Friday, June 12, 2009


Joseph Robinson Newton (24-Dec 1878 KY - 6 Oct 1948, Martinsville, Morgan Co., IN) was the son of Charles Newton. Joseph married Lucille Lillard, and had three children, the third being mentioned below, Joseph Robinson Newton, Jr.
Big Contract for Ford & Johnson Co.
The Ford & Johnson Company which is closely identified with Frankfort and which has a large plant here has just secured the contract forsupplying the furniture for the new Senate office building in Washington. The contract will amount to about $100000 and will be awarded next week to the Ford & Johnson Company. The bids were opened in Washington on Wednesday and the company was the lowest bidder of the many who entered the competition.

All the furniture which will be used will be of solid mahogany and the tables desks and chairs will all be of the handsomest. The desks will cost about $250 each and each Senator will have a settee ten feet long, handsomely finished and luxurious. The Senate office building will contain a suite of three rooms for each Senator. This will include a bathroom and the furnishings will be elaborate and expensive designs which they submitted to the committee in charge of the letting of the contracts.

The Ford Johnson Company is preparing to bid on the furniture for Kentucky's new capitol, the contract for which will amount to about $100,000. It is probable that the company will submit designs for furniture as they did at Washington so that the Capitol Commission can tell how to estimate the cost and the kind of furniture which is wanted.

Joseph R. Newton who was a resident of Frankfort but who is now sales manager for the Ford & Johnson Company with headquarters at Chicago, was here Friday in the interests of the company, and also to see his new son who is just three days old. Mr Newton said his company had won the big contract in fair competition and was ready to bid on the furniture for the cajitol here. He returned to Chicago Friday night.

--Frankfort Weekly News, July 11, 1908.

A Brief History of Ford & Johnson, by Greg Newton

Ford & Johnson Company was originally established in the late 19th century by John Sherlock Ford (16 Sep 1831 Burton, Geauga Co., Ohio - ), the son of Stephen and Eunice Ford. He graduated from Burton Academy at age 16, and married Sarah M. Starrett, of Columbus, Ohio, on 16 Sep 1866. He clerked for D. T. Woodbury & Co., wholesale dealers in general merchandise at Columbus, until 1856. He worked with the firm of Brotherlin, Halm & Co., furniture manufacturers, from 1856 until the dissolution of that firm in 1863. He was partners in the firm of Ford, Stage & Co. until the death of Mr. Stage in 1865, when he purchased his partner's interest and continued alone, organizing the business as a stock company and afterward sold it out, retaining the chair department.

In 1867 Ford formed a partnership with Henry W. Johnson as Ford & Johnson Co., manufacturers and jobbers of chairs, at Columbus, Ohio. In 1868 the firm moved to Michigan City, Indiana as Ford, Johnson & Co. In 1872 the company established the Chicago base as J. S. Ford, Johnson & Co., manufacturers of chairs and settees. In June of 1900, the Michigan City factories and the Chicago business was placed in a corporation under the name of J. S Ford, Johnson & Co. (The Book of Chicagoans by John W. Leonard. 1905. page 211.)

Major Henry W. Johnson (1834 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - ), the son of James E. and Emily B. Johnson. James Johnson, in early life, learned the trade of carpenter. For several years he was in the contracting and building business at Philadelphia, until his partner absconded with all the capital of the firm. He then returned to Ohio and took the management of the farm which he inherited, and later continued in business as a contractor and builder.

Henry Johnson attended Hiram College in Ohio, taught school for some six years, and was commissioned second lieutenant of the Forty-First Ohio Infantry in 1861. He was brevetted major of volunteers by the United States War Department "for meritorious services in the Union Army." After the war Major Johnson engaged in the business of manufacturing furniture at Columbus, Ohio, and joined up with J. S. Ford in 1867 at Michigan City. Mr. Johnson for many years was vice president.

Henry Johnson's son, William Ford Johnson (b. 1869), was Secretary, Treasurer and Chicago Manager of J. S. Ford, Johnson & Co., chair manufacturers.

Their furniture was sold across the country, with one reference of a furniture store as far away as Seattle carrying their product. They were what is now known as a "second tier" or generic manufacturer of mission furniture, patterning some of their designs after Stickley furniture.
The company had a large factory in Michigan City, Indiana, with the showroom and warehouse on Wabash Ave in Chicago, IL. They were among the exhibitors at the International Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900. The company was a member of the Business League of America in 1905.

Their enormous physical plant in Michigan City, at Chicago Street near Park Row, was composed of Factory A, a three-story building, 947 x 60 feet wide, not including the boiler and engine rooms, and divided into five sections by four fire walls; Factory B, a one-story building with a clerestory arrangement for good lighting, 475 by 75 feet not including the boiler and engine rooms; and Factory C, a three-story building, 450 x 60 feet.

The Michigan City factory started with a force of 150 men, and later had over 500 employees with an annual payroll of over $1 million. Local residents who worked in the factory were given gifts when they married and at the birth of each child. There was a provision made for the payment of an insurance benefit upon the death of the head of the family, and in addition to all this a bonus at Christmas — all showing the interest of the company in its employees from the “cradle to the grave.”

One of the factory buildings was located within the Indiana State Prison, where the Ford & Johnson Company were allotted 100 prison laborers to work in the chair industry. Although prison labor was declared illegal in 1904, the previous contracts were apparently grandfathered in, as there were still convicts working as late as 1916, when S. Karpen took over.

In July of 1908, Ford & Johnson announced that they had secured the contract for supplying the furniture for the new Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. The contract was for about $100,000 and was awarded to the low bidder in the competiton.

"All the furniture which will be used will be of solid mahogany and the tables desks and chairs will all be of the handsomest. The desks will cost about $250 each and each Senator will have a settee ten feet long, handsomely finished and luxurious. The Senate office building will contain a suite of three rooms for each Senator. This will include a bathroom and the furnishings will be elaborate and expensive designs which they submitted to the committee in charge of the letting of the contracts. (Frankfort Weekly News, July 11, 1908)

But it appears they were premature in their announcement, and the contract was awarded to S. Karpen and Brothers.

"Samples were also submitted from Ford and Johnson Company of Chicago. The head draftsman of the Senate and House Office buildings, Oscar Wenderoth, reported that Elliott Woods was “immensely impressed with the furniture made by Mr. Wadelton and is quite enthusiastic over it.”

"After the bids were open, Brainard was asked to submit a report of the Architect of the Capitol analyzing the prices and quality of the work of the various manufactures. Although S. Karpen and Brothers (Subcontractor to George W. Cobb) of Chicago, was the lowest bidder, Brainard felt the work was of less skillful design and execution and recommended that the work be done by one of the “more expensive people.”5 Unfortunately, his report arrived too late and Architect of the Capitol Woods had awarded the contract to George W. Cobb, who had bid $61,715.70 for the 2105 pieces; T.D. Wadelton had bid $118,755.00. S. Karpen had wanted the contract so badly that they had proposed to make a sample of each piece and guaranteed by a special bond that the other pieces would be of equal quality. If not, they would pay for the government to have quality articles made by another company." (Architect of the Capitol. Art & Reference Subject Files. Russell Senate Office Building. Group record #40; Series #40.3 Reel 21. 1908.)

"The Ford Johnson Company is preparing to bid on the furniture for Kentucky's new capitol, the contract for which will amount to about $100,000. It is probable that the company will submit designs for furniture as they did at Washington so that the Capitol Commission can tell how to estimate the cost and the kind of furniture which is wanted." (Frankfort Weekly News, July 11, 1908)

Joseph Robinson Newton (24 Dec 1878, Frankfort, Franklin Co., Kentucky - 6 Oct 1948, Martinsville, Morgan Co., Indiana), previously a resident of Frankfort, Kentucky with the Frankfort Chair Company. In 1908, he was then living in Chicago, and was the sales manager for the Ford & Johnson Company with headquarters there.

In September of 1908, at the annual company meeting, George B. Cox was elected President, and Col. A. D. Martin of Frankfort, Kentucky was elected 2nd Vice President. By this time, Ford & Johnson was one of the two largest chair manufacturing companies in the United States, and had factories, warehouses and salesrooms in New York City, Chicago, Michigan City, Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Georgia, Frankfort and Louisville, Kentucky, Helena, Arkansas, and High Point, North Carolina. The administrative offices for the company were moved from Chicago to Cincinnati. Ford & Johnson moved into the Kruse-Bahlmann Building, leasing four floors on the eastern side of the building. The building came with railroad switching facilities. In addition to chairs, the company expanded to manufacturing interior woodwork and office furniture, and outfitting office buildings and hotels with everything pertaining to interior woodwork in seating. (Frankfort Weekly News, Sept., 1908)

In Frankfort, Ford & Johnson's mill was on the southside of town. The sawmill and chair factory was at the corner of Fourth and Fowler, with the west and southwest sides along the Kentucky River.

The company sold in a bankruptcy sale to Midland Chair & Seating Company in 1913. It's fortunes declined further under Midland management, and in 1916 the company and plant were sold to S. Karpen & Bros. for the winning bid of $88,549. In January 1933, it was announced that S. Karpen & Bros. would be closing the plant.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great background information!

    ReplyDelete