loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Widdicomb Furniture Co. - Baxter, 1891

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 William and George Jr. enlisted in the Volunteer Infantry early in the summer of 1861, responding to the first call of President Lincoln. Harry went to the front in 1862, and John followed in 1863.


In 1864, the two oldest 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 $80,000 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 building 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 lumberyards 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.

Source: History of the City of Grand Rapids by Albert Baxter. 1891.

Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC