The development of J. Mercer & Sons Limited

The story of Mercer runs parallel to that of many other New Zealand enterprises which owe their present standing, prestige and service to very humble beginnings indeed. Today, “Mercer” stands as a very fitting monument to a man who, in the early days, set quality, work and goodwill above all other business factors. From general copper-smithing and metalworking in 1884, the firm has consistently advanced until today, with modern factory premises in Christchurch, Auckland, New Plymouth and Nelson.

All this in modern enterprise, seems a far cry from 1884, when the ring of the Founder’s hammer and the glow of his forge was laying a foundation for the future of his family as well as pleasant employment for a large and highly skilled staff.

As a young man, Mr. James Mercer was sent on a job from Dunedin to Lyttelton to carry out necessary repairs as a marine coppersmith. He was so impressed with the future of Christchurch, that, only two years later, he came north again and established his own business. He worked long and happy hours in small wooden premises in Tuam Street with one apprentice. Natural skill enabled him to create his own tools to serve an ever expanding round of customers. A small forge was set up for the working of copper; next he made a blower from sheet zinc; followed by a hand drive, this was a novel combination of a big wheel set on a bench with a belted connection to the blower he used so much. Steady development was natural to pioneers who persevered and overcame the obstacles that beset them, and Mr. Mercer, in his enthusiasm to progress, was no exception. He soon installed a suction gas plant, such things being necessary to his main work in the coppersmithing field, plus the growing manufacture of such domestic needs as washing boilers.

Early business needed metal workers and Mr. Mercer was never without work, often in the form of skillful improvisations to serve a community so far detached from, the then overseas, manufacturing supply centres. Looking back, we can see the pride, courage, determination and diligence described as being symbolic of the dawn of Industry in the Dominion.

James Mercer jnr. was taken into the partnership by his father after the 1914-18 war, having been apprenticed to the trade earlier as a youth to gain a thorough grounding in the craft of the business. As other sons, after war service, entered the business, it was decided in 1921 to establish a new company under the present name. Also in 1921, branches were established in Auckland and Wellington. In 1926 representation was established in Otago, resulting in the foundation of the Home Heating Supplies Company with Mr. Michael O’Sullivan as the Principal.

Agencies existed throughout the Dominion in other expanding centres. It is interesting to record that the first completely New Zealand made hospital steriliser was constructed by the late Mr. James Mercer. Some of the steam jacketed pans he made from the beginning of the last century were still doing handy service in various manufacturing concerns some 50 or more years later!

Mercer has carried out large and small contracts of every nature in the hospital equipment field; and today, with experience and foresight, is moving rapidly ahead in the field of hospital sterilisation benefiting the community.

Adapted from: Craftsmen in Metals Since 1884 (published in 1951).