The Wisconsin Chair Company

Founded in 1888 by Frederick A. Dennett, the Wisconsin Chair Company (WCC) was perhaps the most important business in Ozaukee County at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The company, located along the northern shore of the harbor in Port Washington, was originally created to manufacture and sell chairs and other home furnishings. Throughout its over fifty year history, however, the WCC would go on to produce a multitude of products, including beds, cabinets, and even phonograph cabinets.

The city of Port Washington greatly benefited from the expansion of the WCC. The city’s population more than doubled from 1888 to 1898, leading other companies such as the Gilson Manufacturing Company to incorporate in the city. By the end of the nineteenth century, the WCC was the largest Port Washington employer, and was one of the fastest growing businesses in Wisconsin. At its height, the company employed one-sixth of all workers in Ozaukee County.

Disaster

Disaster nearly derailed the WCC’s rapid growth in 1899. In February 1899, a fire broke out in the veneering department of the company’s main building. Port Washington firefighters, afraid that the fire might engulf the entire city, called upon the Milwaukee and Sheboygan fire departments for assistance. The flames spread quickly, destroying the entire complex and the adjoining lumberyard.

Despite the traumatic destruction caused by the fire, Dennett and the WCC board of directors rebuilt the company quickly. With help from the city, the WCC constructed a larger building with better access to the railroad lines that ran through the city. In 1915, the company incorporated another furniture subsidiary, the Wisconsin Couch Company, which sold couches and folding beds.

An illustrated advertisement for Edison phonograph cabinets
The Wisconsin Chair Company first began working with the Edison company to create cabinets for phonographs. Later, the company would also begin to create records that could be played on phonographs. Image courtesy of Flickr.

New Business

In 1916, the WCC entered the burgeoning field of recorded sound with their subsidiary the Wisconsin Cabinet and Panel Company (WCPC). Working with Edison Records, the New Jersey-based company responsible for beginning the commercial record industry, the WCPC began producing phonograph cabinets in a building in nearby New London. With the phonograph market growing, the WCC redirected the efforts of the Wisconsin Couch Company towards producing more phonograph cabinets, renaming it the United Phonographs Corporation in 1916.

Management for the United Phonographs Corporation decided to begin pressing and selling records to accompany their phonographs soon after. In 1917, the WCC incorporated two subsidiaries, Puritan Records and the New York Recording Laboratories, which became the predecessors of Paramount Records.

Paramount record cover showing several dancing figures in the bottom right corner
A Paramount record cover from the 1920s, showing a phonograph cabinet on the left side. Image courtesy of Flickr.

 


Related Stories

Paramount Records double disc advertisement showing a large record moving over the Grafton plant
The Record Production Process
Portrait of Louis Armstrong with his Trumpet.
Recruiting Talent

Related Objects

an image of a paramount record
Paramount Records 78
cropped image of a fiddle
Fiddle
Piano and Song Recital Poster
Piano and Song Recital Poster

About the Author

Sergio M. González


Bibliography

Filzen, Sarah. “The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 82:2 (Winter, 1998-1999): 104-127.

Komara, Edward. “Blues in the Round.” Black Music Research Journal 17:1 (Spring, 1997): 3-36.

Springer, Robert. “Commercialism and Exploitation.” Popular Music 26:1 (Jan. 2007): 33-45.

Van der Tuuk, Alex. Paramount’s Rise and Fall. Denver: Mainspring Press, 2003.

 

Object history created February, 2014

Featured image: The Wisconsin Chair Company memohead, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID 91287