2010-04-30

19th Century Mass-Produced American Furniture

Detroit Chair Factory and its successor Murphy Chair Company were major players in the transition from hand-made to factory-made furniture in America.

During the early 1830s, American manufacturers first began to use steam-powered machinery in the production of furniture. One of the first companies to experiment with this new technology was Joseph Meeks.

Joseph Meeks & Sons of New York City Pioneered Mass-Produced Furniture

The well-established firm of Joseph Meeks & Sons of New York City was one of the first to advertise mass-produced or ready-made furniture. A broadside of 1833 illustrates large and imposing furniture cut by steam powered saws in a Pillar-and-Scroll style. Veneered with mahogany and destined for the parlors of nouveau riche capitalists, this furniture was often of an inferior quality. The mechanization of factories led to decline in quality by obscuring inferior wood with beautiful veneers, elegant paint and ornate decoration.
Detroit Chair Factory Established in 1864
J. M. Wright, a furniture manufacturer from Oswego New York, visited fast-growing but infant cities such as Chicago, Toledo and Detroit during the early 1860s. He saw potential in such markets and in 1864 purchased land on the corner of 4th and Porter Streets in downtown Detroit, Michigan. He built a four-story showroom with a three-story workshop attached and a two-story engine and dry house. All three buildings were made of brick and furnished with the latest chair-making equipment and machinery.
The machinery was driven by a 75-horsepower steam engine and the factory was heated by steam, requiring more than 11,000 square feet of steam pipe. More than eighty workers were hired for the opening of the factory, not counting the women who wove the cane seats. These ladies were trained on-site and then allowed to take the chairs home to be finished if the supervisors deemed them to be expert enough.

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