He had heard through the grapevine that the wool business could provide a good living for those who were successful. After calling on several firms for a job and finding no prospects, he asked if he could use the men’s room at one of the leading wool brokerage houses, Crimmons and Pierce. There he hid until someone senior came in and he made his pitch. Hired on the spot, Ralph worked a manual warehouse job in his Navy uniform until he earned enough cash to buy civilian clothes.
Ralph was following a career path that thousands before and after used to move their way up in the wool trade. From warehouse clerk, to sample boy, to salesman, Ralph parlayed his bathroom meeting to form R.H. Lindsay Company in 1936 when he secured a contract to buy wool for Barre Wool Combing of Barre, Massachusetts.
The company thrived through the industry’s heyday after World War II, when thousands of wool companies helped the U.S. government dispose of a huge stockpile gathered during the War. Business was strong enough that Ralph brought his only son, John Davenport (Toppy) Lindsay, into the family business.
Toppy was sent to Australia to learn wool. He trained as a buyer with a leading Australian company, eventually landing a job buying woolen types. He was offered a permanent job, but decided to bring his wife and family back to Boston and work with the family business.
Ralph’s fortune and health took a turn in 1954 as Barre closed its doors and Ralph discovered he had cancer. Toppy became head of R.H. Lindsay, which had few assets and had just lost a major customer. Toppy was successful enough to put four children through college and spend time doing business in his favorite venue the golf course.
John Lindsay, Jr. was groomed to succeed Toppy, but his graduation from the Wharton School of Business was ill timed for entry into the wool business. Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of double knit fabric, which sank world wool consumption, John turned to a career in real estate development.
Eventually Toppy developed contacts with a leading English company that wanted to sell carpet wool. Philadelphia, a stronghold of the U.S. carpet industry, beckoned for an agent and John was able to put his training to use. John remains R.H. Lindsay’s Philadelphia agent today.
Back in the early 1990's John took on the warehousing and shipping of the handcraft inventory. He owns and maintains the warehouse from which many of our handcraft shipments originate.
Younger brother Phil entered the wool trade at a more auspicious time for wool. He spent a summer in Bradford, England working in a wool-sorting house. After college he worked at a wool combing plant in South Carolina and then was sent to Australia and New Zealand. Phil’s travels led to study at the Sydney Technical College between various manual wool jobs. Phil eventually traveled to New Zealand where he worked at Hawkes Bay-based W. Tucker Ltd., one of New Zealand’s largest wool scouring operations. After a stint there, he headed to Lincoln College and received a Certificate in Wool a requirement for a registered New Zealand wool classer.
Upon his return to the States Phil realized that handcraft applications were making a comeback with wool. His friendship with handcraft innovator Mike Hastie of New Zealand led to R.H. Lindsay’s first investment in handcraft specialty wools.
In 1985 Phil led R.H. Lindsay’s continued diversification into publishing, composing a weekly newsletter, The Commercial Bulletin’s Wool Page that reported on world wool markets. Phil recognized the wool broker/dealer relationship that had defined Boston’s Summer Street trading culture was becoming history. This led to the addition of accounts representing most of the primary wool producing countries and sales to leading mills in the United States. R.H. Lindsay had a great run well into the 1990s, but world wool and textile economics saw a rapid decline of U.S. wool consumption as we headed into the 21st Century.
With our textile business diminished, it was our handcraft customers who kept calling keeping us in business. Thanks to the Internet, our little business turned the corner and we're growing along with the hundreds of boutique textile or home or farm based operations around the country. The excitement and potential we see from our customers is leading us to believe we're in the early stages of a wool renaissance here in the United States.
The Boston operation has long been a home-based enterprise working under the radar with only a back office function. However in 2014 we leased some space in the old Draper Felt Mill in Canton, Massachusetts. Just minutes from Boston and next to an operating textile mill it felt like the right place for R.H. Lindsay to relaunch it’s outreach into the New England sheep and craft market. Any grower wanting to sell wool is invited to set up an appointment. Any artisan or crafter in the area or visiting is encouraged to do the same. This year we've tripled our space and brought in more wool to fill it. We will continue to add more products to our line and as we continue to grow we hope to bring more options for everyone to select from when addressing their artistic or business needs. Please do let us know what you're looking for at anytime. While we might not be able to supply that rare ancient breed fleece, we cover the gamut of wool grown from ancient Churro to Merino. So check us out!