George W. Tifft

The text below is an excerpt (pages 10-11) from
The Beginnings of Buffalo Industry
By Robert Holder
(online August 2013)

George W. Tifft - Pioneer Capitalist

The name of George W. Tifft is recorded in Buffalo histories as a monument to enterprise and character seldom matched in pioneer tales. Not content with the yoke of oxen and a horse that were to be his own when George came of age, he left the family farm.

One of his first enterprises was to buy five acres of land in Orleans County in Eastern New York which he cleared, selling the wood at a handsome profit. When he realized that he could hire men to chop the timber, reaping a profit on the labor of each man, he bought a larger tract and engaged more woodchoppers.

At the age of 21 he had accumulated $1,200. To this, George added a thousand dollars which was due him from his father's estate. He was ready to begin a new business venture. The year 1841 saw many men moving west, so George Tifft traveled to Michigan where he bought grain for shipment to the east. While doing business in Michigan, he came to know Buffalo shippers and eventually moved to their city.

When George Tifft came to Buffalo in 1842, he formed a partnership and entered the milling business with Dean Richmond - a member of a prominent Buffalo family. A year later Tifft set up a transportation system called the Troy and Michigan Six-day Line, so named    because it was not in operation on Sunday. His fortunes advanced, and in 1844 he was in the produce and commission business. The purchase of other mills further increased his commercial holdings.

Tifft helped to establish the International Bank of Buffalo and was made its first president in 1854. He was also interested in the Buffalo Steam Engine Company in which he invested $100,000. The panic of 1857 hit him heavily, but not enough to stop his business successes.

In 1858 he was elected president of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad which connected towns between Buffalo and Corning, New York.

Next, he turned his attention to improving some of his Buffalo real estate holdings. In the year 1863 he erected 74 houses, a hotel - the Tifft House, and an elevator. Tifft's foresight caused him to buy a 600-acre tract of land in the southern portion of Buffalo, generally known then as the Tifft Farm. This was later broken up into residential and industrial areas which are, today, worth millions of dollars.

Tifft's interests were far-reaching. He was the first to experiment with winter wheat, despite the laughter of area residents. He invested much of his money in the Pennsylvania coal fields and experimented with smelting the Lake Superior iron ore with mineral coal. His land interests reached half-way across the country; at one time he owned a 5000-acre farm in Shelby County, Iowa, completely stocked and cultivated. He could be selected as a representative of Buffalo's industrialists whose importance became national.

He spent the latter years of his life managing The George W. Tifft, Sons and Company, successors to his original Buffalo Engine Works. Over 400 persons were on the payroll of this major manufacturer of boilers and stationary engines.

He also erected a group of stores at the corner of Washington and Mohawk Streets and opened a furniture business there.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2013
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