Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves somewhat lost on the wrong highway in Conover, North Carolina, about 560 miles from our home in Naperville, Illinois, on our way to visit longtime friends, Julie Kovalsky and Bill Kovalsky, in Salisbury.
Turning a corner, we came face to face with an orange sign for “Kroehler Manufacturing, Established in 1893,” pictured above, and our thoughts flashed to the landmark facility located along Fifth Avenue in our hometown.
Jim Penick insisted on stopping, eager to talk with someone who might be able to make a historical Naperville connection to the company known for sponsoring the “Lounge Factory Band” in 1906 (Today the original city band started in 1859 has grown to become the Naperville Municipal Band.) and putting its financial support toward the original site of the Naperville YMCA, dedicated in 1911, later called “Kroehler Y.”
Unfortunately for us, after Jim’s inquiry and a brief waiting period, the receptionist conveyed news that the plant manager was unavailable and she wasn’t familiar with the company’s history.
We ventured on our way, noting the help wanted sign along the road.
A little history about Kroehler Manufacturing
In brief and according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago (© 2005 Chicago Historical Society) Dictionary of Leading Chicago Businesses (1820-2000), prepared by Mark R. Wilson, with additional contributions from Stephen R. Porter and Janice L. Reiff, here’s a little history that connects Kroehler Manufacturing pretty much in name only.
In 1902, Peter E. Kroehler bought the Naperville Lounge Co., a maker of wooden lounge chairs and upholstered furniture.
Kroehler built a new factory in Naperville in 1913 after the original facility was destroyed by a tornado. Soon thereafter, he renamed the company Kroehler Manufacturing Co. This enterprise soon operated across the country and employed several hundred men and women in the Chicago area.
By the middle of the 1940s, with over $20 million in annual sales, Kroehler was the second-largest furniture maker in the United States. During the 1960s, when the company employed close to 8,000 people around the country, annual revenues passed $100 million.
The company struggled during the 1970s, closing its historic Naperville factory in 1978 and ending its operations in the area.
In 1981 Kroehler was acquired by the ATR Group of Northbrook, which put the company up for sale.
By the early 2000s, furniture was still manufactured under the Kroehler name by two unrelated companies, one in (Conover), North Carolina and the other in Ontario, Canada.
The Naper Settlement website also is chock full of info about Kroehler Manufacturing. The Kroehler Collection featured in the Pre-Emption House at the City’s outdoor history museum includes company corporate records, ledgers, photographs, salesman’s catalogs, newsletters, magazines, samples of their advertisements through the years as well as an original painting in the Les Shrader Collection known as “Brushstrokes of the Past.”
Traveling along the back roads, following local protocols and keeping our distance certainly turned living life in historic America into a small world experience!
—Stephanie Penick for PN
One more thing… Always prepared to make a Positively Naperville delivery, Jim provided the Kovalskys with an October copy of PN. Julie and Bill assured us they are preparing to vote by Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Salisbury, North Carolina. Onward!
Thanks for reading!