A Trip Through Time: Grand Rapids Furniture History
Grand Rapids, Michigan is one of the most well known places for furniture manufacturing in the United States, and is even referred to as “Furniture City.” The furniture city is known for manufacturing fine furniture and shipping it worldwide. Here at McClure Tables, we are honored to be a part of this city’s fine history, or which woodworking and furniture manufacturing takes up a significant portion. Here’s a brief history of the furniture business in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
All the way back in 1836, a man named William Haldene traveled from Ohio to Grand Rapids and opened one of the first furniture shops in the city, specializing in cabinets, but he also made chairs, beds, coffins, and tables. The picture below is of a 1840 hoop back armchair accredited to Haldene. The chair currently resides in the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Haldene was honored in 1936 as “Father of the Furniture Industry” by the Grand Rapids Furniture Market, and to this day remains the instigator of Grand Rapids’ furniture industry. In 1876, the first company to send a collection of their furniture eastward was the Berkey & Gay Co. The first shipment they sent was rejected, but Eastern merchants in New York bought the second shipment. This helped establish Grand Rapids’ as a nationwide furniture provider.
Trademarking “Grand Rapids”
In 1902, furniture companies in Grand Rapids began using the name Grand Rapids itself as a trademark, to establish that their furniture was the from the Furniture City, rather than somewhere else. From the newspaper The Evening Press in 1902, this was said of the trademark, “[it] is primarily a protection against inferior furniture which may bear some resemblance to a high grade article… In a word, it protects the legitimate dealer against other furniture that is sold under the reputation made by the members of the Grand Rapids Furniture Association.” Okay, not really a quote, reword and put in the article. Furniture bearing this trade mark is in a class by itself.”
“The Grand Rapids Furniture Record” trade publication for the Grand Rapids Furniture Association exposed a furniture company in Spokane, Washington for calling it self the “Grand Rapids Cash Furniture Company.” This fraud gave the impression that its furniture was actually made in Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids Furniture Association sued several companies in Cleveland for the same trademark fraud, intent on keeping their name in Grand Rapids.
Ebenezer M. Ball provides us with a close-up look at the furniture industry in Grand Rapids in the 1800s. He teamed up with William Powers and had a very successful company at the time. In one of his letters home he writes, “I expect to be very much drove with business this summer and almost dread the accumulation of labor and care that the steam mill will bing, but I work all the time now and can do no more if we have 40 mills.”
Margaret E. Page was one of the first female furniture designer in Grand Rapids. Page was trained by many notable designers of the time, like Otto Jiranek and John D. Raab. She opened an office in 1912 and created her own successful business.
Things weren’t always easy in The Furniture City. In 1911, employees from many of the furniture, sawmill, and woodworking machinery companies in Grand Rapids walked off the job, striking for better wages and hours. The strike lasted four months, leaving the city at a standstill. After much turmoil, the strikers received what they wanted. This strike not only got better wages and hours for workers, but also forced Grand Rapids to reevaluate its government, resulting in a new formation of the city government.
Grand Rapids has always been known for it’s fine furniture, and in 1876 Grand Rapids was recognized for being the leading furniture manufacturer in the world, and to this day it is still the leading manufacturer of office furniture worldwide. The Grand Rapids Furniture Association created in 1881 was made for purpose of protecting furniture manufacturers and dealers. It insured reasonable rates of transfer in order to protect members. By 1884, there were already 61 wood working firms in Grand Rapids, and 21 of them made furniture exclusively. By 1928 there were 68 furniture manufacturers in Grand Rapids, and the city often refers to itself as “The Furniture Capital of the World.” Some original buildings like the Keebler Building, pictured below, still stand today.
McClure Tables has operated out of Grand Rapids for the last eight years, and we pride ourselves as a family company, hand-making all of our shuffleboard tables and butcher block products. We are honored to be a part of the traditional and modern woodworking and furniture manufacturing that exemplifies the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We love handcrafting shuffleboard tables, butcher block kitchen islands and gathering blocks, butcher block cutting boards, butcher block chopping blocks, and butcher block countertops. We ship worldwide, but our heart and wood rests in the Furniture City of Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you’re interested in any of our shuffleboards check out our buyer’s guide, or simply browse our selection.