Mobility and Opportunity: Black Business Owners and Inventors Cross the US-Canada Borders


  • Adam Arenson Manhattan College, USA


In the decades after the Civil War and before the Great Migration, a set of remarkable Black business leaders and inventors emerged, including Elijah McCoy, noted inventor and innovator in engine lubrication; John Sullivan Deas, the first person canning salmon near Vancouver; Rev. Charles Spencer Smith, founder of the Sunday School Union of the AME Church; Georgina Mingo Whetsel, who employed a hundred men in her ice harvesting business; May B. Mason, who made the first Black fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush; William Harvey McCurdy, founder of the Hercules Buggy Company; and Jesse Binga, who founded the first privately owned African American bank in Chicago. Each of these remarkable Black business leaders has received some biographical attention, but they have not been considered together, nor by what linked them: each of these men and women (or, in a few cases, their parents) spent time in both the United States and Canada. Cross-border family mobility affected their business choices, opening opportunities not available to those not on the move. While we do not have enough evidence for a strong causal claim, it is clear this mobility correlates to opportunities which led to unusually successful business careers.