he Graybar story beginswith Enos Barton, a young,ambitious man who servedas a telegrapher during the Civil War.Born in 1842, Barton was fascinatedby telegraphy and worked in the ﬁeldwhile ﬁnishing his education. He washired at age 20 as the Chief Operatorfor Western Union’s ofﬁce inRochester, New York. Western Unionalso operated four manufacturing shops around the country, including an operation in Cleveland.In 1867, Western Union closedits Cleveland shop, which was pur-chased by its superintendent, GeorgeShawk. On a trip to Rochester, heand Barton agreed to become busi-ness partners. Full of entrepreneurialspirit, Barton left Western Union andprepared to go into business withShawk. There was only one chal-lenge – the 26-year-old Barton wasstrapped for cash. So he borrowed$1,500 – including $400 from hiswidowed mother, who mortgagedthe family farm, to ﬁnance the pur-chase. Barton moved to Cleveland,where he and Shawk opened forbusiness in January 1869.Soon Shawk grew tired of thebusiness, and he sold his interest toElisha Gray. Up until then, Gray hadbeen one of the ﬁrm’s best custom-ers. He was a professor at OberlinCollege and an inventor of telegraphicequipment. In the fall of 1869, Gray &Barton was formed as a manufacturerof products, such as electric burglarand ﬁre alarms, Morse telegraphinstruments, railroad safety signals andGray’s electric annunciator – a buzzersystem used in hotels and ofﬁces.The success of Gray and Bartonattracted the attention of GeneralAnson Stager, general superintendentof the Western Union TelegraphCompany. Stager trusted theircombined genius and could providemuch-needed capital, so he offeredto become a business partner on thecondition that the company wouldmove from Cleveland to Chicago.In December 1869, the companyopened its doors at 162 South WaterStreet in Chicago.With Stager’s inﬂuence, WesternUnion became Gray & Barton’sbiggest customer. In 1871 theGreat Chicago Fire ravaged the city,destroying Western Union’s head-quarters and most of its telegraphlines. Fortunately, the ﬁre stoppedtwo blocks short of Gray & Barton’ssmall plant. The company contin-ued to prosper as its 30 employeesworked diligently to help WesternUnion rebuild its infrastructure.A year later, Stager convincedWestern Union to purchase one-thirdof Gray & Barton and the young ﬁrmchanged its name to the WesternElectric Manufacturing Company.
THE GRAYBAR STORY