Brian Wilburn - Sales Manager for WCC PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 November 2005 00:00
Brian Wilburn - Sales Manager for WCC




My father (Brian Wilburn Sr.) was the assistant sales manager for the WCC. Carter McCarthy was his superior. He was assistant sales manager from 1934 to 1944. Then he went on the road in 1944 and he died in 1948-49. He came up there when McCarthy came up there and bailed him out of trouble. They were buddies in Chicago, they were race track buddies. By that connection he hired him. He did everything that Mac didn’t want to do. He did everything for him. A lot of the detail work, he supervised three or four people, keeping track of records and sales and cutting orders and production orders to keep the thing going.

In 1934 (sic: 1932) the WCC was broke. Mac had been sales manager for an outfit called Saginaw over in Michigan prior to the crash in 1929. After the crash Saginaw went out of business, so Mac moved back to Chicago, where he originally came from, and he hung out. My grandfather ran an elevator company and he never laid anybody off during the depression. They all sat in the back of the shop and played pinackle (?) on salary. By the time the depression was over he was broke and the elevator business was broke. Mac was one of the guys that hung out at the pit engineering company and then Mac took up the job up in Port Washington. The banks got in touch with him, State Bank (of Port Washington, PWSB) carried all the paper and they were ready to pull the plug and they got hold of Mac and offered him $20.000 a year to come up and put the company back together again. He turned that down. He said: "No, I don’t want that, I work for nothing for 15 per cent of the gross". So that was his deal, he took the company over with a 15 per cent cut to handle all sales-related expenses. The Bostwicks thought they had found the idiot of all times, somebody (who is) going to work for nothing. Of course before it (WCC) was over, Mac made more money than anybody else was. He died broke but he was rich for about 10-15 years.

Mac knew the business,and the Bostwicks didn’t. They inherated it. The Old Man (J.M. Bostwick) knew it and when he got to the end of his life he hired O.E. Moeser who at that time was running the depot for the North Western railway. And he hired O.E. because in those days they shipped everything by rail and brought in raw materials by rail so they were working with O.E. Moeser a lot and when he decided he had to do something he hired Moeser as president, because his kids didn’t have the smarts to run it. And when Mac came on, his deal was he wouldn’t put any of the Bostwicks on the salesforce.

Doug Bostwick was o.k., he ran the plant. He knew what the hell he was doing. Then he had his two kids Lyall and Howard, they were directly under him. Howie ran the mill and all the rough end of the production and Lyall ran the finishing, upholstering and final assembling.

Otto Moeser's home in Port Washington where Blind Lemon and
Otto Moeser's home in Port Washington where Blind Lemon and


The main building was considered down town. (In 1933) they moved everything from (the) Grafton (pressing – and studio buildings) to Plant # 2, which is on the west side of town, where the Bolens tractor company is right now. Plant # 2 was torn down about 1955. It was a two-block long building, four stories high. That building had to be 100-150 feet long and about 50-60 feet wide and 14 feet high and it was just packed with cases of records. Just packed. I mean there were thousands of them. They quit selling and when they quit selling, they kept making them. When they finaly figured out this was not going to work, that’s when they closed the Grafton plant. They had all this stuff and I believe they didn’t make any effort to try to sell it. They just closed it up and said forget about it, the hell with it. Stuck everything in Plant # 2 and let it sit there.

When we were kids, it was closed and all they used it for was storage. Of course we found our way in to it. Kids were going in and out all the time, we weren’t supposed to be, but we were. Empty buildings are a magnet for kids. There was no security at all. In those days Port Washington had a police force of three cops. Nobody knew the meaning of the word seecurity in those days. We were in that plant all the time and I probably destroyed 2-3000 records. We made frisbees out of them, we sailed them off the roof. And when we got a little older we used a shotgun. You could get away with it, using a shotgun in city limits. The building was right next to the railroad tracks. There was nothing around it so it was not dangerous.

(This must be the Simplicity building which still is erect. Close to the Chair Factory # 2 there was a small building, a garage-like building next to the railroad tracks which was used to store records and these were shipped out of this building after orders had come in. In the 1960s dennis Klopp saw a wood eagle-on-a-globe on top of this building which resembled the Paramount logo. It was one foot high and orange of clour. Klopp took it off the building and still owns it).

They had all the masters, the castings, the bronze and brass, stuff to produce records, stored in Plant # 2 on the west side. It was all in one great big room. After the war started they started scrap metal drives, find bronze and brass, that kind of stuff, for the war. They suddenly realised they had a load of that stuff they didn’t need. So it all got loaded in a couple of freight cars, (and) shipped (it) off. I am sure it got sold to some scrap dealer. That was the end of that. This was during the summer of 1942.

The other thing they made a lot of money of… see in those days factories were really inline operations. The machine shop in the chair company was the basement of one whole building. It was a tremendous machine shop operation. They had all kinds of production equipment to manufacture metal equipment. After the war started they couldn’t do a lot of new stuff and the machine shop was really maintaining the factory. Then somebody in Chicago got in touch with my father and what they were looking for was production facilities for stuff that was related to the war effort. And they came up with a contract to do the milling work on bronze castings and bronze equipment for submarines, which were be made up in Manitowoc. So all these raw castings were shipped into the WCC and then they’d run them across the machines and do to them what ever had to be done to them, boring or finishing or whatever had to be done to them and then they shipped them up to Manitowoc to be installed. And then they (WCC) suddenly realised that they had been cutting a tremendous amount of brass off of these castings. They had piles of it, big enough to fill a room.

And suddenly they realised that the scrap was worth more than they were getting for the job. They made tons of money on that. That was my dad’s deal. He brought that into the WCC. The war work, they weren’t supposed to pay any commissions, but Mac and my dad made a deal with O.E. so that he got paid a commission on all the stuff that went through the machine shop. That kind of put our family together. That was a really interesting deal. That was my first job, working in the machine shop summers while I was on High School.

After my dad died, (I) came back, I had to go to Kings Point in New York and I came home for the funeral and when that was all over Mac sat me down, and he said: "What you going to do?" And I said I am going back going to school. And he said: "Like hell, your mother needs you". So I said what does that mean, and he said: "Well I’ll put you to work. I shove you through the factory in two years and put you on the road the third year". And that’s what he did. He handed me the Texas, Oaklahoma, and Louisiana territories, which was nothing, because the product they were making was sized and styled for appartment house living, the big cities like Detroit, Chicago and New York. And Texas didn’t have any appartments. So I went down with underscaled furniture. What they wanted in Texas was big stuff, and I had little stuff, small scale. So that was a riot, but I stayed there and I spent fifty years selling furniture.

I started for the WCC in 1949, in 1950 I was in the plant and in 1951 I was running a desk in the office handling all the sales-related aggrevation, all the problems. Then I went on the road in 1952 and stayed on the road until last year.

After my dad died, Mac made my mother salesman for his territory. She never did a damn thing, he (Mac) did it and my mother got paid commission on it.

Right after that Turner McCarthy died, who is Mac’s stepson, he did they same with Marge. He turned Turner’s territory over to Turner’s wife. That when the big brass decided they didn’t like the way Mac was running (business). There had to be actual salesmen out there, not just phantoms. In effect they broke Mac’s contract and when they did that, he took a hike and went to work for a Sheboygan chair company. When he left he took probably 50 per cent of the WCC business with him. That headed them downhill so fast. They were like a runaway locomotive, they headed for the shit can.

WCC couch
WCC couch

In the heydays the WCC was the third largest furniture company in the country. It was a gang buster company.

They never advertised during the heydays, they didn’t have to. They even didn’t have a catalog. In those days they didn’t have a lot of customers. Mac’s connections were with the major department stores in New York, Detroit, the big cities, because that’s where Saginaw had sold their stuff. So when Mac started ramrotting sales in Port Washington he went the same direction. I was in Mac’s office two or three different times when they were coming up with a new product, a new design, some things they hadn’t made before and Mac would get on the telephone and I was sitting there taking notes and he bullshitted with peoplea around the country and tell them what they were gonna do. Going to do, hadn’t been done and he get orders out of them. He committed them to a portion of the first cutting. So when the first cutting went through the shop it was already sold. They ran the whole operationoff of cutting orders, they didn’t do anything one at a time, they always produced in big quantities of a given pattern. Part of my dad’s job was put together in anticipation. In other words, if they got orders for 500 of a given set, so it will take three months to run it through the plant and by that time we may need another 100 and then we need another 100 after that gets sold. When they needed 300 they put the cutting order in for 600 or 700. And by the time it got through, most of it was sold and shipped immidiately and then the rest got pushed out fast, because the minute this stuff hit the floor it was sold and then they needed more. They exhaust that cutting order and then they wait for two months and bring the cutting order back in. I knew Ernie Schwartz very well. Ernie did a hell of a job for them, because he was a crackerjack designer and he had ideas, actually he had more ideas then they had guts. But they did do a lot of his stuff.


That went out of business pretty quick. They weren’t a good cabinet producer. They didn’t have the big plants to do cabinet work effectively. They did case goods to go with their dining room furniture, but that was not their specialty. They didn’t do it well. It was o.k., but not profitable. The chairs and tables they made money on.


Maurice Supper lived right next door to Mac. We moved up to wisconsin from Chicago in 1934 and Maurice Supper by that time was no longer involved with the WCC.

Grace Boerner was Mac’s secretary and she kind of ran the secretarial pool, a gang of 7-8 women, secretaries for the whole office. In the 1940s she was pushing 70 (age). Mac and Grace were pretty much the same age.


Morrie came in about two years running it without Mac. Then Morrie came in with a big bullshit story what he was gonna do with the company.

Well Morrie was a liquidator, he wasn’t a furniture man. They (WCC) sold it to Morrie. I was a salesman at the time in Texas, and even I could tell what was happening. Because all he was doing was selling the inventory. The minute he got rid of the inventory, that was the end of the ball game. They closed the plant. They were having labour problems and the furniture industry had moved to High Point, Carolina. And the management didn’t want to move to Carolina. By that time they were fighting with the union. The successful furniture business were in High Point where there wasn’t any union. So they started with a hell of a price advantage. But the union really wrecked the plant, plus a lot of dum mistakes.


Mac would reserve the whole top floor of the old Marylin hotel in Chicago, 20-25 rooms on that floor plus 2 great big suites. Then the whole sales crew would spend the markets, staying at that hotel and those facilities.

The next day they run over to the Furniture Mart, first the Furniture Mart and when that closed up then they used the second floor of the hotel as a show room. The Furniture Mart pretty much went out of business because there wasn’t anything to sell when the war started. The way production worked then, for instance the WCC made furniture for the army that took up ¾ of their production. And the other ¼ they were allowed to sell to stores for civilian use. During the war their primary production was for the army. The selling end of the thing was kind of a joke, because they didn’t have anything to sell. They were on a quota. And each sales area would get a certain percentage of what their civilian alocation was, they could sell it in one heart beat. They could sell it in one call. But most of them spread it out to their customers, which was a smart move, because it kept a big customer base and when the war was over they were set to go back into business and everybody loved them. The major stores would send their buyers into Port Washington and other furniture towns to buy stuff and all of them wound up either having diner or buyers would stay over at our house. The whole thing was like a club. It was like a handshake deal. When they come into town Mac would take them to diner tried to keep them calm down. They all wanted more furniture than he would give them. It was all close-net organisation.

John Gryca was the rod man. He was the inhouse detail man. Ernie Schwartz, who would crank out the drawings, the concept and then Gryca would turn it into working rods, which was a fullscale pattern of the furniture with all the details on it. Mac brought him in from one of the factories in Grand Rapids.

Ed Guttman was originally appointed as an efficienty agent to work in one of the departments. The union wanted him out of the factory because of his way dealing with people. Part of the deal to end the strike in 1934 was to send off Guttman. Ironically, Guttman ran the office the way Moeser wanted it, but sent him back to New York, where he had come from, to become a sales agent for Brooklyn, although he did not have any experience. In the early 1950s Ed Guttman showed Brian how to make a sales deal.

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