Wester, Kevin J. (ed.) / Consumed by fire : a collection of writings about the famous Wisconsin Chair Company fire, Port Washington, Wisconsin, February 19, 1899
A brief history of the Wisconsin Chair Company Port Washington, Wisconsin, pp. 1-10
On September 18, 1888, the work whistles of the Chair Company had already begun to blow and a crew of thirty-five men was employed. Fred A. Dennett served as president of the corporation. In 1889, his half-brother, John R. Dennett, joined the firm. John R. Dennett served the company as vice-president for many years and became a leading resident of Port Washington. Over the years, John M. Bostwick continued to be a major investor and stockholder in the corporation. He later served the company as vice- president and president. Yet in the early years of the business, Fred A. Dennett and his brother, John R. Dennett, were the names and personalities equated with the Wisconsin Chair Company. The first few years of the company's existence were rather difficult financially. But in 1891, the firm acquired the patent to the MacLean swing rocker. This popular rocker set the company on a course toward rapid success. By 1892, the Wisconsin Chair Company gained a national reputation for the quality of its rockers. In order to meet the demands of consumers, the company soon employed 350 workers. Practically over night, the Wisconsin Chair Company had become the largest employer in Port Washington and one of the fastest growing companies in Wisconsin. A special edition of The Port Washington Star, Port Washington, Wisconsin, December 10, 1892, gives insight into the rapid success of the Chair Company: Although the city [Port Washington] has several industries each qualified by its greatness to be a worthy leader, yet the concern whose name forms the caption of this article [The Wisconsin Chair Company] wields the sceptre. It is not only the largest industry here, but one of the largest in the United States devoted to the manufacture of specialties in the chair line. It is said to be one of the most remarkable examples of commercial development known to the industrial history of the state, and from those familiar with its history we hear nothing but expressions of astonishment as well as admiration for the genius that gave it birth and life. Four years ago the business employed thirty-five men, how three hundred and fifty are required to meet its demands, and in this short time the name of the company has become known to the limits of this country. Like sending "coals to New Castle," the company now sends its wares to the very doors of those who were monarchs in the trade. This certainly could not have followed unless the product was superior to that offered by the competition. The management selected at the outset certain specialties to manufacture, which proved to be a most enlightened move, for by the concentration of thought and power upon a limited number of objects, rapid improvement and the best results were obtained. The quality of the product has been maintained at the best standard of excellence, and, in fact, every legitimate means has been adopted to make the corporate name a synonym of the best in its line of manufacture. The wisdom of the decision needs no comments.
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