Whittier, Fuller & Company
Sacramento, San Francisco, etc, (active1850-present)
Dealer and manufactory of glass, mirrors, etc.
The mirrors produced by Whittier, Fuller & Company are significant tools in the identification of 19th century California furniture. They are found on both California manufactured and imported “knockdown” furniture and are usually marked with the month, day, and year of manufacture, along with the company logo, “W. F. & Co. San Francisco.” This mark is generally found on its composition covered mirrors that were said to be, “Impervious to moisture and the effects of climate change.” During the 1870s and early 1880s the company also used a stenciled mark on the wood backing of mirrors that reads, “Whittier, Fuller & Co. / Importers & Manuf’rs of / Mirrors…, Frames…, Moldings…/ 28 K St. and 72 Second St., Sacramento.”
The firm of Whittier, Fuller, & Co. is one of the great California businesses to emerge as a result of the California gold rush. The Argonaut and co-founder of the firm, William Parmer Fuller (1827-1890) arrived in San Francisco on September 15, 1849 from Boston, after a one hundred and sixty-five day voyage around Cape Horn.
Similar to experiences of most pioneers his first few years were formidable and fraught with hardship and misfortune. The initial money Mr. Fuller was able to earn from gold mining in 1849 was invested in a bathhouse venture, which was destroyed by the flood of 1850. During the rebuilding process of Sacramento, Mr. Fuller returned to the trade of a paperhanger, which he had learned in Boston. The money he was able to save, working between bouts of small pox that killed off 15 percent of the population in Sacramento, was lost in the fall of 1850 when the private banking firm of Barton, Lee & Co., with whom he had deposited his money closed down. Bankrupt again, Mr. Fuller was able to recover quickly and shortly thereafter he established a firm with his friend Jones, known as Fuller & Jones. They advertised in the first Sacramento directory in 1851.
Jones apparently returned east within the first year of business and another friend of Fuller’s, from Boston, joined him and together they reorganized the company as Fuller & Waldron. The firm prospered with the growth of Sacramento until the great fire of 1852. Once again, Mr. Fuller had to start over with the loss of this establishment to the fire. Flood, financial panic, and fire had claimed over twenty thousand dollars from the twenty-four year old Fuller in his first three years of the gold rush.
Rather than invest in another venture Mr. Fuller opted for steady employment. This decision spared him another potential loss in 1852. The flood of that year topped the high water mark of 1850 by seventeen feet and claimed the establishment of his employer, Rivett & Co.
In the spring of 1853 Mr. Fuller was given a percentage of the Rivett firm, which he managed until 1857 at which point he and a co-worker, Seton Heather purchased the business from John Rivett. In that year, the firm of Fuller and Heather, advertised themselves as, “Importers and Wholesale Dealers in Paints, Oils, French Window Glass, Brushes, Varnishes, Turpentine, Glue, Gold Leaf, Artist’s Materials, Etc., the largest stock in the city at the lowest rates No. 28 K Street.”
The business proved profitable and following yet another flood in 1861, Fuller and Heather, decided to rebuild the Sacramento operation and at the same time expand their operation to San Francisco. Mr. Fuller established the San Francisco branch at 307 Sacramento Street, which was quickly outgrown and relocated to 223-224 Front Street. In 1868, Mr. Fuller purchased Heathers share of the business for $85,000 and then merged with another competitor under the name, Whittier, Fuller & Co.
His new partner, W. Frank Whittier (1832-1917), was a native of Maine who arrived in California in 1854 at the age of twenty-four. He immediately gained employment with Sawyer, Johnson, & Co. and in 1857, along with a gentleman named Caleb Cameron, purchased the proprietors interest in the firm. Cameron was accidentally drowned boarding the Sacramento steamer at Benicia in 1862 but Mr. Whittier operated the company under the name Cameron, Whittier & Co until the merger with Fuller in 1868.
R. G. Dunn and Co considered him “a particularly shrewd, active, and capable businessman.” He was said to be “A member of fashionable clubs, and an active participant in Civic affairs and moved in San Francisco’s smart social circle of the seventies and eighties.”
Wittier and Fuller were awarded a silver medal for a mirror, exhibited at the 1869 Mechanics Fair, in San Francisco. It was in a carved and fluted black walnut frame and described by a local reporter, in regional flattery, as a real “snorter.” R. G. Dunn and Co. noted the firm as “very safe, responsible… Doing the lead business in their line are capable, good businessmen especially “W” who is very active and wide awake.” In 1878 the business was considered the largest in the trade with assets all told upwards of $1,000,000, “perfectly good for their engagements.”
The Sacramento branch continued to operate from its original quarters at 28 K Street until the fall of 1879 when the firm purchased the Orleans Hotel property, on Second Street between J and K and had it entirely remodeled. In conjunction with the remodel, the firm opened an extensive art gallery that contained a large collection of engravings, chromos, fine frames etc.
By 1885 Whittier, Fuller & Co., had expanded its operation to include branch offices in Oakland (1876), Portland (1883), and Los Angeles (1885). In addition, they had begun the manufacture of glass. They were the first company on the west coast to engage in this enterprise. Their mirrors were considered in 1892 to be “As good as any made in any other part of the world” and shipped, “All over the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Central America, and to the Hawaiian Islands.”
After the Fuller family acquired the interest of the other partners in 1894, the firm of Whittier, Fuller & Co., was reorganized as W. P. Fuller & Co. Through earthquake, depression and World War, the company continued to expand and by 1935, they operated three factories and forty offices in seven states. Today the firm operates as Fuller O’Brien Paints.
As reported in 1885, “A brief history of the growth of this establishment with personal mention of its members, cannot fail to be of interest and will serve as encouragement to those who are now in the earlier walks of other growing establishments, which in their turn must take leading prominence in the future, when California shall assume its destiny as empire…”
W. P. Fuller & Co, Ninety Years in California The Story of William Parmer Fuller (Grabhorn Press 1939), pp. 7, 13, 25, 27, 34-38, 42, 43, 47, 48, 50-52, 54, 57, 60, 63, 67-69, 71-72, 74, 90 // Sacramento Union, November 11, 1885, p. 8 col. 3-4 // Master Hands in the Affairs of the Pacific Coast (Western Historical & Publishing Co. 1892) p.226 // http://www.calgoldrush.com/resources/gr_timeline.html // San Francisco Daily Alta, October 26, 1869, p. 1 col. 3. // R. G. Dun & Co. report, Nov 1869, vol. 1, p. 67. // R. G. Dun & Co. report, April 17, 1878, vol. 6, p. 11.