Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog Celebrant was born on this date in 1890. He was the son of a wealthy industrialist and he took over the largest pearl button manufacturing operation in the world after his father retired in 1943, just a bit before zippers and plastic buttons took over as the fasteners of choice in the World’s apparel industry. By 1966, the two Amsterdam plants he and his family had operated at the foot of the Chuctanunda Creek were both gone, demolished to make way for the new arterial system. At its zenith the business employed as many as 1,000 workers. Meanwhile, Harvey Chalmers II had happily transformed himself from industrialist to well respected historical novelist. It was making buttons that made him rich but writing books that made him happy.
Harvey’s parents were Arthur A. Chalmers and Emma Appleton Chalmers who made their home in Broadalbin, NY. He was educated in Amsterdam’s public schools and then after a two-year-stint at Williams College, he completed his four-year degree at Yale in 1914, where he became an intercollegiate fencing champion. He worked briefly for a company in Boston before enlisting in the Army and serving in the Medical Corps as a lieutenant during WWI. It was upon his discharge from the service that he returned home to Amsterdam to join his father at Harvey Chalmers & Son, the button manufacturing company first started by his grandfather and namesake.
The company had perfected the process of transforming pearl clamshells into buttons. The shells Chalmers used as raw materials were scooped up along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and transported in railroad cars to Amsterdam. They were then punched and drilled into millions of buttons. Whole neighborhoods of Amsterdam housewives used to earn piece-rate compensation working at home by sewing the finished buttons onto the cardboard cards on which they were sold to end users by retailers around the country.
Once his factories ceased operation, Harvey Chalmers was able to begin his second career as a historical novelist. He would eventually complete and have published 8 books which included such titles as “West to the Setting Sun,” “Joseph Brandt, Mohawk,” “Birth of the Erie Canal,” Last Stand of the Nez Perce,” “How the Irish Built the Erie,” and “Tales of the Mohawk.” His novels were distinguished by their extreme detail and historical accuracy. Chalmers enjoyed researching the history he used in his novels even more than he enjoyed actually writing them. In the process, he became an expert on the history of the Empire State and was often called upon as a consultant on that topic by the New York State Education Department.
Perhaps the only thing Chalmers enjoyed more than working on his novels was fishing, particularly fly-fishing. That’s what he was doing early in the evening of October 6, 1971 at Cieply’s Pond in North Broadalbin, NY, when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 81. He had two children, a daughter who married George Carter and moved to Cambridge, MA and a son, Arthur II, who would become a realtor in Schenectady, NY