Grand Rapids Belting Company

The Grand Rapids Belting Company has become one of the substantial industrial concerns of Michigan’s second city, and the record of its inception and development is one of interesting order. In 1904 two employees of the Raniville Belting Company resigned their positions with that corporation and engaged in the same line of manufacture in an independent way and on a very modest scale, their "capital stock" having been represented mainly in practical experience and a determination to succeed. On the west side of the city, at 99 – 101 Sixth street, these two ambitious young men began the manufacture of high-grade belting of oak-bark tanned leather. The principals in this venture were Alexander T. Jack and Fred R. May, and at the beginning they constituted the entire executive and operative force. Within three months the business had assumed such proportions that they were compelled to employ one workman, and the sales for the first year aggregated $4,000. The story of the splendid success of the enterprise is best shown in the fact that the company’s average annual business now aggregates $126,000. This remarkable growth has been largely brought about by the constant adherence of the company to the original policy of turning out a product as good as the best, and the unvarying excellence of the output has been the concern’s best medium of advertising. Of the leather used by the company 95 per cent is produced at Asheville, North Carolina, and the remaining 5 per cent in Pennsylvania – sources from which are obtained leather that is uniformly recognized as being of the highest grade. From the original quarters on Sixth street the factory was removed, where operations were continued at the present modern and well-equipped plant, at the corner of Fulton and Ionia streets. Messrs. Jack and May still continue the active executives of the business which they founded and in the upbuilding of which they have been the resourceful and progressive principals. Fred R. May was born in Grand Rapids in the year 1883, and is a son of the late Henry F. May, who removed to this city from Cadillac in 1882, he having previously represented Wexford county as a member of the Michigan legislature. He was born at Plymouth, Wayne County, Michigan, and was a representative of one of the sterling pioneer families of this state. His wife, whose maiden name was Fannie Hyatt, was born at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Henry F. May was long and prominently concerned with lumbering operation in Michigan. For a number of years he was associated with Daniel McCoy in the operation of a large saw mill at Cadillac, Wexford county, and after his removal to Grand Rapids, he continued to be associated with extensive lumber production in the northern part of the state, he having maintained for some time two large lumber camps near L’Anse, Baraga county, where he took out large quantities of valuable ship-building timber. He was one of the substantial and well-known citizens of Grand Rapids at the time of his death in 1900, and his wife is now deceased. Fred R. May continued his studies in the Grand Rapids public schools until he had duly profited by the curriculum of the high school, and his boyish ambition and energy found expression in his successful work in selling newspapers on the streets of his native city. His first "real job" was obtained when he was given charge of collections and made a solicitor of legal advertising for the Grand Rapids Chronicle, for which paper he later became a general advertising solicitor. After about three years of such newspaper service he took a position with the Raniville Belting Company, with which he advanced from the post of errand boy to that of factory superintendent, of which latter position he became the incumbent when he was but nineteen years of age. He remained with this company until he and Mr. Jack engaged in business in an independent way, as already noted in this review. Mr. Jack was born at Burnside, Mich., and is a son of Robert T. Jack, who was for many years the master boat-builder for Perkins & Company, of Grand Rapids, he having previously been a ship-builder in his native Scotland and having been a young man when he came to the United States. It is interesting to record that a fellow-voyager of Robert T. Jack on the trip to the United States was the young woman who eventually became his wife. Though on the same boat, they did not become acquainted while on board the ship, and it was several years later that they became acquainted, in Michigan, and the fact developed that they had thus come to this country on the same vessel.


Transcriber: Nancy Myers
Created: 17 February 2005