Robert Samuel McLaughlin | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robert Samuel McLaughlin

Robert Samuel McLaughlin (a.k.a Colonel Sam), CC, industrialist, philanthropist (born 8 September 1871 in Enniskillen, ON; died 6 January 1972 in Oshawa, ON). R. Samuel McLaughlin was a pioneer in Canada’s automotive industry and was president of General Motors of Canada.

McLaughlin Carriage Works

After a three-year apprenticeship in the carriage business owned by his father, Robert McLaughlin, and work in similar establishments in New York, R. Samuel McLaughlin entered into partnership with his father and his brother George in the McLaughlin Carriage Works (1892). When a fire destroyed the company's Oshawa factory in 1899, 15 municipalities offered financial assistance for relocation near them, but the company stayed in Oshawa, in return for a $50,000 loan.

Did you know?
R. Samuel McLaughlin’s eldest brother John J. McLaughlin was a pharmacist and beverage manufacturer. John J. McLaughlin developed and trademarked Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale. After John J. McLaughlin’s death, R. Samuel and his brother George became executors of Canada Dry.

McLaughlin Motor Car Company

Reportedly foreseeing the potential of automobiles, R. Samuel McLaughlin adapted the family’s carriage business. With his father and brother George, he incorporated the McLaughlin Motor Car Company in 1907. By 1908, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company began producing Buick car bodies for William Durant, owner of the Buick Motor Company in Flint, Michigan. When Durant began manufacturing Chevrolets, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company also began producing them by 1915. (See also Automotive Industry.)

General Motors of Canada

The McLaughlin’s motorcar business was purchased by General Motors in 1918 and incorporated as General Motors of Canada. R. Samuel McLaughlin became president of the Canadian division and also served as vice-president of the American parent corporation. His brother George acted as vice-president of General Motors of Canada.

By the mid-1920s, the Oshawa plant had 3,000 employees and produced more cars for the Canadian and Commonwealth market than the rest of the country combined. (See also Automobile; Automotive Industry.) McLaughlin retired as president of General Motors of Canada in 1945, becoming chairman of the board.


In 1952, the R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation was established in support of education, health and culture organizations and charities. In recognition of his support for Canadian educational and medical facilities, including the former McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto, and his work in the Boy Scout movement, R. Samuel McLaughlin received honorary degrees from several Ontario universities (see Scouts Canada).


From 1921 to 1931, R. Samuel McLaughlin was appointed Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the Ontario Regiment (RCAC) and Honorary Colonel from 1931 to 1967. For his contributions to the Canadian automotive industry, R. Samuel McLaughlin was designated a person of national historic significance by the Government of Canada in 1989. Canada Post released a commemorative stamp in honour of R. Samuel McLaughlin in 2008. In 2022, the city of Oshawa announced that the city’s Civic Holiday (1 August) would be known as McLaughlin Day.

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