fire that caused $4,000 damage in late August or early September of 1895 causing them to relocate the business. The company was closed or sold by 1908 as the company no longer appears in the Montreal directory for for that year, but another Electrical supply company appears at the same address.

This gives a timeline of Mid 1895 to the end of 1907 for the production of insulators with specific mention of insulators in a 1903 business directory and a couple of their catalogs.
The N.W. & B.I.T. Co. connection gives us an even smaller timeline. The N.W. and B.I.T. Co. name ceased to exist in 1902, so that places production of the Ness, McLaren & Bate insulator (and blotout) within a 7 year window: May, 1895 (when Ness, McLaren & Bate came into existence) to 1902 (When the N.W. & B.I.T. Co. name was changed to BC Telephone Company.) Although varying accounts place the sale and name change of NW & BIT Co as early as 1898 or 1901.

The Ness, McLaren & Bate insulator mold therefore went through at least 3 iterations:

  1. 1895 – Original mold was made by or for the Ness, McLaren & Bate Company. There may have been more than one mold made but only one insulator has ever been found with this embossing (F‑Skirt) NESS, McLAREN & BATE (R‑Skirt) MONTREAL. SB
  2. Between 1895 and 1902 but likely closer to 1895 – The original embossing above was removed from the mold but for some reason the comma between Ness and McLaren was left and on front of the mold and the period after MONTREAL was left on the leaving the following embossing: (F‑Skirt) [Comma] [‘NESS, MCLAREN & BATE’ blotted out] (R‑Skirt) [‘MONTREAL’ blotted out] SB
  3. Between 1895 and 1898 or possibly as late as 1902 – The insulator mold was re engraved with the initials of the New Westminster & Burrard Inlet Telephone Company (N.W. & B.I.T Co.) situated in Vancouver, British Columbia. There are 2 known embossing variations (meaning 2 different molds or a single mold that was reworked) – mold 1: (F‑Skirt) N.W.&.B.I.T.CO SB; mold2: (F‑Skirt) N.W.&.B.I.T.CO (R‑Skirt) [‘NESS McLAREN & BATE’ blotted out leaving just a ‘,’] SB