History & Founder
"... A very, very small beginning."
Young Jim Ferrys dreams of an accounting career
evaporated when he was only 17 and his father died suddenly. Becoming
the family bread-winner overnight, he supported his mother and three
other children by selling magazines, household products and groceries.
An uncle convinced him that he needed a better job, so Jim
signed on at Jones and Laughlin Steel Company as a crane operator. Just
three-and-a-half years later he was an electrical foreman in charge of
four mills. Jim left J&L when he was passed over for a promotion,
believing he could do better elsewhere.
He joined an electrical contractor who was converting many of
the homes in Moon Township from gas to electricity. With much of
Pittsburgh still bathed in gas light, Jim Ferry could see a future for
On his 21st birthday, he worked up the nerve to form a
partnership with an acquaintance, and they set out on their own.
Although the partnership lasted only five months, Jims goal remained.
In 1926, he started his new business, "James J. Ferry,
Electrician," with a $160 loan for which his mother signed using
her furniture as collateral.
Jim found his first customers by walking the neighborhoods of
Pittsburghs South Side, knocking on the doors of homes and businesses
that had no electrical wires stretching from the utility poles out
front. He signed his earliest contracts for converting homes from gas to
electricity at dining room tables in the glow of gaslight. In just six
months, Jim added his first employee, Butch Zeigler, the brother of his
closest friend. A few months later Walter Thomas joined the young
company and, except during a short spell during the Depression, stayed
throughout his life. In 1928, Jim registered his business as "Ferry
Jim Ferry looked for more opportunities and found them.
These were boom days in Pittsburgh, and buildings were going up
everywhere. His sales calls included new home developments. Before long,
he and his men were working for some of the largest developers in
The building boom ended overnight when the stock market
crashed in 1929. Like other Pittsburghers, Jim found work when and where
he could. He paid off the familys grocery bill by remodeling a
neighborhood grocery store at night. As the countrys economy slowly
recovered, so did his fledgling business.
In 1936, the worst flood in Pittsburghs history swept
through the city. In the aftermath, it seemed to Jim Ferry that the
entire city needed to be rewired. Working 10 to 20 hours a day for
months, he and his men helped rebuild Pittsburgh, rewiring hundreds of
residential and commercial buildings.
In the years that followed, commercial and industrial work
became the companys staple. Ferry Electric Company provided the
electrical installation for one of Pittsburghs first shopping malls,
Whitehall Shopping Center. And during a 10-year period, the company
completed more than 20,000 projects for the local electric utility,
Duquesne Light Company.
Jim Ferrys business philosophy has always been
straightforward: develop a reputation for reliability, provide quality
work and the finest service, and keep your customers satisfied. Guided
by these principals, the company is in it's third generation:
his son, Jim, is Chairman of the Board and his grandson, J.J.
II, is President. Founder Jim Ferry once recounted his
companys early days and reflected, "Its been great watching
this business grow, but believe me, we had a very, very small
Jim has distinguished himself in his civic activities. He has
served on the boards of ten organizations. For decades, he was a trustee
of the joint IBEW/NECA Committee for Health and Welfare and on the
Committee for Labor Negotiations. In 1968, he received one of the
highest honors that can be bestowed on a Catholic layman when Pope Paul
VI named him a Knight of St. Gregory. In 1978, he was named the Electric
Leagues first Man of the Year. The League noted in the award
presentation, "Jim was chosen for his vast experience, incomparable
integrity and dedicated concern for the continuing growth of the