Interview with Mary Flierl about John Gryga, WCC designer PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 27 July 2007 00:00
Interview with Mary Flierl about John Gryga, WCC designer
Interview with Mary Flierl about John Gryga
19 March 2000 at the Old Lighthouse,
Port Washington, WI

John Gryga was one of the furniture designers for the Wisconsin Chair Company. John Gryga was born 30 August 1902. According to an interview with Mr. Gryga for “The Ozaukee County Guide” of 13 january 1982 (page 2A) Mr Gryga had his roots in Grand rapids, Michigan and moved up the ladder, that spanned to every phase of the business, quickly. Eventually his talents led him to the Wisconsin Chair Company in Port Washington. From 1933 to 1954, when the business closed down, Gryga designed wood furniture pieces, with special emphasis on dining room furniture. Some of his designs could still be found at St. Alphonsus Hospital.
How did John Gryga, who worked in Michigan, find out that there might be work for him at the Wisconsin Chair Company?

I am sure he was aware of the different furniture manufacturers. He went to North Carolina in search for a position prior to going to Port Washington.

“My father John Gryga came here from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had a background in manufacturing furniture there and this was during the Depression when there was no work available in Michigan and so he came to Port Washington as there was work in the Wisconsin Chair Company. He held many different positions, having a background in the actual manufacturing because he started working in the furniture business when he was sixteen. He knew the operations of manufacturing and as time went on he became a furniture designer. He played an important part in developing some of the work programs, especially when the Wisconsin Chair Company became unionized. Women were working for the Wisconsin Chair Company at very low wages and under poor conditions and one of the things he did was to improve conditions for them.
He became involved in the designing of furniture. As a child I can remember him going to Chicago to the Merchandise Mart frequently with Carter McCarthy, who was a salesman at that time. At that time I knew my father ended up in doing the driving and he would oftentimes tell us of the places that he had been; places that they dined, people who needed furniture for restaurants and hotels. And the part my father played then, because he knew the operations and was able to come up with a quotation for the amount of money that would be required to order the different kinds of furniture. Once McCarthy convinced a client about a sale, my dad would make out about how much it would cost, so that they could make an agreement or not to whether or not they were going to make the purchase. That was one of the main reasons he would go along to Chicago.

John Gryga was involved in making the blueprints for furniture, although I don’t know to what degree. He oftentimes would bring work home and had a drawing table at home where he would be working at. In addition to that kind of work there was a man by the name of Ernie Schwartz [Ernest L. Schwartz] from Rockford, Illinois who was a designer of furniture [for a different company] and oftentimes he would do the basic designing to give my Dad an idea of what he wanted done and my father would do the detail working on that.

About the liquidation of the Wisconsin Chair Company in November 1954:
Dad was in charge of gathering every machine and lumber and some of the finished products and cataloguing them and presenting them to the liquidator who was Morrie Chaitlen. He arranged to have the different materials, because there must have been warehouses of lumber and the machinery all had to be auctioned off. It covered several days, I am not sure how many days [three days – 9, 10 and 11 November 1954].

Morrie Chaitlen bought the Wisconsin Chair Company in [December] 1953 and the intent was to liquidate. I don’t think Morrie Chaitlen planned on operating the plant. At least the impression I have from conversations at home that the writing was on the wall. It was the general feeling of people who worked there that Chaitlen would liquidate in the first place.

About the 1957 lawsuit against Otto Moeser and Allon Cady (see also Part II of interview with Howard Bostwick):

There was money being taken off top and put back in business and that’s what helped to create the downfall [of the WCC]. The profits went to shareholders rather than back into the factory. They made more money, but they did not put it back in the manufacturing process. They did get a portion of whatever came out of the final liquidation or whatever it was purchased by Morrie Chaitlen. I don’t know how that was divided. The Bostwicks were involved in that and the Moesers.

Allon Cady was a purchasing agent. He was involved in buying the different supplies for manufacturing [raw materials etcetera]. Because he was a Treasurer that’s how he would be involved as a purchasing agent.

Alex van der Tuuk
27 July 2007
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