1890: Owners of Grand Ledge Chair Co. in Grand Ledge, Michigan move to Grand Rapids and begin Michigan Chair Co.
1926: Company is purchased and operated as part of “Michigan Furniture Shops”.
1930: Company is sold to Kroehler of Chicago; operates as part of Furniture Shops of America
1938: Michigan Chair Co. closes.
1946: Michigan Chair Co. re-incorporates
1951: Company absorbs Kuiper Manufacturing Co.
1972: Michigan Chair Co. closes.
The company was organized by Henry Jordan, Edward Crawford, and Thomas Garrett, all of whom had been previously involved with the Grand Ledge Chair Co. in Grand Ledge. After selling that business, they started Michigan Chair in Grand Rapids. Garrett later bought out Jordan’s interest in the company, and in 1913 handed over the presidency to his son Charles Garrett.
Some of the company’s earliest designs were by Charles D. Thomson, who was also principal designer for the William A. Berkey Furniture Co. until his death in 1903. He was succeeded by Edgar R. Somes, an architect by training that was chief of design for Michigan Chair from 1901 until he left to work for Century in 1905. During this short period the company embarked on its most lively program of experimentation. Charles Nash took over as designer from 1905 until 1930.
The company initially made inexpensive chairs, which became more elaborate and of better quality over time. It introduced a line of stocky Mission chairs as early as 1898. Its catalogs from about 1900 included more than 1,500 chair designs in Grotto-esque, Medieval-folk, Mission, Prairie, Austrian Secessionist, Colonial, Empire, and Golden Oak styles, and produced in quarter-sawn oak, bird’s-eye maple, mahogany, mahoganized curly birch, and Circassian walnut.
Michigan Chair also produced occasional pieces that could be used with its seating, including tabourets, tables, pedestals, and music cabinets. In 1903 it produced a line of carved oak figural novelty wall clocks with names like “Hans and Gretchen,” “The Monk,” “Mischief,” “Rob Roy,” “Miles and John,” and “Contentment”.
By circa 1909 Michigan Chair had already begun turning away from the Arts and Crafts styles toward more ornamented period revival designs. While some were more austere examples in Adam, Windsor, and vaguely Colonial styles, the company seemed to specialize in executing chairs with a high degree of carving, in Elizabethan, Chippendale, and Louis V and XVI styles.
In the early 1930s Michigan Chair produced a line of stylish black lacquer enameled chairs and divans, with Art Deco lines and Cubist upholstery. When the company reopened following World War II the line was much smaller, consisting of only about fifty models in mid-century versions of Adam, white enameled “Venetian” and “Florentine,” and French Empire.
MARKS AND LABELS
Michigan Chair’s original label was circular, with the company name around the edge, the Grand Rapids-Made triangle, the words “Chairs and Tables” and sometimes space for a handwritten product number in the middle. Some time, perhaps in the mid-1920s, the logo was changed to a ribbon or banner with the company name in Old English script, surrounding a turned and caned chair on a circular medallion with the words “GRAND RAPIDS”. Versions of this trademark were used until circa 1956. In the late 1950s the company used a logo of a banner with the company name in a simple, sans-serif type, over the shield-back of a chair with an “M” forming the back splat.