- THE MAGAZINE
Bill Calisina, vice-president of Bissell Ltd., was honored by the city recently for 100 years of service in the community. The vacuum maker is based out of Grand Rapids, Mich., but has had a presence in Niagara Falls since 1907 when it relocated its Canadian operations to the city.
"One hundred years is certainly a long time," said Calisina. "No, I wasn't there from day one, but I look forward to the next 100 years."
Bissell's produces a number of different cleaning products, including vacuums, carpet cleaners, hard floor cleaners and carpet sweepers, which is what the business started with in the mid-1800s.
Founders Anna and Melville Bissell ran a crockery shop in Grand Rapids and often became frustrated with the difficult task of cleaning sawdust out of the carpets at the end of the day.
Anna presented the problem to her husband who developed a carpet sweeper machine. The machine worked, word began to spread and soon people were after the Bissell’s for one of their own. The carpet sweeper was patented in 1876 and the first manufacturing plant opened in Grand Rapids in 1883.
The Canadian operation, established in Toronto in 1894, relocated to the former Peasley Shoe Company on Drummond Road in 1907 after Melville Bissell Jr., manager of the Toronto factory, discovered the vacant industrial building during a short holiday in the city.
When the Falls factory opened, it employed seven people. As the company continued to redevelop its products as well as produce new products the number of employees at the Falls factory swelled to 80 after several expansions over the years. It's been that innovation that has been the secret to Bissell's longevity, said Calisina.
"It's all about product development," he said. "You need to keep reinventing yourself."
The company halted manufacturing in Niagara Falls in 1984 and downsized operations, but still runs a distribution centre in the city.