Saturday, May 13, 2017


The origin of this liquor major goes back to 1825, when a Dr.Mcdowell started a wine business in Madras. The business later expanded thanks to the acquisition of many valuable agencies of major companies such as George Younger and Sons, well known Scotch brewers, M/s Lipton and Van Houtens Limited. The firm had several large godowns for the storage of wines and spirits imported from Europe.

In 1880, the firm ventured into cigar manufacturing. The manufacturing operations were first setup in Trichy, after which facilities were opened at their headquarters, Mcdowell House, Second Line Beach, Madras. It soon became a pioneer in the blending of the finest imported leaf with the indigenous tobacco was renowned for its brands such as “The Light of Asia” and the “Pearl of Kashmere”.

It was reconstituted as a company in 1898, with an initial capital of Rs.8 Lakhs. In 1951, it was acquired by Vittal Mallya, the founder of the UB Group, which continues to use the name for its flagship product.


The Eden restaurant at Harrisons is one of the city’s most famous restaurants. Harrisons itself is an old Madras name, tracing its origins to 1885. Founded by G.Varadarajulu Chetty, it started off as a restaurant, catering and confectionary service. Its two storey building in Broadway (where today the Bank of Maharashtra stands) consisted of the confectionary store in the ground floor and the restaurant in the first floor. The establishment was known for its Officer’s Lunches and had a string band in attendance.

Their business as confectioners too was renowned and they were appointed Confectioners and Caterers to His Excellency, the Governor of Madras and the Rajah’s of Travancore and Cochin. In 1939, the restaurant was bought over by Nammalwar Naidu, whose family in the early 2000s demolished the old garden house of the Maharani of Vizianagaram and opened the new Harrisons.


The business house of Surajmals, trading primarily in diamonds and other precious stones was founded by Surajmal Lallubhai Mehta in Bombay in 1895. The Madras branch, which was opened in 1916, was managed by Surajmal’s nephew, Jaisinghlal.

Surajmal’s connections with Madras however went beyond the diamond trade. In the 1930s, it was involved in the gramophone records business, with the setting up of a company in called Musical Products Limited with a capital of Rs.50000. The Broadcast label was taken on licence from Vocalion of England. To establish the connection with the diamond trade, the Broadcast logo featured a diamond. Prominent artistes who recorded with them included M.S.Subbalakshmi and her mother, Mysore T.Chowdiah and Rajamanickam Pillai. However, this venture did not last long due to dull sales and this company was wound up in 1937. Surajmals continued in the diamond trade for long after. Their showroom building survives almost intact, operating today as the NSC Bose Road branch of Saravana Bhavan.


Much like the Tawkers, T.B.Mehta and Sons too were big names in the diamond trade. The family’s presence in South India went back to the mid 1600s, when two brothers Kameshwar Mehta and Kunwar Mehta migrated to Tanjore from Gujarat. Balakrishna Mehta, the founder of this firm was a descendant of Kameshwar Mehta. Born in 1834, he shifted to Madras in 1871 to expand his diamond trade. The business was a flourishing one and boasted of customers that included the likes of the Maharaja of Mysore, the Rajah of Venkatagiri and the Raja of Kalahasti.

Two of Balakrishna Mehta’s sons, Subbaroya Mehta and Neelakanta Mehta continued the diamond business after his demise in 1899. The showroom was located at No.453, Mint Street. Neelakanta Mehta passed away in the year 1910. Subbaroya Mehta made a munificent donation of Rs 30000 to the Pachaiyappa’s College in memory of his brother. The Central Block of the hostel is named the Neelakanta Mehta Ward. Yet another commemoration is the eponymous street in T.Nagar. Sivasankara Mehta, the grandson of Neelakanta Mehta served for a brief while as the Mayor of Madras in the 1960s.


An advertisement that can be seen regularly in magazines of the early 1900s is that of “Rajvaidya” Narayanji Keshavji, renowned Ayurvedic physician. Hailing form a family of royal physicians to the Jamsahibs of Jamnagar, Narayanji Keshavji established the Ayurvedodaya Pharmacy in 1896 in Kathiawar. He also published a pamphlet titled “Vaidya Vidya”, a work on secret of good health in Gujarati (his native tongue) which was so popular that it had to be translated and published in no less than ten languages, including Sinhalese and Burmese!

Establishments were opened in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras to ensure quick supply of medicines to patients who wrote in to him detailing their sicknesses. The Calcutta establishment seems to have been in existence even upto the 1940s. However, the fate of the Bombay or Madras branches are unknown today.


This well-known snuff manufacturing business of Old Madras was setup in 1904 by Nagoor Velayudham Shanmugam. Specialising in white snuff, a finer variety than the black powder, Shanmugam attracted a dedicated set of clientele with his door to door marketing. After Shanmugam’s demise, his sons Palani Vale Nadar and Muruga Vale Nadar continued the business. It was a flourishing one, with sales constantly on the rise. The business had a huge network of agents and distributors to whom they distributed specialised calendars printed in Germany as gifts every year.

The expansion of the city and changing times had an impact on the business. The increasing regulations brought about on the tobacco industry impacted the snuff sector as well. The factory was moved to Poonamallee in the 1990s, from where it functions even today.


Founded in 1889 on Mount Road as a departmental store selling everything except liquor and food, it expanded its scope of activities to include other divisions such as tailoring. Its best known division was however furniture. At the Coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1911, this establishment was given the task of furnishing the camps of the various dignitaries such as the Governor of Madras and the Lt.Governor of Burma. It also ran a service station for cars in the 1930s. The business had branches in Ooty and Bangalore.

The business changed hands in 1938 and was bought for around 200 pounds by the family that currently runs it. A search in the ROC records reveals that it was incorporated as a company in April 1938. Its premises too shifted to General Patters Road, from where it functions even today as an auction house.


One of the oldest business establishments in South India, this Coimbatore based company, which is today part of the Amalgamations group was founded in 1861 by Robert Stanes. Starting off with the Stanes Coffee Curing Works, the company went on to acquire massive estates across the Nilgiris and diversified into areas such as fertilizers mixing, automobile dealerships etc.

The Stanes story is an integral part of the development of Coimbatore, with Robert Stanes being appointed the first Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipal Council in 1864. He was also one of the founders of the Coimbatore Spinning and Weaving Mills, which kick started the industrialisation of the region.

Robert Stanes lived upto the ripe old age of 95, dying in 1936 in Coimbatore. The business was bought over by S.Anantharamakrishnan, the takeover baron of South India in 1961. The schools started by Robert Stanes and his family in Coimbatore and Coonoor remain popular institutions in the region.


This establishment was first founded in 1915 in Ooty by Kishinchand Chellaram Daryanani, who hailed from a prominent Sindhi family in Madras. Initially into the silk textiles trade, the business seems to have expanded to include a wide variety of departments such as furniture, silverware and footwear. The establishment grew big enough to open an overseas office in Yokohama as early as 1918.

The group established itself across Africa in the succeeding decades, with a Nigerian branch being opened in Lagos in 1923. They also slowly moved from retailing into wholesaling and manufacturing. The Gambia branch was opened in 1958. A shipping business was formed in 1979 in Hong Kong.

The establishment however hasn’t forgotten its roots, with the departmental store in Ooty still functioning.


Not much is known today about this business which was founded in 1906 by T.Arumugam Mudaliar. The head office was at No.51, Guruvappa Chetty Street, Chintadripet. The foundry was inaugurated by the legendary V.O.Chidambaram Pillai. Over time, the business opened branches at Bangalore and Hyderabad.

A brochure published in the 1960s gives us some information about its functioning. According to it, their “Swadesi Home” label produced types in fifteen languages (which included Sinhalese, Devanagari and Grantham!!). The firm was also the inventor of the famous “Ganapathy Tamil Series”. It was an approved contractor to the Government of India, even supplying election blocks for various State elections such as the 1962 Gujarat and Bihar Assembly Elections, the 1967 Bihar Elections etc.


The name of A.V.Meiyappa Chettiar is inseparable from the history of Tamil cinema. Born in 1907 into a Natukottai Nagarathar family, Meiyappa Chettiar’s first exposure to business was thanks to his family run venture,a mini department store named AV and Sons. The business also sold gramophone records. The entrepreneur in Meiyappa Chettiar decided to get into its production instead of just marketing them. Thus was born Saraswathi Stores.

Saraswathi Stores tied up with the Odeon label from Germany to market their records here. Several top Carnatic musicians such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar entered into exclusive contracts with Odeon. They recorded dialogues of entire stage plays with songs and also had an in house orchestra in attendance to re record film songs exclusively for discs. Their showroom was in Mount Road, where today the DBS building stands.

Long after the gramophone era, Saraswathi Stores remained a popular destination for cassettes till the 1990s, when it slowly faded out. Today the name still stands thanks to the small outlet run in Alwarpet, next to Sankara Hall.

Friday, May 12, 2017


Not much is known today about the origins of the company, except that it was founded in Madras 1843. In his book “Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce and Industrial Resources”, Somerset Playne says that the Napier Engineering and Foundry Works belonging to M/s Massey and Co Ltd had was situated in Cochrane Basin Road, “within a short distance from the Central Station”. For a long time, the company’s furnaces were the first sight to greet visitors by train to Madras. The company was into a wide range of engineering activities. It also held agencies for Hornsby Oil and Gas Engines, Ruston Oil and Gas Engines, Roturbo Pumps and Johnson’s Elephant Brand Cement. Outside of the engineering sector, it held agencies for Lipton’s tea and coffee in addition to representing a few insurance firms and breweries. The company had branches in Coorg and other places across South India.

According to its website, the company was bought over by the current management in 1940. It however continues to operate from the same headquarters in Royapuram.


Founded in 1868 by Charles Lawson and Henry Cornish, The Madras Mail was the representative of the commercial interests in the Madras Presidency. Lawson and Cornish had earlier been part of The Madras Times, a newspaper that had been founded in the 1830s. The paper’s association with the Madras Chamber of Commerce was a close and long standing one, with the paper publicising the Chamber’s efforts to a great extent and for a long time its editors served as secretaries of the Chamber.

Functioning from First Line Beach, The Madras Mail would display its pro government stance on a number of occasions which seeded the birth of its rival, The Hindu. In 1921, the paper was bought over by J.O.Robinson, Chairman of Spencers, before changing hands again in 1945, when it was bought over by the Amalgamations Group. The name had been changed to The Mail in the 1920s, when it moved to the Mount Road premises. The paper ceased publication in 1981.