W. A. Chrysler caught his first swarm of bees when he was 16 years old, a teen exploit that led to the development of an industry that made the Chryslers recognized as preeminent apiarists in North America.
The growth of their business was remarkable, because W. A.’s son, Ernest, was allergic to bee stings, and suffered an anaphylactic shock at an early age that kept him away from active involvement with the bees. This limited his part in the business to the invention and production of bee-keeping and honey manufacturing equipment. Both father and son had innovative minds, and produced equipment adopted across the North American continent.
W. A. Chrysler was born in Quebec Province, on a farm near Stanbridge East, the only son of John and Mary Chrysler. A brief family move to Missouri was followed by a visit to his uncle’s farm in Raleigh Township, where the Chryslers decided to settle when he was eight. W. A.’s interest in bees soon encouraged him to make his own hives and equipment, which neighbouring beekeepers eagerly adopted because of their efficiency. In the beginning, horses provided the power for the treadmill, until they were supplanted by steam.
Ill health brought a lull in the beekeepers supply business in the early 1900’s; and W. A. concentrated more on beekeeping. During that fallow period, W. A.’s busy mind produced the extracting frame and double-walled hive. He predicted universal use of the central extracting plant, and lived to see it happen.
In 1913, father and son, W. A. and Ernest, formed a partnership under the name W. A. Chrysler and Son. When the sale of honey became a problem after World War I, the Ontario Honey Producers’ Co-operative was formed, with W. A. providing much of the impetus. He was elected a Director, and proudly provided guidance through difficult years.
W. A. became a member of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, a Director and later its President; and attended every convention but two. He had great faith in the health-giving properties of honey, and he practiced what he preached, attributing his good health to its use. He was a source of excellent advice to fledgling bee-keepers.
In the summer of 1938, he developed a successful uncapping machine, and at a convention of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, he gave a paper on its genesis and its use. He worked on perfecting it, almost to the day he died. Mementos of the business include Price Lists of the Chrysler products; including an 18-page 1893 Circular and Price List; and the 12th Annual Catalogue of 1900.
After the father-son firm was founded in 1913, there was a 1925 catalogue; and an inner cover from a 1960 sales publication; proudly declared “1880 80 Years of Service 1960”.
W. A. Chrysler and his wife, the former Ida Louise Whitehead died within a day of each other in March, 1939. His son, C. Ernest, carried on the business with expanding horizons until his death in March, 1970, and won praise and recognition for his improvements to beekeeping equipment. It was said of him, “He was able to take a simple idea and perfect it into a practical reality.”
Ernest was succeeded in the business by his son, Robert, who carried on until his death in 1998. Ernest and his wife, the former Elizabeth Maude Arnold, had four children; Robert, Murray, who drowned at age 12; John, in California; and Marion Archibald, Chatham.
Like his father, Ernest had limited formal education, but he became a skilled machinist and an accomplished electrical engineer, designing and building the specialized machinery needed for beekeeping in his own factory. He was the first to introduce wired foundation in Canada, perfecting it in time. One of his most impressive developments was the Chrysler Automatic Radial Honey Extractor, eliminating much of the hard work.
Another noteworthy accomplishment was the development of an Excluder that set a new standard for accuracy. Like his father, he was always ready to give kindly advice to other beekeepers.
Both father and son travelled to learn more about bees, in Canada and the U.S. In September, 1938, Ernest went to Europe to learn what beekeepers and manufacturers of supplies were doing in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
The nomination of W. A. and Ernest Chrysler to the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame was endorsed by the Southwestern Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.
Robert’s death in 1998 meant the end of a Chrysler era of more than a century in beekeeping and equipment design and manufacture; but the Chryslers left a legacy that benefited all beekeepers.