INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD BOSTWICK (BORN 1915)
CONDUCTED AT MRS. DOROTHY BOSTWICK'S HOUSE,
IN PORT WASHINGTON ON MARCH 20, 2000
Douglas Bostwick was Howard’s father and became superintendent of the Wisconsin Chair Company, under Otto Moeser
WHEN DID DOUGLAS START AT THE WCC?
As long as I can remember he had been a painter, he also worked for the local brewery before I started high school. Around late 1920s he worked at the chair factory, first as a foreman in the finishing department and when they had a strike at 1934; the main part of the strike was they had a superintendent by the name of Gutman. He was a son of a gun. That was the main reason for the strike: to get rid of Ed Gutman. They more or less asked to make my father superintendent at that time. They got rid of Ed Gutman. There might have been a little raise of wages, a couple of pennies here, some of the benefits.
Nobody worked during that three-week strike. It was a closed shop. After the strike it became a closed shop. Everybody at work had to be a member of the union. Prior to that it was not recognized.
The main organizer of the union was a very fine gentleman by the name of Leon Debrew. He was a very intelligent man. He was more or less the person behind the organizing. Later on he became a big one in the union. Leon worked there until 1935 or so. Then he got his job as an organizer at the union.
Jimmie Budrick more or less got more power after Leon left. Al Watry was my uncle. He was my father’s brother-in-law. He operated the moulding machines.
I started in summers 1933 and 1934 working for the WCC. In 1935 I graduated from high school and then I worked full time until 1942 when I went into the service until 1946. When I came back I again started working for the WCC. I was told that my future was there. I should have gone back to school. I was entitled to education under GI Bill of Rights. My future, I was told, might have been following up my father (or even Otto Moeser).
Bill [Moeser] never settled in Port Washington. Marshall went to Atlanta, late 1920s, early 1930s.
When he came back they had set up that showroom in Milwaukee. He and Eddie were down there. He worked in that showroom until the chair factory closed in 1954. And he and Eddie were down in that showroom at the time.
Around the time Carter McCarthy came in, that’s the time they brought this help from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids was a furniture industry too. They had quite a few big companies and that’s where Mr. Gryga came from, and Pete Peterson and Al Groessler.
Pete Peterson was foreman of the finish woodworking department. Al Groessler was foreman of the sanding department. But I think he came from the Milwaukee area.
Of course Archie Altendorf was in the yard and he was a local boy and then Haley Peterson was in the rough wood-working department. Frank Osar was in the veneer department. He was a local person. He worked a long time in WCC.
Then there was John King. He was brought up from the Chicago area. He was more or less in the finishing and upholstering department. I presume he knew Carter McCarthy previously from the Chicago area. Carter’s son, Turner, was on the sales staff. When Carter spoke, everybody knew it.
WCC during World War 2 did have a lot of jobs open for war work, for the ordinance department. And they put that out on bids and the chair factory had this quite large machine shop where they did metal work. They bid on some of these jobs that the ordinance department accepted bids on and they got some on that. I know some of the work was on the shell casings. They had bid on other types of works on the war effort. They had tithe facilities and they did the war work. They bid on all those jobs. They do that part of the war effort. After that they built an awful lot of chairs for the government. I remember so well; we mostly worked with yellow perch. All these government chairs were made out of elm. Some of these contracts may have been into the thousands. They did a lot of government work after the war too.
That dinette set was a good seller until the end. But they could not compete with the south anymore. All your furniture industry was going to the south, because a furniture shop picked a lot of area, and due to the eade (?) and the wages, they all went to the south. That’s what slowed it down.
Then they were gonna sell while there’s still market but it was sold to a liquidator, Morrie Chaitlen. That was the beginning of the end.
The water reservoir up the hill on Johnson Street was built to lower fire insurance. They had that for water pressure.
THERE WERE EVEN RUMOURS OF GETTING MOESER BACK ON THE JOB AFTER THE CLOSE
That would be very difficult when a person sold a business and (later) come back and operate it the same way. It would be a difficult position to be in.
(Fred Supper) he graduated with me in 1935, so I believe Maurice already had gone back to New York at that time. Maurice Supper was married to a Boerner girl here in town, Viola. They had two children, Fred and a daughter that was handicapped. I know that Maurice was back in New York as soon as Fred graduated. He headed east, for what kind of business I could not say (Maurice Supper never left Port Washington).
When Carter McCarthy came in, he had some salesmen. Whether he hired them when he moved here or before, I couldn’t say, but he had some good salesmen on his force.
John Gryga worked as a designer. He detailed things, to get it ready to manufacture, but actually he did some designings, but John he approved of designs at some times. They had to design them and then we made a sample and after that they incorporated some improvements and a lot of them were John’s idea.
The WCC had a display at the Merchandise Mart on the eighth floor. Carter McCarthy was the main man there, but he may have had some of his salesmen there. I think the sales force for the dinette was strictly under Carter as far as I know. He had his son Turner.
Public seating was under Carl Severson. When he came to Port he brought his secretary along. She was sort of handicapped. Her name was Emma Zemmel. His daughter Mildred is still alive.
O. E. Moeser was a real nice fellow, but he had his ways [referring to making a point in arranging marriages for his children].
J.M. Bostwick was crippled; in fact he didn’t walk at all. He had a big car and a chauffeur and a housekeeper. The chauffeur was a Shanen, from here in town. J.M. hardly left the back seat of his car. He did most of his business from the back seat. Once in a while Ray Shanen would lift him out of the car in his wheel chair, but as often as he came to our house, he never once came in. As crude as he was, he had a big heart. Once in a while he picked up a load of bread and delivered it to the people. He only came once or twice a week to Port.