Friday, January 6, 2012

Who Was James McCall?

No idea! I find it astonishing that we know so little about the man who started the McCall Pattern Company in 1870 who is the founding father of the modern McCall Corporation. 

Here's what we do know....

  • He was Scottish,
  • He was a tailor in Scotland by profession,
  • As an answer to your question, Molly....He was born in Scotland and immigrated to New York City (I've seen some accounts say shortly before he started the McCall Pattern Company--so the company is American but started by a Scotsman),
  • While in NYC, he worked as an agent for the English pattern company called 'the Royal Chart'
  • He was married (though we do not know if he was married in Scotland or the United States),
  • He died in the United States (I am presuming this), and
  • His widow, Mrs. McCall, co-ran the McCall Pattern Company for a limited time after he died (though I find no reference of her name anywhere).
That's surprisingly little information about a man who made significant contributions to the home sewing industry!

Well, I figured since I am in Scotland, I could do a little research--however, given so little information, it is difficult to know where to start.

So, I've contacted the General Register Office for Scotland.  They are the the main source of family history records in Scotland.  You see, they've got this initiative called the Famous Scots Archives:

According to the General Register's website,
Records of every person who has grown up to be a 'Famous Scot', from Mary Queen of Scots to Sir Walter Scott, are archived in the Centre. Our Famous Scots Archive gives a snapshot of some of the men and women who have shaped the history of Scotland, the United Kingdom and further afield, together with the references to the relevant entries in the registers. Amongst our priceless archives are Rob Roy's birth records, Mary Queen of Scots' second marriage certificate and the death certificate of James Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour Party. The archive is sub-divided into generic subject headings. To access these pages, click on... this link: Famous Scots Archive. Use our Contact page if you have a suggestion about a Famous Scots whose profile you'd like us to add to these web pages.

So following their suggestion, I have contacted them to add James McCall to their web pages.  I really want to know more about the man behind my favourite pattern company!  Why don't you join me and contact the General Register via their contact page and suggest that they add James McCall, the founder of the McCall Pattern Company to their website of Famous Scots?  It would be great to know a bit more about this piece of history from folks that have all the resources available to research it!!


  1. It is fascinating how some of the most innovative people go mostly unknown.

    Thank you for pointing out that website too. I am part Scot and know very little about my family history in Scotland. In fact, my grandmother swears up and down that line of the family is Irish, but I do know that my last name is Scottish and that there was a split in the family, leading some to emmigrate to Ireland. Anyway, not to ramble on about that. I will make my way to the site and put in a request about Mr. McCall. :)

  2. Great investigative work Debi! I will definitely get in touch with them as I'd love to know more about the man behind one of my favourite pattern company!

  3. How interesting, I would love to find out more about McCall's Scottish heritage. There must be relevant records in a SCottish archive somewhere!

  4. Thanks for answering my question, funny how once you answer one question a million more come up!

  5. Debi, this series is great! Let me also ask my mother if she has any ideas--she's quite the Scottish genealogy detective, she's dug up tons of stuff on my family so is quite familiar with the resources out there and has got as far back as the 1600s... (my family was originally from Rutherglen, which I think is just part of Glasgow now).

  6. My mom found the info super quick and called me. She started by looking for him in the New York census of 1880. He was 57 in 1880, so that means he was born in 1823. His wife's name was Laura. They had a daughter and two servants and they lived at 9 W. 42nd St. His occupation was listed as "Bazaar Patterns." He has a middle initial but I forget what it was.

    I'll email you the rest of what she found.

  7. AHHHH! You are SO AMAZING!!! I am SO EXCITED!!! Thank you to you and your mom--she's amazing!!

  8. This is wonderful to find out! The history of Butterick and Simplicity is quite well documented, so it will be great to know more about McCalls!

  9. This is a super fascinating post!

  10. Awesome idea to have him added! So exciting!

  11. Anne Simona ArmstrongJanuary 07, 2013 10:25 AM

    I wonder if he was the 'James McCall' mentioned in the song (I'm afraid I don't know who sang it or anything about it). which goes

    If I hadn't got my sewing machine,
    I'd have married James McCall,


I read each and every comment--thank you so much!

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