Sand Slinger, Symington-Gould, 1943

Made in Buffalo


How to Research Local Companies
Cynthia Van Ness


Welcome, collectors & researchers!  Perhaps you found this page because you own something made in Buffalo, New York. Well, once upon a time we made everything here. Of all the factories listed in the 1950 Buffalo City Directory, I'll bet that maybe 5-10% are still in business today.  In most cases, it is possible to find at least a little, sometimes a lot, on defunct local businesses.

The resources needed to research defunct businesses from before the internet era are not online and many might never be digitized. Relevant links have been added wherever possible, but out of necessity, this website focuses on the wealth of offline paper sources. It is best utilized by those who can do in-person research at:

Table of Contents

Most Frequently Asked Question

My frequently asked question by far is "Can you help me find information about XYC Company?" Good news! If there is information to be found about your company, it is out in the world where you can find it. That's the whole purpose of this site.  If there is no link for your company at the this page, then I cannot tell you anything about your company or offer additional help.
  Essential Research Sources
KEY to OWNERSHIP

BECPL = Grosvenor Room of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
BHM = Research Library at the Buffalo Historical Museum
BSC = Butler Library at Buffalo State College
UB = Arts & Sciences Libraries at the State University of New York at Buffalo
Item Years Available Comments Where Is It?
Annual Reports Varies If the company has publically traded stock, then it must publish an annual report BECPL
Buffalo Business File ca.1950-1982 This 65-drawer card file is an index to newspaper articles about local companies, industries, manufacturers, nonprofits, commerce, economic conditions, labor issues, etc. BECPL
Buffalo guidebooks Various years Many local publishers produced various souvenir and guide books, promoting the scenery, amenities, and advantages of Buffalo. These were often advertiser-supported, with descriptions of local manufacturers and businesses. Several were published to coincide with the Pan-American Exposition of 1901. BHM

BECPL
Business Directories
Early 19th century to the present
Several publishers, including the former Chamber of Commerce, now known as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, issued local business directories on an irregular schedule. A business directory might list owners’ names, factory locations, and include product illustrations.  Online business directories that include Buffalo are found at the right.
Libraries Who Own Buffalo Business Directories

Buffalo 1855

Boyd's Business Directory...New York State, 1869-70

Boyd's New York State Business Directory and Gazetteer, 1872
City Directories 1828 to the present, with some gaps From 1855 to the present, Buffalo city directories have a classified business section like the modern yellow pages. Tracing a firm year by year in directories can help establish when it went into and out of business. In some years, the directories give the names of owners and officers of large companies. BHM

BECPL

Buffalo Online City Directories
Company & Employment Records Varies Most business records, including employment records, are retained only for a few years as required by law, then destroyed. But every now and then, a major firm will give its records to a university, historical society, or similar repository. This webmaster knows of few to no employment records for any defunct Buffalo companies.   Business Records at BHM
Incorporation Papers 19th century? to present The NYS Department of State Division of Corporations has a searchable database of corporations, including nonprofit ones. If you select All names instead of Active Only, you might find when and where an inactive corporation was formed. Incorporation papers are filed with County Clerks. Corporation & Business Entity Database

Erie County Clerk
Library Catalogs
Centuries of books, pamphlets, journals, dissertations, studies, etc.
Search on the name of the business or type of industry.  If you find something good and you live too far away to visit the library in person, print out a record of the item and take it to your local library so they can place an interlibrary loan request.  Maybe the owning library will lend it out for your use.
BHM

BECPL

WorldCat
Newspapers
1811 to present
Our first newspaper, the Buffalo Gazette, began publishing in 1811 but it presently exists only on microfilm.  However, the New York Times has digitized every issue from day one (1851)  and most of those articles are online for free.  They used to pay a lot of attention to Buffalo.  Business First of Buffalo began publishing in 1984 and often features business history and has online archives going back to (I think) 1996.  FultonHistory.com has a hit-or-miss collection of 19th century upstate NY newspapers, including Buffalo, scanned from microfilm.  All are found at the link to the right.
BHM

BECPL

Online Newspapers


Nonpopulation censuses 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1935 Manufacturing census schedules are arranged by state, then by county, and then by political subdivision (township, city, etc.). Schedules are available for 1935 for these industries: advertising agencies, banking and financial institutions, miscellaneous enterprises, motor trucking for hire, public warehousing, and radio broadcasting stations. National Archives

New York State Library

Geographic distribution of retail trade in Buffalo, 1935
Online Books Mostly prior to 1923 Thousands of books, journals, pamphlets, studies, government documents, and other print materials are now online in partial or full text.  Almost everything published in the US before1923 is now in the public domain. These are the works mostly likely to be viewable in full text.  Try searching the company name at these sites.

Buffalo Full Text has links to over 600 Buffalo-related online books.
American Memory

Buffalo Full Text

Google Books

Internet Archive: Texts

Online Books Page
Patents & Trademarks
Varies
Lots of Buffalonians invented things that were manufactured here. Try searches on personal names or machines. US Patent & Trademark Office

Google Patent Search
Periodical Articles
Varies
Early periodical indexes are starting to come online.  Try searching  the name of your company in Poole's.  If you find a citation, you can see if your local library owns the journal.  If not, you can request a photocopy of the article through interlibrary loan.
Poole's Index, 1815-1899 (abridged)

Poole's Index, 1882-1887

Poole's Index, 1887-1892
Sanborn Maps 1868 to 1990s
Sanborn maps diagram every city building and structure in great detail and are superb for studying the physical characteristics of former factories and industrial sites. Generally published every 10 years, these large atlases were produced for fire insurance purposes. Local libraries have hard copy Sanborns only for the City of Buffalo. The exception is BECPL and UB, which subscribe to the Digital Sanborn Maps, which offers coverage for all of NY state. BHM

BECPL

BSC

UB
Websites Varies My page, Buffalo Business History on the Web, has as many websites about vintage Buffalo businesses as I have been able to find. Not every defunct Buffalo business has inspired a webmaster to document it online. In many cases, no paper trail exists to digitize. Buffalo, NY Business History on the Web
This table of sources should not be considered exhaustive. It merely reflects what the webmaster has been able to verify at this time.

General Business Research Links

Below are some general business history websites which may provide additional research ideas:
Further Reading

A terrific, one of a kind handbook on how to research businesses:

Kerr, K. Austin et al

Local Businesses: Exploring Their History (Nearby History Series)
Walnut Creek, CA : Altamira Press, 1990


Copyright 1999-2013 by Cynthia Van Ness, all rights reserved. This page may not be copied or pasted anywhere without written permission. Last updated 24 February 2013.  Return to BuffaloResearch.com.


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