Fred Fulton: Entrepreneur and Gentleman – Part I
by Frank Fulton
Originally published in Glass Canada Magazine, December 2015 Issue
In past columns, I’ve written about some of the leaders and legends in our business, but it took a few years of cajoling before I could get my featured subject to agree to have his story shared with readers across Canada. Knowing him as I do, if you give him a microphone and a piano or karaoke machine along with an audience it’s a struggle to get him off the stage, but talking about himself is another story. If ever there was a trailblazing pioneer in our industry, my father, Fred Fulton, certainly qualifies.
Fred grew up in the High Park area and has lived his entire life in the west end of Toronto. He spent his high school years at St. Michael’s College before studying business and accounting at Ryerson. Fred’s father passed away at a very young age and this had a tremendous effect and influence on Fred and his two sisters during their younger years.
That was in 1941, a terribly difficult time for the Fulton family and the world in general. The Second World War was raging and making ends meet was a day-to-day challenge. As a result, Fred always had part time and summer jobs and learned the hard lesson of what it took to earn a dollar. He worked as an attendant at the Sunnyside Pool and as a bagger at grocery stores, but the favourite story in my family growing up was of his job as the delivery boy on a bread wagon. Linda, the temperamental horse that pulled the wagon, had worked the route for years before Fred got the job and knew all of the stops she had to make along the way. Fred would then run the bread up to the customer’s door. But Linda was no dummy and figured she had this rookie right where she wanted him and would often refuse to budge until Fred brought her a carrot.
Fred’s first real job as a young adult was on the order desk with CIL Paints, “a fine company and a good place to work.” Unfortunately he soon realized that the paint business and colour blindness was a combination that didn’t work all that well, and moved on to glass. “My soon-to-be brother-in-law worked for Canadian Pittsburgh Industries and was always talking about the glass business. He told me that Pilkington Glass was looking for someone in the sales order department and advised me to go and see Sam McKee, the sales manager. Mr. McKee was a great guy. He liked me and hired me.” Fred’s starting salary was a tidy $150 per month.
Fred worked in the Pilkington sales department on the order desk for about 18 months, getting excellent training and learning from a number of good salesmen calling on their many customers. “It was a perfect training system that lasted for months and it was probably two years before I was given a salesman job at the age of 22, calling on potential customers.” Fred was the youngest salesman Pilks had ever put out on the road. “My territory was from Yonge St. to Jane St. and meant a lot of calls to make to anyone using glass products.” In those days the standard work week was five and a half days, including Saturday mornings. The typical products Fred sold were 50-square-foot cases of single diamond and double diamond sheet glass. For those of you who haven’t been around forever, that’s two- and three-millimeter.
It was about this time during the mid 1950’s that insulating glass was just starting to gain in use and Pilkington began manufacturing “Thermopane” under license from LOF Glass. It was generally considered to be too expensive for average house windows, but a large Don Mills developer decided they wanted to add this upgrade to the new homes they were constructing and made a deal with Pilkington to buy Thermopane for a large Toronto housing project. That project seemed to kick-start the use of insulating glass in more and more buildings and it wouldn’t be long until companies began to spring up to produce sealed insulating glass units.
In the next edition we’ll look at Fred’s start up of Sealite Glass, his days at Glaverbel Glass, and the eventual beginnings of Fulton Windows.
Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via email at email@example.com.