By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND — It is rare for an industry to last over a century in a rural community, but one such company has thrived since the early 20thCentury.
The Gunlocke Story and Wayland Memories were shared by Sandy Booth and Nancy Belanger at the Wayland Area Historical Society on Oct. 20.
Before the famous William H. Gunlocke Chair Co. took its place in history in 1902 there was a factory called Cypher Incubators that lasted from 1897 to 1901. After they closed down and moved the business to Buffalo a few men stepped in to take over the property.
These men would change the history of the small-town they called home forever; William H. Gunlocke, John Plail, Charles Scales, Edwin Ecker, and John Stahl. They were the original five employees of the William. H. Gunlocke Chair Co. By a couple years they had 40 employees. At first, they were only making chairs, since most of the workers were of German immigrants, they were apprenticed in chairmaking.
George Arndt, a famous Dansville furniture maker also worked in Gunlocke in the start of the company. He had a special way of making his chairs using an old German Bible to create lovely Monks and forest images.
“George came here from Austria with an old German Bible at the age of 16 years old. He would use the beautiful photos in it of Monks and forests to create images on his furniture. Arndt furniture is very rare, and it is worth a lot of money today,” Sandy Booth said. “John Plail and his brother Joe created their own furniture businesses. They were known for the rounded backs on their chairs. They both came from Prussia. What remains of the old factory is across from Nugget Hill now.”
Booth said Gunlocke started making office furniture in 1911. By 1912, they graduated to steam bending, which made the furniture very sturdy and last forever. In 1937, William H
Gunlocke passed away and his son, Howard took over the family business.
“Howard was always very kind to his employees. Everyone remembers how much of a gentleman he was. During World War Two he hired out buses to take his employees and their children to school and work. They had a Gunlocke Victory Garden for employees in 1943 to 44. Howard was a Lt. Co. in France and Germany during the war who helped train soldiers,” Booth said. “Gunlocke has touched many lives in the area. Generations of people have worked at that factory. Howard was in charge of keeping this town going with the library, homes, factory, and best furniture in town. We wouldn’t even be Wayland without Gunlocke.”
George Pringle had the Pringle Hotel where a lot of employees lived from 1916 to 1926 when it was torn down. It was known to the locals at Pringleville.
The U.S. Presidents who each requested a Gunlocke chair are; Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.
Art Malter was the famous Barber of Gunlocke for many years and won an award in 1966.
“Howard Gunlocke addressed over 200 people when he donated the Wayland Library in 1975. His lovely wife Helen Vogt Gunlocke died a year later. He passed away in 1985,” Booth said. “Howard expanded the business to Texas in the 1950s and California in the 1960s. He sold it to S&H in 1969, even though he stayed on as a supervisor. They changed the name to Gunlocke Co. In the 1970s the company made everything from bookcases, office furniture, room dividers, and others. In 1989 it was sold to HON and then to HIN. It is still running today.”
Sandy Booth worked at the factory in 1977 following in her dad, Bill Weiand’s footsteps. Her father worked there for 33 years. She worked there for three years. Her daughter, Anna Weiand Booth worked there five years.
“Gunlocke has always been an important place to work. My dad raised us all on Gunlocke money, and we never had to worry about anything. My husband, Bill Booth worked there as well with his brother. I have classmates that have worked there all of their lives,” she said.
Howard Gunlocke’s children are all still alive; Julie, Bill, and Bonnie.
The next program is Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. on The Civil War by Sandy Booth.