MONROE, MICHIGAN. A QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN TOWN
Monroe, Michigan. A quintessential American town. Dreams come true here. At least they did for two young cousins who quit their jobs in the 1920s and went after an American Dream. They were: Edward M. Knabusch and Edwin J. Shoemaker.
During the day, Edward worked wood into desks for the Weis Manufacturing Company. At night he worked it into mirrors, cabinets and novelty furniture for his family and friends.
Edwin farmed. That is, until he discovered the gadgets - band saws, jointers and shaping machines - at his cousin Edward's. Amidst all the corn and soybeans, here was a world that fascinated him. Fact is, Edwin got into the furniture business to get out of farming.
PEOPLE COULDN'T STOP TALKING WHEN, ON MARCH,1927
"the two Eds" abandoned secure jobs, joined forces and invested in their own furniture business. From woodworker to marketer. From farmer to engineer. No one believed they could do it. But the residents of Monroe soon found out that Edward was the perfect "ad man" and Edwin a mechanical genius.
Most people know La-Z-Boy as one of the best-known and most respected names in the furniture industry. Very few remember the beginning - Edward and Edwin crafting doll furniture and cabinets out of Edward's father's garage. Back then, the company was named the Kna-Shoe Manufacturing Company. A seemingly straightforward name.
But the duo soon reconsidered it when Edward traveled a distance to pick up a freight order and was turned away by a terminal agent who refused to release the shipment, mislabeled the "New Shoe Company." To this day, jokes are made about how many soles and leather uppers might be stuffed into some of those first upholstered chairs.
WHEN EDWARD RETURNED HOME
with the order and a headache the partners changed the name to Floral City Furniture, after Monroe's nickname as the Floral City. In the late '20s, the country
was dining at Sardi's and flapping its arms and legs to the beat of "The Varsity Drag." While the nation played, the founders of Floral City Furniture worked - sixteen hours a day - and flourished. By the end of the decade, Ed's dad's garage just wasn't big enough.
Unfortunately, neither were their pocketbooks. All extra income had been poured back into the company, allowing the owners each a $5 weekly salary. Local banks smilingly refused to loan them money. But friends and relatives didn't. They all pitched in to help. For instance, Edwin's father, who by the way wasn't too happy with
Edwin for leaving farm life, mortgaged his farm to put up cash for his son's share of the business. A darn good investment. With such entrusted capital, Edward and Edwin built - brick by brick - a new plant. It was quite a sight to behold. Two men, out in the middle of nowhere - a mile north of Monroe - in a cornfield, building a furniture factory.
TURNS OUT, TH TOWN WAS CRAZY FOR DOUBTING THEM.
Within a year, what would become the most traveled route in Michigan - US 24 - was laid right in front of the plant site. One ten-horse-powered electric motor ran the entire building.
Today, buried beneath layers of paint, the original building is still a part of the La-Z-Boy world headquarters on Telegraph Road. So is that same ten-horse electric motor; it still runs an elevator there.
Floral City Furniture started out producing novelty furniture. One piece, the "Gossiper," allowed people to sit, to phone and to store things. No doubt this design got a lot of use during the spring of 1928.
There was plenty to "gossip" about. Dr. Fleming discovered penicillin, Mickey Mouse starred in the first-ever talkie cartoon, "Steamboat Willie," and Lawrence Welk intoxicated America with his champagne bubble band.