In my earliest memories, I can recall my brother and I jumping from the living room sofa to the matching chair a few feet away.
First of all, our mother would, as quickly as her feet could bring her to that room, yell and chide and tell us to stop. Second, we would listen for a moment and then try it again, only to get sent to our room where we probably got into more trouble. Third, amazingly, that living room set held up to the abuse that we gave it.
That was, perhaps, because it was made in Binghamton by Kroehler Manufacturing. I have made mention in previous columns that Binghamton at the period around 1900 had more than 20 firms involved in the manufacture of furniture. The abundant lumber supply, ample labor force and good transportation made it an excellent market for the growth of this industry.
In 1903, in Naperville, Illinois, Peter Kroehler organized and opened the Naperville Lounge Co. Three years later, Kroehler’s brother Benjamin Kroehler moved to Binghamton and oversaw the building and opening of the Binghamton Lounge Co., which was also involved in furniture manufacture. That plant opened on April 10, 1907 with 12 employees. Despite the different names, the Binghamton plant was operated as the eastern branch of the Illinois firm.
The quality of the furniture was such that sales began to increase over the first few years of the company. The Binghamton building was originally a small, four-story building, but large additions were added over the next two decades, and the number of employees went from that originally 12 to well over 900 employees by the early 1960’s. The size of the facility increased from an original 130,000 square feet to over 467,000 square feet at its height.
The original production line started with Morris couches and chairs, but added a large line of upholstered furniture with basic furniture to the higher-quality line of living room and bedroom furniture being completed at the Binghamton plant.
Kroehler became one of the nation’s most successful furniture firms. Eventually, Kroehler Manufacturing had 22 plants operating across the country.
Ads from local furniture stores such as Olums and Coury Brothers show a wide variety of well-made furniture at reasonable prices that brought a large volume of sales in the region. The success of the company and the large number of employees would give outsiders the idea that everything was solid, but time and hindsight tell a different story.
In the mid to late 1970’s, the sales of Kroehler-made furniture began to decline as cheaper-made products and imported items hurt that industrial sector. Slowly, Kroehler Manufacturing dropped some manufacturing lines, and eventually closed some of its plants across the United States. Much of the manufactured of upholstered items became focused in the Binghamton plant. Newspaper accounts through the mid-1970’s would indicate that all was successful.
However, in 1982, the executives at Kroehler Manufacturing made the decision to close the business, and sell off the assets and the company name. While it was the end of the line for the people in Naperville, Illinois, local investors in Binghamton bought the facility at 75 Ely St. and reformed to continue as Kroehler Manufacturing Corp. of Binghamton.
That effort, though, ran into continued financial difficulties, and several attempts at last-minute loans and reorganization efforts were not successful. The firm finally closed in 1984, and two auctions and sales emptied the old plant of its equipment and supplies. The nearly century-old building was razed in the 1990’s, and a new building called the Ahearn Building was constructed for Universal Instruments. Today, the Southern Tier Independence Center occupies that space.
As for my connection to Kroehlers — that set of living room furniture continued to survive our abuse, even as it was moved to our grandparents’ cottage on Page Lake near New Milford, Pennsylvania. In 1986, the final sale of items brought my mother and me to buy some upholstery pieces. For some unknown reason today, I selected a brown velvet with large floral pattern that was used on a 1940’s chair. Not a pretty choice, but like Kroehler’s, it was very durable.
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