Chittenden & Eastman Furniture CompanyKey Dates:

  • 1866: G.M. Todd and H. Bailey formed H. Bailey & Co., the predecessor to Chittenden & Eastman.
  • 1883: The Chittenden & Eastman name is adopted.
  • 1889: Chittenden & Eastman Co. is officially incorporated.
  • 1923: Plans to build a six-story building on the corner of Third & Division Streets are announced.
  • 1942: Walter B. Eaton succeeds H.W. Chittenden as company president.
  • 1972: Mattress manufacturing operations move from Main and Market Streets to a new 90,000-square-foot facility on Roosevelt Avenue.
  • 1975: Chittenden & Eastman completes a 170,000-square-foot addition to its new plant.
  • 1982: Company officials decide to cease the manufacture of furniture and focus exclusively on mattress making and furniture wholesaling.
  • 1993: Chittenden & Eastman enters the New York and New England markets via a joint venture with Blue Bell Mattress Company.
  • 1994: Company purchases Aireloom Bedding, divests its furniture division, and focuses exclusively on the manufacture of mattresses.
  • 1995: Dormir Sleep Products, a manufacturer of mattresses and Murphy beds, is acquired.
  • 2003: Chittenden & Eastman announces plans to relocate production to Missouri, with headquarters remaining in Burlington, Iowa.

Chittenden & Eastman prides itself on being one of the world’s oldest continuously owned furniture companies. Indeed, the company dates back to 1866, when Andrew Johnson was president of the United States and the nation had scarcely entered the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. That year, a writer and politician named G.M. Todd and a dentist named H. Bailey formed H. Bailey & Co. Located in a three-story brick building on Burlington’s Washington Street, complete with a 20-foot storefront, the new company was devoted to furniture jobbing and retailing.

Prior to adopting the name Chittenden & Eastman, a number of ownership changes occurred. When Bailey went back to his dentistry practice, H. Bailey & Co. was re-named G.M. Todd & Co. Another name change happened in 1873, when the company assumed the name of Todd, Pollock & Granger. At this time the company erected the first part of a facility on Third Street, which it would continually expand to accommodate growth. Two years later, a traveling salesman named Henry W. Chittenden, a native of Keokuk, Iowa, joined the enterprise. Upon Todd’s retirement in 1877, Chittenden became a partner in the business, which was renamed Pollock, Granger & Chittenden.

Amidst the continual changes in ownership, the company became involved in furniture manufacturing and introduced its Square Brand of mattresses in 1880. According to the November 20, 1995, Hawk Eye, these mattresses were marketed as “the cleanest, most healthful and most luxuriant mattresses ever made,” requiring “only an occasional sunbath to make them last a lifetime.” A dealer network–which included independent furniture retailers, as well as morticians also interested in selling furniture–was eventually established. The company enjoyed steady growth from settlement-bound westward travelers who came through Burlington in covered wagons. Many of these pioneers settled on farms and returned to Pollock, Granger & Chittenden when it was time to furnish their new homes.

Pollock eventually withdrew from the company, which then became Granger & Chittenden. When Granger died in 1882, Chittenden suddenly found himself alone at the company’s helm, which bore his name only. According to an 1882 publication entitled The Leading Business Houses of Burlington, Iowa, by this time the enterprise had evolved into one of the city’s most influential companies and was “the largest exclusively jobbing business in furniture throughout the entire west, not excepting either St. Louis or Chicago.”

At this time, H.W. Chittenden had annual sales of $500,000 and 24 employees. Operations were conducted in two buildings, one six stories in height and the other two stories. Together, these structures provided 46,800 square feet of space, which almost always held an inventory valued at $100,000. In addition to Iowa, three salesmen served customers in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and Illinois.

An Ohio bookkeeper named Edward P. Eastman, who had joined the company in 1877 at the age of 17, became H.W. Chittenden’s new business partner in January 1883. Chittenden & Eastman was thus born, and in 1899 the firm was officially incorporated under the name Chittenden & Eastman Company, which it would retain through and beyond the next century. With Henry Chittenden as president and Edward Eastman as vice-president and general manager, the company set upon a successful course.

Chittenden & Eastman published its first mattress catalog in 1891, and by 1915 had annual sales of approximately $2 million. Products were marketed in a 700-page catalog, and the company’s motto was “the best goods for the money.” Two years later, a 48,000-square-foot showroom opened in downtown Burlington. In History of Des Moines County Iowa and its People, Chittenden & Eastman was described in glowing terms: “The company manufactures an exceedingly tasteful and well made line of upholstered goods, for which they have won an enviable reputation. No factory in the country can excel their mattress department, for the building has been especially designed for the purpose for which it is used and is perfect in its convenience and sanitary arrangements. Carrying an immense stock on hand, the company is ready to meet any order at almost a moment’s notice.”

In January 1923, Chittenden & Eastman announced plans to build a six-story building on the corner of Third and Division Streets in order to consolidate the manufacture and storage of chairs. At the time, this process was scattered among various other buildings and warehouses. Around this time, the company also sold its warehouse on Third and Elm streets to Burlington Buick.

Although Edward Eastman died in 1925, Chittenden & Eastman carried on and continued to prosper. In 1927, the firm established a sales office in St. Paul, Minnesota, to serve the growing northwestern United States. The branch benefited from a seven-story “sample room” to showcase its offerings to customers. By 1928, Chittenden & Eastman was recognized as a catalyst for Burlington’s economic prosperity. It was around this time that the company was responsible for bringing a new plant to the city. In September 1928, Dahlin Brothers and Davis Manufacturing Co., which made frames for chairs and davenports, announced that it would build a $100,000 plant in Burlington to serve Chittenden & Eastman, which at the time was Dahlin Brothers’ largest customer.

As the 1930s approached, Chittenden & Eastman offered a truly startling array of products to retailers via sales offices in Burlington, Chicago, and Minneapolis. In addition to virtually every imaginable piece of furniture for homes, offices, hospitals, and hotels, the company sold such items as picnic baskets, birdcages, ironing boards, breadboards, carpet sweepers, humidors, refrigerators, baby strollers, playpens, electric vacuum cleaners, tapestries, and rugs. In fact, a full-page ad in the 1928-29 directory American Manufactured Furniture touted the contents of Chittenden & Eastman’s 748-page hardcover catalog, claiming: “It has been aptly described as a veritable encyclopedia of the furniture industry, for there are few items that a dealer needs which he will not find illustrated in this unusual catalog.”

In its first 63 years, Chittenden & Eastman had firmly established itself as a leading supplier and manufacturer of mattresses and upholstered furniture, carrying some 120 different lines of goods. This early success allowed the company to enjoy a period of steady, gradual growth as its 100th anniversary loomed in the not-too-distant future. During this time, a significant development occurred when the only remaining member of the Eastman family sold his stock to company employees in 1942. Also that year Walter B. Eaton succeeded H.W. Chittenden as company president. While Chittenden served as president for 43 years, the office was held by a comparatively large number of successors in the years immediately following his vacancy. Eaton served as president until 1947, when C.A. Duffy took the reins. In 1954, C.W. Reger succeeded Duffy.

In 1960, Manfred A. Nordstrom was named as Chittenden & Eastman’s president. Nordstrom, who would hold the top post for nearly 20 years, joined the company in 1936 as an office boy. Then 25, Nordstrom’s salary was $10 per week. In the December 5, 1999, issue of the Hawk Eye, Nordstrom recalled: “I spent $4.50 a week for a room at the YWCA. That left me less than a dollar a day to eat on.” Nordstrom joined the Navy, and then came back to Chittenden & Eastman in 1941. In addition to growing annual company sales from $15 million to more than $100 million, Nordstrom oversaw a number of key developments during his tenure.

By the early 1960s, Chittenden & Eastman’s upholstered furniture brands included Perma-Rest and Permalux. In addition, it also sold mattresses under the Restonic name. After nearly 100 years, Chittenden & Eastman had retained its position as one of the world’s largest wholesale furniture distributors. The company’s 275 workers manufactured thousands of tons of furniture that were shipped to retailers by rail or commercial trucks. Chittenden & Eastman’s main facility spanned 750,000 square feet, and its 23 salespeople served an 18-state territory that included Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the entire Pacific coast.

As the 1970s arrived, Chittenden & Eastman made preparations to ensure its success into the 21st century. In March 1972, the company moved its mattress manufacturing operations from Main and Market Streets to a new 90,000-square-foot facility. Located on a 23-acre site on Roosevelt Avenue, the new building was devoted to the manufacture and distribution of mattresses, allowing Chittenden & Eastman’s old plant to expand furniture production.

At the time the new plant was built, Chittenden & Eastman employed 315 workers. Prior to its construction, the firm made about 100,000 mattresses per year, comprising approximately one-fifth of gross sales. However, the new facility allowed for a production increase in this area by as much as 50 percent. A 25-person sales force continued to market the company’s own brands, as well as furniture from other manufacturers, to retailers in 18 states.

In 1975, Chittenden & Eastman completed a 170,000-square-foot addition to its new plant in order to accommodate the need for furniture and mattress storage. The addition increased total usable space to 264,000 square feet. The company ended the decade by promoting Anthony R. Weiler to the office of president. Weiler had joined the company in 1960 as a sales representative and quickly rose through the ranks, earning promotions to sales manager in 1965 and vice-president in 1972.

Weiler was at the helm of Chittenden & Eastman in 1982, when company officials decided to cease the manufacture of furniture and focus exclusively on mattress-making. Although the company no longer made furniture, its distribution arm continued to function as a furniture importer and wholesaler.

By the early 1990s, Chittenden & Eastman was primarily doing business under the name of its Eastman House division. In addition to its own brands of mattresses, the company made private-label mattresses for Thomasville. By this time Chittenden & Eastman had expanded its market territory to 21 states. In addition, it operated a chain of six retail stores and had also become a King Koil licensee.

When Weiler was promoted to chairman and CEO in 1992, Donald H. Robb was named as Chittenden & Eastman’s president and chief operating officer. Robb had joined the company in 1990 as vice-president of Eastman House’s mattress division. Prior to that time he worked as a buyer for Sears and was president of Restonic from 1975 to 1983, a vice-president of Sealy from 1983 to 1988, and a vice-president of Sealy’s Stearns & Foster division from 1988 to 1990. One of Robb’s first challenges as Chittenden & Eastman’s president was to integrate the King Koil brand of mattresses into Eastman House’s existing offerings.

As the 1990s progressed, Chittenden & Eastman began to set its sights on a larger market. With estimated annual sales of $40 million, the company was among the nation’s leading bedding manufacturers, along with Restonic. In October 1993, Chittenden & Eastman formed a joint venture with Hartford, Connecticut-based Blue Bell Mattress Company that enabled it to enter the New York and New England markets. Robb told the trade press that the agreement was the first step in a larger plan to expand nationally.

In January 1994, Chittenden & Eastman made another key acquisition when Eastman House purchased Aireloom Bedding, an El Monte, California-based bedding and furniture manufacturer with sales of nearly $10 million. In the January 17, 1994, issue of HFD, Robb commented on the acquisition, explaining that it would “greatly increase our manufacturing and distribution capabilities on the West Coast, while simultaneously freeing up an additional 15 to 20 percent manufacturing capacity at our Burlington facility.” Founded in 1950 by King Karpen, Aireloom’s manufacturing facility spanned 88,000 square feet and ramped up Eastman House’s production capacity by some 60 percent.

Furniture once accounted for approximately 80 percent of Chittenden & Eastman’s sales. However, by the mid-1990s this was no longer the case. Mattress sales had nearly tripled between 1989 and 1994, and had grown to represent the lion’s share of sales. Thus, in 1994 Chittenden & Eastman opted to divest its furniture division, as well as its Eastman House Furniture Showcase retail outlets, and focus exclusively on the manufacture of mattresses. At this time, Eastman House produced some 350,000 mattresses per year.

After a 35-year career with the company, Anthony Weiler resigned as Chittenden & Eastman’s chairman and CEO in January 1995. He left the organization to become senior vice-president for merchandising at Heilig-Meyers, then the leading publicly held retailer of furniture with 640 stores and approximately $1 billion in annual revenues. Following Weiler’s resignation, Robb assumed the role of CEO and Norton Butler eventually was named president. In August 1995, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it intended to expand into the Southeastern United States. This was accomplished by the acquisition of Dormir Sleep Products, a Montgomery, Alabama-based manufacturer of mattresses and Murphy beds that operated from a 70,000-square-foot plant.

When it was determined that the Roosevelt Avenue Chittenden & Eastman plant, built in 1972, was inefficient in a number of ways, the company talked of relocating its manufacturing operation to a newer facility in Burlington. However, the move never transpired. In May 2003, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it planned to relocate production to Missouri. Although the corporate headquarters would remain in Burlington, where some 21 people were employed, the move meant the city would lose approximately 50 manufacturing jobs. In late May, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it had sold its facility to the Schwenker family, owners of the Standard of Beaverdale lumber yard. Eastman House’s manufacturing took up about 40 percent of the building, and the company established a lease to continue operations there indefinitely, until a final decision was made on when Burlington would lose a manufacturing base that had been part of the city’s history longer than any resident could remember.

WIDDICOMB FURNITURE COMPANY

1873 – 1950

Grand Rapids, Michigan

SEE ALSO Widdicomb Brothers & Richards; Widdicomb Mantel Co.; George Widdicomb (Listed below)

Company History

1873: Widdicomb Brothers & Richards incorporates as Widdicomb Furniture Co.

1887 and 1891: Local histories of Grand Rapids describe Widdicomb as the largest manufacturer of bedroom furniture in the world.

1915: Company is purchased by Joseph Griswold, Sr. and Godfrey Von Platen.

1950: Widdicomb merges with Mueller Furniture Corp. to form Widdicomb-Mueller Corp.

1960: Mueller severs ties to Widdicomb.

1970: Widdicomb Furniture Co. name is purchased by John Widdicomb Co.

Personnel

At the time of the company’s incorporation, William Widdicomb was president, Theodore Richards was vice-president, and William’s brother Harry was secretary. William left the family business in 1883 for a position with the Grand Rapids National Bank. In 1885 he began a wholesale grocery business. But he returned to the company upon the request of its board, after the financial panic of 1893. He managed the company until his retirement in 1915. He was described as a clever mechanic who invented many improvements for machinery in the factory.

Lumber tycoon Godfrey Von Platen, furniture man Maynard Guest, and salesman Joseph Griswold, Sr. purchased the company from Widdicomb in 1915. Griswold served as president until he was succeeded by his son Joseph, Jr. who served as general manager and president from 1941 until 1964.

Free-lance designer William Balbach created designs for Widdicomb beginning in 1917.

English-born designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings served as designer for Widdicomb from 1943 until 1956. Although he began to design lines of Modern furniture from the time he arrived, its production was postponed until 1946, when World War II ended. George Nakashima designed the “Origins Group” for Widdicomb in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Other designers from the early 1960s included Marge Carson, Dave Butterworth, Albert Herbert, and Ray See.

Products

The first products of the Widdicomb Furniture Co. were spindle beds that were generally shipped to retailers unfinished or “in the white”. An 1878 article in The American Cabinet Maker, Upholsterer and Carpet Reporter states that Widdicomb made only “nine styles of work,” and specialized in low-priced ash, maple, cherry, and walnut bedsteads.

By the 1880s the line had expanded to include all forms of “medium and fine chamber furniture” including beds, dressers, chiffoniers, wardrobes, washstands, mirrors, and night tables. The company utilized a variety of woods including San Domingo and Tabasco mahogany, Circassian walnut, golden curly birch, bird’s-eye maple, and also a white enamel finish. Pieces from the late 1890s were also produced in quarter-sawn oak. The 1906 catalog shows bedroom suites and occasional pieces in all of these woods, in American Empire or Colonial Revival styles, or with vaguely French inspiration.

Between 1918 and 1920 Widdicomb advertised Queen Anne, Adam, and Chippendale-styled phonograph cabinets made by its photograph division. Bedroom suites from the 1910s and 1920s were produced from mahogany and walnut, or with a polychromed enamel finish, in a variety of period revival styles including Italian Renaissance, Venetian, Georgian, Louis XV and XVI, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Early American, and “New England Colonial”. A number of Adam-influenced designs from the late 1910s featured caned panels overlaid with carved swags and wreaths. The distinctive Spanish suites made of shaded and decoratively painted walnut featured trestle tables, Roman arched panels, and baroque scrolled and carved silhouettes.

The company introduced its first Modern pieces in 1928, and by 1938 had stopped production of all traditional and revival pieces. A 1936 Grand Rapids Market Ambassador showed a streamlined Art Deco-style bedroom suite made of white harewood (a veneer, usually Sycamore that has been stained), offered jointly by Widdicomb and the Hastings Table Co.

T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbing’s Modern designs in the 1940s and ‘50s were in a warm blond wood tone, with either tapering, functional Scandinavian Modern shapes, or Modern designs with Neo-classical influences. George Nakashima’s “Origins Collection,” produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s included bedroom, dining room, upholstered, and occasional pieces of Modern design with Japanese and Shaker stylistic influences. Emphasis was placed on the grain and texture of the woods, which ranged from Circassian walnut table tops to hand-shaved hickory spindles.

Other Sources

The Grand Rapids Public Library owns a large collection of catalogs and original archival materials, which spans nearly the entire history of the Widdicomb Furniture Co. and its predecessors.

Marks and Labels

The company’s earliest beds sometimes had paper shipping labels on the inside bottom of the headboard, and/or a burn mark on the back of the headboard with “WIDDICOMB/FURNITURE CO./GRAND RAPIDS/MICHIGAN”. The company used a distinctive, cursive type style for the name “The Widdicomb Furniture Co.” as its registered trademark between 1903 and 1937.

WIDDICOMB BROTHERS & RICHARDS

1869 – 1873

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Manufacturer of Rococo Revival and Renaissance Revival-influenced bedroom furniture made from domestic hardwoods.

Successor to George Widdicomb and Sons. Predecessor to Widdicomb Furniture Co.

GEORGE WIDDICOMB & SONS

1857 – 1863

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Cabinetmaker George Widdicomb left Devonshire, England for New Hampshire in 1843. In 1857 George and sons William, Harry, John, and George, Jr. opened their cabinetmaking business in Grand Rapids. William made a selling trip to Milwaukee in 1858, and claimed to be the first traveling furniture salesman from Grand Rapids. The business was closed during the Civil War, when all four brothers joined the Union Army. George, Jr. died during the war, leaving the remaining three brothers who joined in starting the Widdicomb Brothers & Richards Co. in 1869.

WIDDICOMB MANTEL CO.

1893 – 1897

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Manufacturer of interior woodwork and fireplace overmantels.

Successor to Gleason Wood Ornament Co. Predecessor to John Widdicomb Co.

The Early Days of  Widdicomb Furniture

Perhaps no factory in the city is more closely woven with family history and harmony than is that of the Widdicomb Furniture Company. The germ from which this institution grew was planted in 1858, in which year George Widdicomb, the father of four sturdy boys, started a modest little cabinet shop and endeavored to contribute his share toward supplying the wants of the people. This was near the east end of Bridge street where now are the Valley City Milling Company’s mills. George Widdicomb prospered in his undertaking to such an extent that he soon had about a dozen men in his employ and opened a large (for that time) retail store on the west side of Canal between Huron and Erie streets, with his sons in partnership, known by the sign as George Widdicomb & Sons; which continued until 1863.

When the war of the Rebellion broke out, the first call of President Lincoln was responded to by William and George Jr. enlisting in the Volunteer Infantry, early in the summer of 1861.

Harry went to the front in 1862, and John followed in 1863. In 1864, the oldest two boys came home and started a small shop near the foot of the East Side canal, doing all their own work. At the close of the war Harry and John returned and the four struggled on with little capital but a thorough knowledge of the business, in which they had all served an apprenticeship, and a determination to carve out success.

Little by little their enterprise grew and one by one they increased the number of their workmen, until, in 1868, they moved to their present place on the corner of Seward and Fourth streets, occupied a small frame building and gave employment to about twenty-five men. January 1, 1869, T. F. Richards was admitted to partnership and the firm name changed to Widdicomb Bros. & Richards, composed of William, Harry and John Widdicomb (George having died in March, 1866), and T. F. Richards. The capital was increased to $12,000 and the building was raised and enlarged.

The Widdicomb Furniture Company proper was organized December 1, 1873, with the following officers: Wm. Widdicomb, President; T. F. Richards, Vice President; Harry Widdicomb, Secretary and Treasurer. The capital stock was $90,000, which from time to time has been increased until it has reached $380,000. At the time of incorporation the plant consisted of the original building 68 by 90 feet, and one three-story frame, 50 by 150 feet, built in 1871, and they had about 150 men on their payroll, turning out in the neighborhood of $8o,000 worth of goods annually. The Widdicomb spindle bedsteads became known far and wide but they soon added other grades to meet the constantly growing demand.

In 1883 William Widdicomb retired from the company to enter the position of Cashier in the Grand Rapids National Bank; his careful methods as a business man having built up handsome fortunes and placed the establishment on a prosperous and profitable footing.

In 1879 a five-story brick building 104 feet square was added, and in 1886, another 68 by 128 feet, until the plant consists of these:  Warehouse No. 1, a three-and-a half-story frame building for  storage purposes.  Warehouse No. 2, a three-story frame also for storage. The main factory, a five-story brick 100 by 150 feet.  Engine and boiler house with two 300-horse-power engines  and six tubular boilers.  Warehouse No. 3, four stories.  A five-story brick block 68 by 128 feet for cabinet making  and storage.  A one-story shed 150 feet long for storage.  A five-story brick building for cabinet making, finishing and show rooms.

The buildings are supplied with iron standpipe, hose, automatic fire extinguishers and every possible protection against fire.

The aggregate space of flooring in the building is 253,530 square feet and of ground space 64,750 square feet. There are also five dry kilns with a weekly capacity of a quarter of a million feet of lumber, and lumber yards covering nearly ten acres. Their lumber is obtained chiefly from tracts in the northern part of the State owned by the company and from which over seven million feet annually, of oak, ash, birch and maple lumber is cut for the manufacture of their goods; giving employment to some six hundred men, drawing about $20,000 per month. The annual output averages about $700,000.

Shipments are made direct from the factory, but for the convenience of patrons they have an Eastern agency at No. 17 Elizabeth street, New York, and a `Western agency at No. 267 Wabash avenue, Chicago. This is probably the largest factory in the world manufacturing bedroom furniture exclusively; the specialties being chamber suits, chiffoniers, bedsteads and bedroom furniture in quartered oak, ash, birch and maple. Officers of the company (1889): President, Harry Widdicomb; Vice President, T. F. Richards; Secretary and Treasurer, John Widdicomb.

The B. L. Marble Chair Co. History

Barzilla L. Marble started working at the age of twelve in the Bedford chair shop of M. A. Purdy & Son. Born in Bedford in 1851, B. L. Marble came from a family who knew chair-making. His grandfather operated a chair factory in Marbletown, New York, and it is evident that B. L. took an early interest in chairs.

At the age of fourteen B. L. was working at The B. J. Wheelock Company in Bedford, and in 1872 he became superintendent of The Taylor Chair Company. He left Taylor Chair in 1885 to form a new company with A. L. Shattuck — The Marble and Shattuck Chair Company.

In 1894 Mr. Marble formed his own company. This was the beginning of the B. L. Marble Chair Company. And this was the beginning of many years of turning out fine wooden chairs made for comfort and elegance, and made to last. (Note that The Marble Chair Co. never made marble chairs.)

The company continued to make household chairs until 1910 when it began to produce office furniture. During World War I the product line was expanded to include wooden aircraft propellers for military use. Three of the propellers, each over ten feet long, are on display in the Bedford Museum.

By 1921 The Marble Chair Company had outgrown its wooden buildings on Willis Street, and construction began on new brick buildings which eventually stretched a tenth of a mile along Willis Street and comprised more than four acres of floor space.

This was the largest building in town. From this facility high-quality products were shipped throughout the country to banks, court houses, city halls, libraries, colleges, hospitals, and numerous business and professional offices.

B. L. Marb1e died in 1932. He had been a resident of Bedford all his life, and was active in the community. The loss was deeply felt. Prior to Mr. Marble’s death A. D. Pettibone had become president of the company, and was a part owner. In 1953 Mr. Pettibone sold out his interest in the company to other local investors, and was succeeded as president by Charles L. (“Brud”) Pettibone, no relation to A. D.

Under both of the Pettibones the company experienced steady and substantial growth. In 1965 the company merged with The Dictaphone Corporation, and the name was changed to The Marble Imperial Furniture Company. For the first time in its long history the company was controlled by outside interests.

The downfall of the company can probably be traced to the sale of the locally-owned firm. The last day of production was in 1985 — exactly 100 years after Mr. Marble and Mr. Shattuck formed The Marble and Shattuck Chair Company.

The building was left unattended by the owners, and by 1991 was in such bad condition that it had to be demolished. A $330,000 federal block grant allowed the City of Bedford to tear the building down and prepare the site for sale.

For a time the site was an open field. Eventually the site was sold, and in 1996 construction began on a new Bedford post office. Soon, on the site where thousands of chairs were shipped to customers, a busy post office will serve thousands of people in Bedford and the surrounding communities.

The B. L. Marble Chair Co., known by most Bedford people as simply “Marble Chair”, is gone but not forgotten. The building may be gone, but its long history remains. And its products are still in use throughout the country, and are just as sturdy as ever. Many of the chairs are located in the Bedford Museum, just across from Willis Street, not far from where they were made.

B.L.Marble Chair Company


Ever since the beginning – the days of limited production facilities, it has been our constant endeavor to give exceptional quality to the purchasers of our products. A consistent adherence to this policy, together with our aggressiveness in keeping pace with the requirements of modern business, has established our reputation as leaders in the manufacture of business chairs and has brought a constantly increasing demand for our merchandise.

Our present factory, its entire production devoted exclusively to the manufacture of business chairs, is the largest and most completely equipped of its kind. The most modern types of machinery have been introduced and the most approved mechanical practices are observed in all operations. Every phase in the long line of production is marked with the same thoroughness and minute attention to detail.

Clean, light upholstering rooms, dust-proof finishing rooms, ample shipping and storage space, and clean shop policies combine to provide the most ideal working conditions. Exacting standards, constantly improved manufacturing processes, and a sincere desire to attain perfection are the mainstays of our organization.

THE B. L. MARBLE CHAIR COMPANY

 

Haverty Furniture Company

Haverty’s Furniture was founded by James Joseph (J.J.) Haverty and his brother Michael in 1885. The first store was located at 14 East Hunter Street (now 117 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in Atlanta, Georgia. By the third year, the new company moved to a larger location.[1]

In 1889, J.J. and Michael entered a partnership with the owner of a neighboring furniture store, Amos G. Rhodes, forming the Rhodes-Haverty Furniture Company. A year and a half after the first Rhodes-Haverty store opened, J.J. Haverty moved westward to St. Louis, Missouri with his family to expand, and soon after bought interest in a number of smaller showrooms. It wasn’t until 1894 that J.J. returned his family back to Atlanta and went on the road to open more stores. By 1908, 17 stores were open and thriving.[1]

J.J. Haverty’s son Clarence, who first began in the business by sweeping floors, rose to a leadership position and wished for a larger role in the business. The partnership with Rhodes was dissolved amicably and, with a flip of the coin, 16 of the stores were divided between Rhodes and Haverty. The main Atlanta location was purchased outright by J.J. Haverty and the business took back its original name of Haverty Furniture Company.[1]

Following the split with Rhodes, the company expanded across the South. The Atlanta headquarters outgrew their facility and moved to a larger six-story building in 1924.[1] Also during this period, J.J. Haverty and Amos Rhodes formed another partnership, this time to erect the Rhodes-Haverty Building, which would remain Atlanta’s tallest structure until 1954.[4]

In the late 1920s, the company took advantage of the booming stock market and went public. The stock sale took place on October 1, 1929. Four weeks later, the market crashed. Haverty’s strong financial positions enabled the company to weather the difficult years ahead.[1]

Clarence Haverty, who had run the business for many years, was officially named President in 1938, at which time his father J.J. became Chairman of the Board. In October 1939, just short of his 81st birthday, founder J.J. Haverty died.[1]

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II and the company faced hard times brought on by the rationing of furniture production materials. When the war ended, pent-up demand for consumer goods caused sales to surge. The company seized the opportunity to remodel older stores and open new locations. Clarence Haverty’s son, Rawson, returned from war and assumed the position of Corporate Secretary.[1]

The company continued to prosper during the 1950s. By 1955, there were 38 stores across ten states. Clarence Haverty decided to step down as President and Rawson took on the role. By 1960, the year of the company’s 75th anniversary, Haverty’s added four more locations. That year also saw the passing of Clarence Haverty at the age of 79.[1]

By the end of the 1960s, retail trends were changing and downtown stores were replaced by stores closer to the growing suburban populations. Rawson Haverty led the company through this transition as President and Chief Executive Officer until 1984, when he was elected as Chairman of the Board. Another one of the founder’s grandsons, Frank McGaughey, Jr., who had been with the company since 1947, accepted the title of President.[1]

In the late 1980s, Haverty’s embarked upon a comprehensive revitalization program, upgrading most of the company’s stores. Enhanced lighting and display areas were the primary improvements, with some stores also expanding in size. The revitalization included closing the last downtown Atlanta store. Haverty’s remained the area’s largest furniture retailer, with locations distributed throughout the metropolitan area.[1]

Frank McGaughey, Jr. added CEO to his title in addition to President in 1990. He held this post until his retirement in 1994, when John E. Slater was named President and CEO. Slater joined the company in 1956 and had spent his entire career with Haverty’s.[1]

In August 1998, the company’s stock listing moved from the NASDAQ Exchange to the New York Stock Exchange.[5]

As Haverty’s witnessed the turn of another century, the company underwent many changes. An initiative began to develop Haverty’s own brand of furniture, starting with just a few items in February 2000. Most of the company’s sales is now of merchandise exclusively designed, sourced and produced under the Haverty’s brand.[6]

Progress continued and 100 stores were in business by the beginning of 2001, when the furniture retailer saw another change in leadership. Rawson Haverty retired from the board and took the title Chairman Emeritus. Grandson of J.J. Haverty, Clarence (Clancy) H. Ridley, elected to the board of directors in 1979, took Rawson’s place as Chairman of the Board. Clancy provided continuity and guidance when J.J.’s great grandson Clarence H. Smith, who spent his entire career experiencing all facets of the company, became President in 2001. In January 2003, Clarence H. Smith was then named CEO.[1] Rawson Haverty continued to attend Board meetings until his death in 2007 at the age of 86. Frank MaGaughey, Jr. followed soon after in 2008 at the age of 84.

Growth of the internet presented Haverty’s with another opportunity and in 2007 the company revamped the website. By March 2008, customers could browse through products and make purchases online.[7]

In 2002, Haverty’s built their southeastern distribution center in Braselton, Georgia. Since then, it has grown to more than 932,000 sq. ft.[8]

The year 2010 marked yet another change for company leadership as L. Phillip Humann succeeded Clancy Ridley as Chairman of the Board. Clancy was elected Chairman Emeritus.[9]

Haverty’s has expanded to three distribution centers to support over 100 showrooms in 17 states.[10]

Additional information is available on the company’s website, havertys.com.

Key Dates

1885: First store opened by J.J. Haverty and his brother Michael
1889: Partnership with Amos G. Rhodes to form Rhodes-Haverty Furniture
1908: J.J. Haverty and son Clarence split with Rhodes and re-establish Haverty Furniture Co
1929: Company went public as Haverty Furniture Companies, Inc
1938: Clarence Haverty becomes President
1955: Clarence Haverty’s son, Rawson, appointed President
1984: J.J. Haverty’s grandson, Frank McGaughey, Jr., named President
1994: John E. Slater becomes President
1998: Stock moves to New York Stock Exchange
1999: 100th store opened
2000: Launch of own brand of furniture
2001: Clarence H. Smith, J.J.’s great grandson, named President
2008: First online sale