William Harris & Company was established by William Harris in 1910 as a wholesale woolen jobber (selling wool fabric for garments), with its principal office in St. Paul, Minnesota. It continued with its primary line of business until William Harris’ death in 1953, at which point the woolen business was sold. The company’s name and corporate shell were retained by William’s oldest child, Irving.
In October of 1929, the Great Depression began with the crash of the U.S. stock market. This economic crisis continued well into the 1930s, and many families lost their life savings when the banks to which they had entrusted their assets failed.
In the wake of the Depression, people sought alternate means of safeguarding what remained of their financial assets. It was in this spirit that several friends and customers of William Harris who had lost faith in the banks came to him and asked him if he would be willing to safeguard their money for them. He was a highly trusted and well-regarded businessman, and they had more confidence in him than in the ailing financial institutions.
Long after the liquidation of the woolen business, William Harris & Company continued to operate as a funds depository for, and a lender of capital to, members and close friends of the Harris family.
Beginning in the 1930s, William’s eldest son, Irving, was engaged in various business endeavors of his own, most notably the purchase of the Toni Company (a hair care company), which he and his brother bought, ran, and then sold to Gillette in 1948. The wealth created from this sale allowed Irving to focus on his passion for managing investment assets. In 1957 Irving became a partner of R.J. Levy and Company, a New York Stock Exchange firm headquartered in New York. R.J. Levy eventually became the Harris Group, Inc. after Robert Levy’s death in 1962.
In 1975 Irving left the institutional investment counseling business to focus exclusively on managing his own family’s assets. A handful of the remaining partners at Harris group established Harris Associates, an investment counseling firm that has enjoyed considerable success since then.
In 1986, Irving’s family investment office adopted its current name – William Harris Investors, Inc. – in honor of Irving’s father. Over the years, our office has expanded to keep pace with the expansion of Irving’s family and its asset base, and to accommodate the investment and wealth management needs of our clients.