Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Early Furniture Manufacturing & Distributing in the U.S. ~ Julie Lence


Jamestown Settlement
   Situated along the Chadokoin River in the heart of Pine tree country, Jamestown is credited as the 1st settlement in the United States. As such, people needed food, water and shelter to survive in a new land. They also needed chairs to sit on, beds to sleep in, and cabinets to store food and housewares. In 1804, Edward Work and Thomas R Kennedy built a sawmill near the settlement. James Prendergast built one in 1810, and others popped up by 1816, producing the furniture needed for everyday life. Royal Keyes is credited with opening the 1st cabinet making shop. In 1820, he partnered with William Breed, who bout out Keyes’ share in and converted the business from a hand labor to a water-powered factory. Additional sawmills opened around the settlement and by 1840, Jamestown was shipping roughly forty million board feet of timber a year to other settlements in the Ohio Valley, earning an income of $250,000 and depleting the pine trees.         

Out in western New York, the Lake Erie area was heavily populated by pine, chestnut, walnut, cherry, oak and other trees that were perfect for sturdy furniture. Several creeks crossed through the area, providing the power needed for early factories but not the means to transport boards to Jamestown. Until the railroad came along, these factories provided for settlements in northern Ohio and Central New York, leaving Jamestown tied to western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley. But southwest of the Lake Erie area is Cincinnati, the 5th largest city in the United States at that time, and the largest in the west.      

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 Along the Ohio River, Cincinnati was a major port for people making their way west. Steamboats also brought goods from the east to the city and to New Orleans, paving the way for Cincinnati to boom economically. 1815 saw the city expanding their trade, to include distributing chairs and other furniture to the west. Forests around the city were full, and tradesman from worldwide came to build the furniture that was in demand.
 Unfortunately, the Great Flood of 1832 wiped out much of Cincinnati’s furniture making business. Tools and paint were washed away, and then, in 1834, the Asian Cholera added to the destruction of the city’s economy. Steamboat operators and owners were weary of coming to the city for fear of catching the disease and bypassed Cincinnati, leaving more furniture makers to close shop and go into a different trade.

In 1833, settlers searching for place to call home crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa onto newly opened wilderness land purchased from the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians. The area was densely populated with Cedar, Oak, and Walnut trees, and with the arrival of the settlers, wagons loaded with sawmill machinery soon followed. Within ten years, people had sturdy homes and furniture.

Most of the people looking to make their way further west traveled in covered wagons that were packed tight with furniture, food staples, blankets and clothes. Eventually, the railroad paved the way to make traveling and transporting furniture and other big items, such as stoves, to the old west easier. Today, many towns have their own furniture stores, with a manufacturer nearby. Others rely on tractor trailers to supply their businesses with the comfy couches and beds we enjoy.

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