Entrepreneurial Spirit

Founding Graybar

The Graybar story begins with Enos Barton
Born with the entrepreneurial spirit to one day lead a company, Enos Barton risked everything to co-found Gray and Barton, and built it from the ground up.
, a young, ambitious man who served as a telegrapher during the Civil War. Born in 1842, Barton was fascinated by telegraphy and worked in the field while finishing his education. He was hired at age 20 as the Chief Operator for Western Union’s office in Rochester, New York. Western Union also operated four manufacturing shops around the country, including an operation in Cleveland.

In 1867, Western Union closed its Cleveland shop, which was purchased by its superintendent, George Shawk A superb craftsman and telegraph maker, George Shawk owned a small manufacturing shop in Cleveland, which he would later co-own with Enos Barton and eventually sell his share to Elisha Gray. On a trip to Rochester, he and Barton agreed to become business partners. Full of entrepreneurial spirit, Barton left Western Union and prepared to go into business with Shawk. There was only one challenge – the 26-year-old Barton was strapped for cash. So he borrowed $1,500 – including $400 from his widowed mother, who mortgaged the family farm, to finance the purchase. Barton moved to Cleveland, where he and Shawk opened for business in January 1869.

Soon Shawk grew tired of the business and he sold his interest to Elisha Gray.
Fascinated by all things electric, Elisha Gray was a renowned inventor of more than 70 patents who partnered with Enos Barton to form Gray and Barton.
Up until then, Gray had been one of the firm’s best customers. He was a professor at Oberlin College and an inventor of telegraphic equipment. In the fall of 1869, Gray & Barton was formed as a manufacturer of products, such as electric burglar and fire alarms, Morse telegraph instruments, railroad safety signals and Gray’s electric annunciator – a buzzer system used in hotels and offices.

The success of Gray and Barton attracted the attention of General Anson Stager
The general superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company who helped Gray and Barton transform into the Western Electric Company through his integral business relationships.
, general superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company. Stager trusted their combined genius and could provide much-needed capital, so he offered to become a business partner on the condition that the company would move from Cleveland to Chicago. In December 1869, the company opened its doors at 162 South Water Street in Chicago.

With Stager’s influence, Western Union became Gray & Barton’s biggest customer. In 1871 the Great Chicago Fire ravaged the city, destroying Western Union’s headquarters and most of its telegraph lines. Fortunately, the fire stopped two blocks short of Gray & Barton’s small plant. The company continued to prosper as its 30 employees worked diligently to help Western Union rebuild its infrastructure.

A year later, Stager convinced Western Union to purchase one-third of Gray & Barton and the young firm changed its name to the Western Electric Manufacturing Company.

Continue to the next chapter: Creating Opportunity