The Acme Chair Company
Planning a picnic supper and need tables and chairs? Organizing an outdoor wedding … or one in which there isn’t anywhere to sit? Having a meeting and expecting more people than you have chairs to seat them? Looking forward to a tailgate party?
What you need are folding chairs and/or tables. Easy to find today, but in the late 1800s, although other companies were making a few of them, not many had the foresight of C.D. Schermerhorn (1846-1913) of Reading, Michigan.
Charles Darwin, known around Reading as C.D., was a guy with a vision. The youngest of the seven children of John W. and Sarah Smith Schermerhorn, C.D. helped his father farm for five years and also worked as a clerk in a Ransom dry goods store. His clerking career lasted eight years, the last three owning a store of his own. That move toward ownership spoke of C.D.’s assertiveness and forward thinking. In 1887 he and his brother William S., who was 22 years older, bought the Colby Wringer and Washing Machine Company, which made folding chairs as a sideline. The Colby company became Schermerhorn Brothers and specialized in lumber and building supplies.
William was 63-years-old when he and C.D. went into business together. Their partnership lasted only a few months until C.D. bought out his brother’s shares in the company. Exactly why the partnership ended is only speculation, but it may have been that William was suffering from ill health. Regardless, his departure freed up C.D. to follow what he thought was the most profitable path. He renamed the company the Acme Chair Company and developed unique and unrivaled designs for over 55 different types of portable, folding chairs. Included were five styles of folding lawn seats in addition to several styles of folding tables.
Known from the beginning as the “big factory,” by 1911 the company had doubled in size and was the largest industry in Reading. It employed 85 men and its products were shipped all over the United States.
A fire burned the wood factory to the ground, which was a catastrophe to the city. It was rebuilt, using brick with firewalls build in for safety, at the cost of $100,000, a stupendous amount of money at that time. Most amazing was the fact that the money was partially raised by the sale of bonds to members of the Reading community. In 1945 the new factory partially burned. In the rebuilding at that time, an office, previously located in a house across the street, was added to the new section.
At C.D.’s death, his children George and Elizabeth inherited the Acme Chair Company. George was originally brought into the factory in 1909 as an associate so that he could learn the business. After his father died in 1913, George became the president and general manager. In addition, he was the president of the local bank. The position that C.D.’s daughter, Elizabeth, played in the ownership of the company is a mystery. The employees expressed a positive attitude toward her, so she must have been actually at the company. In A History of Reading Village and Township - 1835-1911, it’s stated that she was a modest and unassuming woman, respected for her business acumen and her ability to protect her interests in the company. However, Lizzie was also a teacher for many years.
Lizzy lived from 1874 until 1965, her last years in the beautiful Schermerhorn home in Reading. Reportedly, she and a woman who acted as a helper and companion lived in very few of the many rooms, which had not been updated. Today the family home is the George White Funeral Home and still has much of the original decorative woodwork.
If you would like to read about the C.D. Schermerhorn family, CLICK HERE
If you would like to read about Tommy Vincent, an employee of the Acme Chair Company, CLICK HERE
JoAnne P. Miller 2015