Robert McLaughlin (industrialist)

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Robert McLaughlin
Robert McLaughlin.png
Mayor of Oshawa
In office
Personal details
Born(1836-11-16)November 16, 1836
Cavan Township, Upper Canada
DiedNovember 23, 1921(1921-11-23) (aged 85)
Oshawa, Ontario
ChildrenSamuel (1871–1972), George William (1869–1942), John James (1865–1914)

Robert McLaughlin (November 16, 1836 – November 23, 1921)[1] was a Canadian industrialist and businessman. He founded McLaughlin Carriage then McLaughlin Motor Car Company which later became part of General Motors Canada.

Life and career[edit]

McLaughlin was born in Cavan Township, Upper Canada in 1836, the son of an Irish immigrant, John McLaughlin.[2] He moved to Darlington Township with his family in 1837. He married Mary Smith in 1864,[3] and bought a plot of land near the village of Tyrone from his father.[4] He built a house and a workshop, and began building cutters and wagons.[5][6] By 1869 his workshop was too small, and he set up a carriage works at Enniskillen, Ontario.[7] McLaughlin also taught Sunday school in the Presbyterian church there.

In 1877, he moved his growing business to Oshawa, to take advantage of available labour and railway access in the larger urban centre.[8] He established the Oshawa Carriage Works, later known as McLaughlin Carriage. In 1878, he married Sarah Jane Parr; his first wife had died of consumption. His sons George William and Sam also became involved in the business (George later served as VP of GM Canada), but eldest son John James left to become a chemist, started a soft drink company in Toronto, and invented Canada Dry ginger ale.[9][10]

During the 1880s, McLaughlin designed a new type of steering gear for carriages; through a distributor, the company sold about 20,000 of these gears to other carriage companies.[11]

McLaughlin served on the board of health and board of water commissioners at Oshawa and also served as mayor. He was the first president of the local YMCA. After his carriage works was destroyed in a fire in 1899, he relocated to Gananoque but returned to Oshawa the following year, rebuilding the business with a loan from the city.[12] In 1901, he married Eleanor McCulloch after the death of his second wife.

In 1907, on the advice of his sons Sam and George, he set up the McLaughlin Motor Car Company to manufacture automobiles.[10] McLaughlin supported tariffs restricting trade with the United States and opposed Sir Wilfrid Laurier's free trade proposals in 1910–11. In 1915, he sold off his carriage manufacturing business. In 1918, his companies were taken over by General Motors.

McLaughlin died at Oshawa in 1921 of colon cancer. His brother James was a doctor and member of the Ontario assembly.


  1. ^ Mary Ellen Perkins (30 June 1989). Discover Your Heritage: A Guide to Provincial Plaques in Ontario. Dundurn. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-1-4597-1385-7.
  2. ^ Richard Demeter (1997). Irish America: United States (Northern Atlantic States, District of Columbia, Great Lakes Region) and Canada. Cranford Press. p. 529. ISBN 978-0-9648253-3-8.
  3. ^ "The McLaughlins - Sleighs, Buggys, Cars and Ginger Ale". The Clarington Promoter, September 2016, pages 1 and 4. by Myno Van Dyke
  4. ^ Don Nerbas (2013). Dominion of Capital: The Politics of Big Business and the Crisis of the Canadian Bourgeoisie, 1914-1947. University of Toronto Press. pp. 161–. ISBN 978-1-4426-1352-2.
  5. ^ Pearson, Kenneth H (1975). Encyclopedia Canadiana. Grolier of Canada. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-7172-1602-4.
  6. ^ Dorothy McLaughlin Henderson (1972). Robert McLaughlin, Carriage Builder. Griffin Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-88760-037-1.
  7. ^ Heather Robertson (1995). Driving Force: The McLaughlin Family and the Age of the Car. McClelland & Stewart. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-7710-7556-8.
  8. ^ M. McIntyre Hood (1967). Oshawa: "The Crossing Between the Waters": A History of "Canada's Motor City". Published as a Canadian Centennial project by McLaughlin Public Library Board. p. 114.
  9. ^ Robertson, Heather (1995-10-28). Driving Force: The McLaughlin Family and the Age of the Car. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-7556-1.
  10. ^ a b Arculus, Paul. Durant's Right Hand Man, Freisen Press, 2011. page 45.
  11. ^ Petrie, Ray. Sam McLaughlin, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1975. pages 11-12.
  12. ^ Terry Boyle (30 April 2016). Terry Boyle's Discover Ontario 5-Book Bundle: Discover Ontario / Hidden Ontario / Haunted Ontario / Haunted Ontario 3 / Haunted Ontario 4. Dundurn. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-1-4597-3632-0.

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