New England Begins 1620-1730 Colonial Expressions in the Georgian Era 1730-1790 Neoclassicism in the New Nation 1790-1840 Industry, Innovation, and Tradition 1835-1950 Reaction and Reform 1870-1945 The Factory and the Studio 1920-2013

As the twentieth century progressed, the landscape of furniture making in Massachusetts became more diverse. more

In the World

  • 1929Beginning of the Great Depression
  • 1941Bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • 1972Watergate scandalizes the nation

In Massachusetts

  • 1927Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
  • 1974School desegregation in Boston
  • 2004Red Sox win the World Series (after waiting 86 years)

The Factory and the Studio

The Furniture Industry: Manufacturers and Retailers, 1945-2013

During the last half century, the landscape of industrial furniture making in Massachusetts has continued to evolve. Today, it reflects a wide spectrum of makers and retailers from small, contract woodworkers creating custom work to Jordan’s Furniture, a massive retailer that started in business as early as 1918.

Following national and international trends, many manufacturers have moved their business to North Carolina or other parts of the United States, while others have outsourced operations to China and Southeast Asia. A number of manufacturers have been subsumed into national conglomerates. Large furniture retailers, taking full advantage of mass advertising, have continued to play a crucial role in bringing objects and consumers together.

The long tradition of furniture making in Massachusetts has changed dramatically during nearly four hundred years.  Starting in small colonial shops in which a craftsman made “bespoke” furniture for local customers that he often knew personally, the craft evolved through many technological and social changes  in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the rise of industrial factories that mass-produced objects for a wide public.  Those factories themselves, in large part, have fallen victim to outsourcing and a general decline in American manufacturing.

Today, a few manufacturers have managed to survive, while retail stores have come to dominate the market.  Ironically, a few independent artists and craftsmen keep alive the small shop tradition, creating innovative and traditional furniture in a manner akin to their seventeenth-century forebears.

Selected Bibliography

  • Buehlmann, Urs, and Al Schuler.  “The U.S. Household Furniture Industry:  Status and Opportunities.”  Forest Products Journal 59, no. 9 (September 2009):  20-28.
  • Furniture World (1870–); first published in 1870, this industry periodical has undergone many transmutations and slight title changes; current issues are available in digital form; see http://www.furninfo.com.
  • Home Furnishings Business (January 2006—).


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