What are the first things that spring to mind when someone mentions the word “Spy”? Well, in my mind images start to appear, men in trench coats, stolen and falsified documents, secret codes and spy gadgets. Not to be forgotten is the legendary drink of fictional super spy James Bond a perfectly poured vodka martini.
Now imagine just for a second that all of these things have a basis in fact and that the man at the center of it all was a real person who inspired the greatest fictional spy of them all Ian Fleming’s Commander James Bond of the Royal Navy. You would think that I’d been staring at my computer screen just a tad long, wouldn’t you?
Well friends gather round and I’ll continue the story of William Stephenson. In my last installment I told you all the story of William’s birth in turn of the century Winnipeg, Manitoba, his exploits as a child and his daring as a World War One fighter ace.
The rest of the story picks up back in Winnipeg with a can opener that William had stolen from the Commandant’s quarters while he was imprisoned in a German POW camp. The design was revolutionary for the time leaving a clean edge on the can lid where other models of the day simply hacked off the top leaving a sharp jagged edge. Since North American patent law did not recognize German patents, William registered the device in North America and went into business forming the Franco-British Supply Company with friend Charles Wilfrid Russell in 1919. Soon after the young business men incorporated the company as Stevenson-Russell Ltd. raising money through selling shares in the community.
The post war period was hard for business and Stephenson-Russell was failing by 1922. William lost face in the Icelandic community he was raised in by not paying back the debts he had incurred while trying to grow the company. He fled to England while members of his extended family set up a hardware store with the remains of the failed venture.