1880: Charles R. Sligh founds Sligh Furniture Co.
1883 – 1888: Sligh operates Honduras Mahogany Co.
1895 – 1896: Sligh manufactures bicycles alongside furniture
1932: Sligh Furniture Co. liquidates assets and closes its doors.
1933: New Charles R. Sligh Co. founded with assets from Sligh Furniture Co.
1940: Company purchases additional factory in Zeeland, Michigan; name changes to Sligh – Lowry Furniture Co.
1945 – 1962: Sligh – Lowry operates Grand Rapids Chair Co. in Grand Rapids.
1951: Company forms Ply-Curves, Inc.
1953 – ca. 1974: Company operates Sligh – Lowry Contract Furniture Co. subsidiary.
1968: Name changes to Sligh Furniture Co.; Trend Clock Co. becomes a division of Sligh.
1980s: Sligh expanded its business furniture line. The Sligh Corridor group combined classic 18th-century form with 21st-century function and won the first place gold award at NEOCON, the annual business office furniture market.
1990: Rob Sligh became the fourth-generation president. During the 1990s Sligh became the high-end leader in home office furniture.
2000: Home office furniture represented about 40% of the company's sales.
Charles R. Sligh founded the company in 1880, after working for Berkey & Gay as a finisher and traveling salesman in 1874. In 1883 Charles R. Sligh traveled to Central America and established the Honduras Mahogany Co., which purchased mahogany timber in Honduras, cut it in New Orleans, and shipped it to Grand Rapids. After the economic crisis depression of 1893, Sligh diversified his manufacturing interests into bicycles as well as furniture. The bicycle operation was merged in 1896 with another manufacturer from Ohio to form the Hamilton-Kenwood Cycle Co. Beginning in 1903 Sligh formed other lumber companies, including the Charles Sligh Timber Co., the Clark-Sligh Timber Co., and the Grand Rapids Timber Com., which invested in timberlands in the U.S. Northwest. These separate companies lasted until the late 1940s. Sligh was a founding member of the Furniture Manufacturers Association of Grand Rapids and was elected to the state senate in 1924. He remained active as president of the company until his death in 1927. Upon the death of the company’s founder, his son-in-law Norman McClave who had been active in the company since 1907, became president, and Charles R. Sligh, Jr. became treasurer. O.W. Lowry became an active voice in cutting production costs after 1929, in an attempt to keep the company solvent after the stock market crash. Frenchman Rene Guenaux came to Sligh as a designer in 1912 and continued through the 1910s.
The Charles R. Sligh Co. was started by Charles R. Sligh Jr. and O.W. Lowry, both former executives of the huge Sligh Furniture Co., which closed in 1933. Charles R. Sligh’s experience as a traveling salesman and treasurer with that company complemented Lowry’s knowledge of engineering and production efficiency. Their new company was opened in the former Thompson Manufacturing plant in Holland, Michigan with only 45 employees, in a deliberate attempt to operate a smaller, leaner company than their 1,500-employee predecessor. Charles R. Sligh Jr. served as president of the Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturers Association in the 1940s, and the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers Guild and the National Association of Manufacturers in the 1950s. Charles R. Sligh III joined the company’s sales force in 1948 and was followed by his brother Robert L. Sligh in 1954. When Charles Sligh Jr. moved to New York in 1957 to run the National Association of Manufacturers, O.W. Lowry assumed the role of president. In 1968 Lowry retired from the business and members of the Sligh family purchased his interest in the company. Other family members continued the tradition of service to the industry. Robert L. Sligh also served in the 1970s as president of the National Manufacturers Association, and as a board member of the National Association of Manufacturers. Robert L. “Rob” Sligh, Jr. joined the company in 1983 and was made its president in 1990. Like his father and grandfather, Rob was elected president of the Grand Rapids Area Furniture Manufacturers Association in 1995.
The company’s first products were inexpensive, asymmetrical walnut bureaus with mirrors. In 1882 Sligh introduced matched bedroom suites. Sligh also made chiffoniers, wardrobes, dressers, and other bedroom occasional pieces in maple, curly birch, mahogany, and oak. Sligh bedroom suites were owned by presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison. Sligh began making a line of case goods from Circassian walnut in 1900, and by 1908 the popular line had become a top seller. Though never considered an “Arts and Crafts” producer, Sligh made at least one notable suite in that style. In 1907 Sligh produced a solid gumwood bedroom suite designed by John E. Brower, with a striking contrasting finish of amber and malachite green. Its functional design was completely unornamented except for circular and oval lily-of-the valley drawer pulls, and delicate lily cut-outs on the bed. The pieces’ gently rounded lines seem more akin to the Moderne movement of the late 1920s than to the other French and Colonial-influenced furniture made by Sligh in 1907. During World War I, Sligh Furniture Co. made walnut gun stocks for the military. By the mid-1920s Sligh billed itself as the “largest manufacturer of furniture exclusively for the bedroom in the world.” From the 1910s through the mid-1920s it offered more than 80 different bedroom suites and 11 dining room suites, in a wide range of period revival styles including Sheraton, Louis XVI, Jacobean, Italian Renaissance, Austrian Baroque, and Dutch 17th Century. Several of the suites also featured an enameled or painted finish, with hand-painted decoration.
Charles R. Sligh Company's first orders came from a former Sligh Furniture Co. client, Macy’s in New York, for the “Salem” bedroom suite, a line formerly produced by Sligh furniture Co. It also manufactured a new line of inexpensive 7-drawer kneehole desks, which proved more popular with Depression-era buyers than the high-end bedroom furniture. This marked a long-term shift in production from the old company’s reliance on bedroom suites to the new company’s desks. In 1937 a prototype known as the “Aqua Vitae” or “Fishbowl” desk drew considerable attention at Market. It featured fashionable Art Deco styling in an oval shape, with burl veneers, a frieze of mirrored glass, built-in radio, a hidden bar, and an aquarium on either end! Unfortunately only the market samples were produced. By 1940 a number of larger kneehole desks as well as coffee and occasional tables, and a commode that concealed a fireproof safe, had been added to the company’s offerings; the bedroom suites were discontinued.
During World War II the plant converted to wartime production of parts for gliders, mortar shell boxes, and cargo trailer bodies, as well as nurses’ dressers and file cabinets. Due to the restriction of wood for civilian manufacturing during the war, timberland near Holland, Michigan was purchased and used to continue furniture production. At the end of the war Sligh – Lowry purchased the Grand Rapids Chair Com., to expand the line of case goods beyond desks. Some lines, especially the “High-Lo Table” and the “Cross Country Line” continued to be produced under the Grand Rapids Chair Co. name. The Holland and Zeeland plants produced a series of high-end, traditional desks known as the “Nottingham Group”. In the 1960s, desks with hand-decorated and lacquered finishes became popular, alongside patterns in production since the Depression. Traditionally styled desks for homes and offices, made from hardwood solids and veneers, remain a major portion of production today. Beginning in the 1970s, freelance designer David Warren added bookcases and credenzas to the offerings of office furniture for the office. In 1989 Sligh introduced a new line of wooden executive office furniture, with 18th-century styling, called “The Corridor Group”.
In 1980, a special Chippendale mahogany Sligh Centennial Desk and Trend 100 Centennial Clock were created, each in limited editions of 1,880, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the original Sligh Furniture Co.
A collection of Sligh family papers is part of the Michigan Historical Collections of the University of Michigan. Bulletin #29 of the Michigan Historical Collections, entitled A Furniture Family: The Slighs of Michigan, was written by Francis Blouin and Thomas E. Powers and published in 1980. Another illustrated history by Blouin, entitled 100 Years: A Great Beginning. SlighFurniture Co. 1880 – 1980, was published by the Sligh Furniture Co. in 1979.
MARKS AND LABELS
From the 1910s through the early 1930s the trademark was the name “SLIGH” in vertical serif block letters, with the “S” and “H” in a larger size, over “FURNITURE CO.” in small type. It was enclosed in a rectangular outline and often overprinted with “GRAND RAPIDS MICHIGAN”.
During the 1930s the trademark was a shield shape with the face of a Dutch woman wearing a traditional cap, and banners over the shield that read, “FURNITURE” and “by SLIGH”. In the early 1940s, it was changed to a Dutch boy dressed in wooden shoes, resting against a wall. After World War II the company adopted a more contemporary trademark, with the name “SLIGH” in slender letters, enclosed in a box. This same logo was used for the contract line between 1953 and 1974, with the addition of “Contract Furniture” in script under the Sligh name. When Trend Clock Co. was acquired, the mark changed slightly to include the word “Furniture” in script under the word “SLIGH”. A logo with companion styling was designed which read ‘TREND/CLOCKS” in the box, with “by Sligh” in script underneath. In 1980 the company adopted a special circular centennial logo that read, “SINCE 1880 SLIGH 100TH ANNIVERSARY”. By the late 1980s, the name had been modified again to “Sligh” in rounded letters with no box. The Trend name was also dropped in favor of “Sligh Clocks”.
1951 - present
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Manufacturer of molded plywood chairs and curved plywood parts for chairs and kidney desks. Founded by Charles R. Slight Jr. and O.W. Lowry.