charles r. sligh; sligh furniture
American Furniture Hall of Fame Inductee Charles R. Sligh
(b. 1850, d. 1927)
and successors in Sligh Furniture Company
October 25, 2010
Sligh Furniture Company was founded in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1880 by Charles R. Sligh, age 30, with his brother-in-law, Louis Hawkins. Charles had left school at the age of 12 to go to work to help support his family after his father James was killed in the Civil War. Prior to founding Sligh, he worked in production and later as a road salesman for the furniture manufacturer, Berkey and Gay Company of Grand Rapids.
In 1880, most Grand Rapids furniture manufacturing plants specialized in particular products. For example, a plant might specialize in dressers and another plant under different ownership might specialize in night stands. Charles Sligh had an idea to make all the pieces of furniture for a bedroom in one plant. Consumers could then buy a suite of Sligh bedroom furniture in a style and finish that matched. That innovation landed Charles R. Sligh posthumously in the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1992. Sligh Furniture Company's main product line in the first few decades was bedroom furniture.
Charles Sligh was president of the National Furniture Manufacturing Association from 1888 to 1892. In that role, he testified in Washington D.C. before the McKinley Committee advocating lower tariffs on glass, burlap and mahogany. The National Furniture Manufacturing Association was dissolved, perhaps during the 1915 to 1920 timeframe, without a successor.
In 1913, Charles Sligh compiled remembrances of his family, Sligh Furniture Company and his community and political activities. A transcript was donated to the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1997.
A furniture industry recession began in 1926. Nationally, furniture production declined 14 percent during the period 1926-1929 compared to the 1923-1925 average. In 1927, Charles R. Sligh died at the age of 77. Charles' son-in-law, Norman McClave, became President. Charles' son, Charles R. Sligh Jr., 21, became Treasurer. That recession was amplified by the Great Depression that began in 1929. By 1932, with losses mounting and orders continuing to drop, the stockholders of the Sligh Furniture Company voted to satisfy all payables, cease manufacturing and begin liquidating assets.
In 1933, Charles R. Sligh Jr., 27, acquired some of the assets of the Sligh Furniture Company, including the name, and formed a partnership with Bill Lowry, a furniture production consultant and a former plant manager at Sligh. They utilized some of the designs from the Sligh Furniture Company to continue sales and production under the name, Charles R. Sligh Company in Holland, Michigan. That same year, desks were introduced which subsequently became the company's chief product line.
Charles R. Sligh Jr. believed in bringing products to the dealers. In 1933, he carried a Sligh desk up five flights of stairs to successfully sell a buyer at a department store in Dayton, Ohio. In 1935, he had a carrier made for the back of his car to which he mounted a Sligh desk, selling 2,500 desks in just one trip to dealers around Lake Michigan. In 1936, Charles R. Sligh, Jr. published a booklet Westward Bound, The Diary of a Furniture Salesman parts of which appeared in the Daily Artisan-Record during the July 1936 Furniture Market in Grand Rapids. In 1937, he had a special Sligh showroom trailer built that he used to show Sligh product to dealers throughout the burgeoning west making trips there even more productive.
In 1940, Charles R. Sligh Jr. and Bill Lowry purchased a Zeeland, Michigan plant and formed Sligh-Lowry Furniture Company. This was followed by the purchase of the Grand Rapids Chair Company in 1945. The Ply Curves subsidiary corporation of Sligh-Lowry was established in 1948. The Grand Rapids Chair Company offered a complete line of case goods. Desks and occasional pieces were manufactured in the
Holland and Zeeland plants. Ply Curves supplied curved plywood parts to all of the plants.
In 1945 Charles R. Sligh Jr. was President of the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers (NAFM). The NAFM was founded in 1928.
In 1954, Sligh-Lowry absorbed the furniture operations of Charles R. Sligh Company.
In 1957, Charles R. Sligh Jr. accepted a paid position as Executive Vice President of the National Association of Manufacturers while remaining Chairman of the Board of the furniture company until 1988. Also in 1957, Bill Lowry was elected President of Sligh-Lowry, Grand Rapids Chair Company was sold to Baker Furniture Company, Ply Curves was sold to Bill Lowry Jr. and the Sligh-Lowry Contract Furniture subsidiary of Sligh-Lowry was established to market dormitory student room furniture. Charles R. Sligh Jr. died in 1997 at the age of 91.
In 1968, Sligh-Lowry Furniture Company purchased Bill Lowry's shares and the company name was changed to the original Sligh Furniture Co. That year, Robert L. Sligh, 40, was elected President of Sligh Furniture Co. and Charles R. Sligh III, 41, was elected President of the Sligh Contract Furniture subsidiary.
Later in 1968, Sligh Furniture Co. purchased Trend Clock Company of Zeeland, Michigan. In 1975, the contract furniture and Trend Clock subsidiaries were consolidated into Sligh Furniture Co. and in 1984 the trade name, Trend Clocks, was replaced by Sligh Clocks. Desks and clocks became the main product lines of the company in the mid-seventies.
In 1973, Robert L. Sligh was president of National Association of Furniture Manufacturers. The NAFM merged with the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association (SFMA) in 1984 to form the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA). The earliest direct predecessor was established in 1905 as the North Carolina Case Workers Association, changing its name to SFMA in 1911.
In 1980, the Historical Society of Michigan recognized Sligh Furniture Company as a centennial business with more than one hundred years of continuous operation. That same year The University of Michigan, Michigan Historical Collections/Bentley Historical Library published a booklet A Furniture Family: The Slighs of Michigan by historians Francis X. Blouin and Thomas E. Powers and the company published a booklet 100 Years: A Great Beginning by Francis X. Blouin.
In 1989, historian Gordon Olson interviewed Charles R. Sligh Jr. about the history of Sligh Furniture Company and a transcript was donated to the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1997. Charles R. Sligh III retired from the company in 1991 and Robert L. Sligh retired in 1993.
In 1990, Robert L. Sligh Jr., 36, was elected President of Sligh Furniture Co., having joined Sligh in 1983.
In 1994, the Joint Archives of Holland Michigan History Research Center published an oral interview of Robert L. Sligh Jr. relating to Sligh Furniture Company and a transcript was donated to the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1997.
For the 2000-2001 year Robert L. Sligh Jr. was president of the American Furniture Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Robert L Sligh Jr. was president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), the fourth generation Sligh Furniture Company president to be president of the national furniture association (the AFMA changed its name to AHFA in 2004). Also in 2005, the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association presented to Robert L. Sligh Jr. a Pillar of the Industry award.
Beginning in the early 1990's, Sligh focused on the home office furniture market. In 2002, Sligh entered the home entertainment furniture market. Sligh sold the clock business to Bulova Corporation in 2005 in order to concentrate on home office, home entertainment and living area wall units.
The American Society of Furniture Designers (ASFD) initiated the annual Pinnacle Award in 1996. Sligh product designers were finalists in every year since inception and won first place in seven of the years from 1996 to 2010.
WRITTEN BY CHARLES R. SLIGH
I am impelled to transcribe on the following pages facts and incidents regarding my family and my wives’ families for the benefit of our children, not only for their information, but in the hope that the knowledge they may receive from the perusal of this narrative may enable them to appreciate the greater advantages they have had and now enjoy, all thus to stimulate them in an effort to make their lives useful in proportion to their advantages and opportunities.
The father of Robert Sligh was named James Sligh and was born October 22, 1758, but the record does not state where. He had six brothers and three sisters. The record does not state who or where he married, where he was born or when he died, nor the names of any of his children except my grandfather Robert Sligh.
The following are my great-grandfather’s brothers and sisters:
Peter Sligh born September 3, 1762
Ellispath Sligh born November 17, 1764
David Sligh born April 17, 1767
John Sligh born February 15, 1769
Elisbeath Sligh born October 15, 1771
William Sligh born March 29, 1774
Hall Sligh born January 22, 1776
Janet Sligh born July 4, 1777
Hall Sligh born March 23, 1780
My grandfather on my father’s side, Robert Sligh, migrated with his family from Ayton, Scotland to Canada about the year 1833 and settled there.
The family at that time consisted of:
Robert Sligh, father born December 31, 1791 at Ayton
died August 21, 1858 in Grand Rapids
Elizabeth Bogen Sligh, born October 20, 1795 at Coldringham
mother died September 4, 1858 in Grand Rapids
James W. Sligh, born December 12, 1821 at Ayton
eldest child Berwickshire, Scotland
died November 15, 1863 at Tullahoma, Tennessee
Jane Sligh born October 14, 1823
died 1906 in Nunica, Michigan
Robert Sligh born June 24, 1827
killed at Gettysburg July 2, 1863
John Sligh born January 13, 1829
Mary Sligh born November 8, 1830
George Sligh born February 9, 1833
died December 30, 1907 in Sandusky, Ohio
I know practically nothing about their life in Scotland or Canada. My father was originally christened simply “James,” but when he married my mother Eliza Wilson, he took the letter “W” as his middle initial. He remained in Canada only a short time. When he was about 15 or 16 years of age, he moved to Rochester, New York, where he apprenticed himself to a Mr. Henderson to learn the tailor’s trade in which he became especially proficient.
While working at his trade, he attended, at intervals, Lima Seminary near Rochester. The opportunities in those days for study were limited as compared with present times and his early education naturally was not extensive. He was however, a student and during his entire life embraced every opportunity he had for acquiring knowledge.
He was married to my mother on June 29, 1843 by Rev. J. B. Shaw and continued to live in Rochester until 1846, when the Hon. Charles H. Taylor of Grand Rapids went to Rochester and engaged him to move to Grand Rapids and enter his employ. He embarked on a boat at the mouth of the Genesee River and came all the way by water, going through the Straits of Mackinac, down Lake Michigan to Grand Haven, and up Grand River to Grand Rapids. My mother and my older brother followed a few weeks later coming by way of Detroit and the Michigan Central to Marshall, Michigan, where she visited an older sister Susan who was married to Thomas Johnston, a farmer, and from there, came by the Kalamazoo Stage Line to Grand Rapids. My father had been taken sick with fever and ague and was confined to his bed when mother arrived. She was met at the old National Hotel where the stage stopped and which occupied the site of the present Morton House by Dr. Charles Shepard, who was ever afterward our family physician and to whom father and mother were so much attached, that when I was born, I was named after him. My father rented and lived in a house on Lyon Street north side, cornering on the alley which runs north and south through the block lying between North Division Street and Bostwick Street. My older sister Elizabeth was born in this house. It is still standing. In December 1847, when my older sister was about six weeks old, the family moved into a new house which father had built and which was located north of and immediately adjoining St. Marks Church on North Division Street, and this became the permanent family home. It was in every sense an ideal home. The house was very substantially built but modest in size, having on the first floor a parlor, living room, small front hall, bedroom, a combination kitchen and dining room, a pantry and wood shed, one or two closets, two bedrooms upstairs, a small front porch and a large rear porch on the south side of the kitchen and dining room. Father also built a brick ash house which also served as a smokehouse in which we smoked hams. He also built on the alley a two-story barn where he kept a horse, cow and chickens. On the sides and at the rear of the house, the lot was planted with fruit trees consisting of apple, plum, pears, peaches, quince and a fine plum and cherry tree in the front yard. Mother was an enthusiast on flowers. She had the most beautiful flower garden in the city, which she insisted on caring for herself. This gave her much outdoor life and perfect health. When she died at nearly 70 years of age, she had not been confined to her bed from sickness for a single day for 35 years or more. In addition to the trees, we had a bed of strawberries on the south side of the house next to the church over which I have broken my back and strained my knees thousands of times weeding it and picking berries. We had currents, gooseberries, blackberries and grapes, and also a bed of asparagus. In addition to all of these we had space to raise a few vegetables.
Father, Mother and we older children all contributed to the care of the place. My father was a thrifty and frugal Scotchman devoted to his family and very proud of them. My older and younger brothers were especially bright youths. Julia was a bright, vivacious and entertaining girl. Libbie had more of an earnest, serious disposition and was always a worker, while I was a very sensitive, bashful backward boy who was always willing to work and help, but slow in developing.
My father’s earnings were not large as Grand Rapids at this time was a small city, yet he was a man of ability and force and made his presence felt in the community. He did not use tobacco in any form and while not an abstainer, he was strictly temperate. He was a man of absolute integrity and uprightness of character and did his duty as he saw fit. He was a member of the early volunteer fire department. He was a lieutenant in the local artillery, Ringold Company, Light Artillery Company. He was a very active member of the Knight Templars and a 32 degree Mason, a rank which few masons in Grand Rapids attained in those days. He was the vice president of the first meeting that the Republican Party ever held in Grand Rapids. He was a lover of everything that appertained to his native land, an ardent admirer and student of Robert Burns, and was an active member and president of the Burns Club of Grand Rapids. He and Mother were members of the Swedenborgian Church and attended there when they had a minister, which was seldom. He rented a pew in St. Marks and was attending there when I was 9 or 10 years of age.
After coming to Grand Rapids he worked for Charles H. Taylor, but soon started a shop of his own in which he was successful. Later he entered the employ of Tolferd and Porter, and in about 1855, he became a member of the firm of Porter, Sligh and Boyce doing business on the southeast corner of Monroe and Market Street. Soon after, they moved to Canal Street, renting the second store from the southeast corner of Lyon and Canal and doing business under the name of Porter and Sligh. They were doing a dry goods and clothing business and at this time, about 1858-59, they had one of the most important stores in the city.
During the winter of 1859-60, a fire broke out in the basement of their store at about 8:30 in the evening. It proved to be the most disastrous fire in the history of the city. It destroyed about half of the block and all of the county records, as the county offices were in the second story of the building. Porter and Sligh suffered a total loss. They had just received a large new stock from New York, and had failed or neglected to cover it with sufficient insurance. They not only lost their capital invested, but owed many thousands of dollars after turning over their accounts and what little insurance they had to their creditors.
My father owned his little home, which was exempt from executive (sic) under the law. He borrowed $600 on this from Ransom E. Wood and started in business again, alone, renting a store in the Abels Block on Monroe Street, where he conducted the clothing business successfully until September 1861 when he sold out to Carlos A. Burchard and entered the Army.
Wm. P. Innes, Wright L. Coffinbury, Perrin V. Fox, Baker Borden and my father were the men who organized the First Regiment Michigan Engineer during the summer of 1861. There was an understanding that Innes, who was a civil engineer, was to be colonel; father was to be major, and Fox and Coffinbury captains. When the regiment was organized, Innes became colonel but on account of pressure from other parts of the state. Father was compelled to accept a captaincy. He raised his company. The regiment was encamped at Marshall, Michigan, which at that time, was one of the important cities of the state and larger than Grand Rapids. The regiment was mustered into the service on October 29, 1861 and soon after, departed for the seat of war and operated in Kentucky and Tennessee, largely. Father remained with the regiment for about one year when he was detailed to return home on recruiting service. He remained home on this service for some months and during this time was also detailed as Judge Advocate on a Court Martial that assembled in Detroit. He returned to his regiment in the summer of 1863. He was seriously ill soon after his return with dysentery, when Mother went to him and nursed him back to health. During the fall of 1863, father was the ranking captain in the regiment and was in command of a battalion of four companies who were engaged in rebuilding railroads and other works destroyed by the confederates. He was ordered to a point south of Tullahoma, Tennessee. He embarked his companies and their equipment on two trains on October 23, 1863 and started south. He and one of his sergeants accompanied the engineer and fireman on the locomotive of the first train, which carried principally the camp equipment, with the idea that he would precede them so as to have arrangements completed at the night’s camp ready for the men on their arrival. A short distance below Tullahoma the track had been torn up by the rebels and the train was wrecked. Father was pinned under the locomotive breaking both of his legs and causing internal injury, from which condition he was not released for several hours. He suffered intensely. The rebels bombarded the train from a distance until repulsed by the arrival of the second train. Fortunately, however, no one else was injured or shot. Father was moved to a hospital at Tullahoma where every attention possible was given to him. Mother again went to nurse him and it required a week for her to reach Tullahoma. One of his legs was amputated. He rallied bravely but the shock and injury was fatal and he died on November 15, 1863. His remains were placed in a metallic casket and accompanied home by Mother and my older brother James who was a sergeant in the same regiment. The funeral services were held at St. Mark’s Church and his remains were interred in the Fulton Street Cemetery. Mother erected a modest stone at his grave which remained there a couple of years. At the close of the war in 1865, the officers of the regiment erected a monument to his memory as a token of their affection and esteem, and it stands today marking his final resting place. He was but 42 years of age at the time of his death. If he had lived three months longer, he would have been promoted to a majorship, and had he lived would undoubtedly have attained higher rank.
He was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, was erect and dignified in his bearing. He was a man of positive character. He liked the companionship of his lodge. Masonry was his religion and he lived it consistently. He was generous and gave cheerfully of his means to those less fortunate than himself. In our home there was neither want nor wealth but a mother’s love and a father’s care that made it, as I look back to my childhood days, an ideal one.
Of my father’s family he brought to Grand Rapids about 1855, his father and mother. They rented a farm for a time near Reeds Lake. Later my father bought five acres on Butterworth Avenue, the site upon which is now located the Valley City Desk Company, and my grandfather farmed there until his death in 1858. He died suddenly after a day’s work. My grandmother was brought over to our home. She never recovered from the shock of his sudden death and she died two weeks after the death of her husband. They are buried in
Clark Hill Cemetery. I erected, a few years since, a stone to mark their resting place.
Of my father’s brothers, John moved to Ohio and died many years ago. George was an edge toolmaker by trade and a good one, but not thrifty. He lived in Grand Rapids several years, entered the Army in 1863 as private in the New 3rd Regiment Infantry, served through the balance of the war and was honorably discharged. He moved to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, thence to Cleveland, and died about 1903 at the Ohio Soldiers Home in Sandusky, Ohio. He married and had several children, the oldest of whom was a boy named after me. He (Charles Sligh) served during the Spanish War in the Philippines, and when returning home was accidentally killed by a streetcar at Kansas City. One of the other boys is a worthless rover. I assisted him twice. The third time he came I refused and I have never heard from him since.
My father’s brother Robert never married. He was living in Grand Rapids in 1861 and enlisted as a private in the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry. He served honorably and was killed while in action at Gettysburg.
My father’s sister Jane was married in Canada to a worthless man, Eddy by name. There were two boys, James and Charles Eddy. James was a decent fellow and hardworking. He was for many years a member of the Grand Rapids Fire Department, received an accident in stopping a runaway horse and died from the effects of it some years ago. Charles Eddy was no good. I have not heard of him for years and do not know what became of him. There were one or two daughters by Eddy but I never knew them.
Aunt Jane separated from Eddy previous to 1860. She came to this city and married a man named John Ullthorp. They farmed near this city and in Nunica, Michigan. He served in the Army about one year during the Civil War, returned home and died about 1900. Aunt Jane had several children by Ullthorp, but none of them have ever amounted to anything. She died about 1906. I helped to maintain her during the last three or four years of her life.
The other one of my father’s sisters I have never seen to my recollection and know nothing of her.
My father (the first born) was the only one of his family of brothers and sisters that ever developed high character, integrity and ability. He seemed to be vastly superior, intellectually and morally, to all the others.
My grandparents on my mother’s side lived in Armagh in the north of Ireland where my mother was born on August 3, 1822. There was a large family of them as follows:
James Wilson born 1790
died August 13, 1847 in Rochester, New York
Nancy Little Wilson born 1790
died October 6, 1843 in Rochester, New York
Children of James and Nancy Wilson:
John Wilson born January 20, 1811 in Armagh, Ireland
died April 21, 1838 in Rochester, New York
Jane Wilson born February 15, 1812 in Armagh, Ireland
died January 7, 1856 in Rochester, Michigan
Susan Wilson born September 20, 1814 in Armagh, Ireland
died in Marshall, Michigan
Mary Wilson born December 25, 1818 in Armagh, Ireland
died December 21, 1900 in Chicago, Illinois
Elizabeth Wilson (my mother) born August 3, 1822 in Armagh, Ireland
died January 23, 1892 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Maria Wilson born June 27, 1823 in Rochester, New York
died June 6, 1866 in Rochester, New York
Margaret Wilson born November 18, 1825 in Rochester, New York
died August 9, 1832 in Rochester, New York
William Wilson born February 21, 1832 in Rochester, New York
died August 29, 1891 in Chicago, Illinois
My grandfather immigrated to this country in 1823 when my mother was less than one year old, and settled at Rochester, New York. He was a stone and brick mason by trade but above the average workman in intelligence, and soon became a contractor and builder on his own account. I never saw him or my grandmother – they both died before I was born. He married a second wife. My knowledge of them is derived from what I have heard my mother relate. They owned a good home in Rochester and I think a house or two that he rented. The children however, all went to work as soon as they were old enough and my mother became a dressmaker. She was a woman with a fine constitution, full of energy and work. She was resourceful and of great natural intelligence, a devoted and helpful wife and the best mother that ever lived. She was a companion to her children, a woman with a big heart and warm sympathies, scarcely ever needing help but always helping others. In a sick room she was in her element, and not only with her own family but with her friends and neighbors she was always anxious and ready to help. She was a natural born physician, always kept a medicine chest in the house and prescribed for her own family. She was bright, cheerful and of a happy, optimistic disposition. She could always be relied upon to carry sunshine into a sick room. During the early pioneer days of Grand Rapids when there were no professional nurses, her services were freely given and she was the ministering angel in many a household. No woman in Grand Rapids had more friends than she in the active years of her life.
At the time of my father’s death in 1863, he left her the home unencumbered and about $2,500 or $3,000 that was invested in mortgages. She was entitled to and received a pension of $20 per month, but there was herself and four children under 15 years of age to provide for. My older brother, who was then only 18 years of age, was in the Army and sent home part of his pay. I became a newsboy for the old Daily Eagle and earned at first 75 cents and later $1.25 per week delivering papers. My route extended north up to Leonard Street and south to old Uncle Louis Campau’s house in the first ward. We got along comfortably for a couple of years when Mother and I concluded that I had better leave school and begin work. I was then lacking a few days of 15 years of age. Libbie and Julia contributed to the family income by giving music and dancing lessons. My younger brother Robert was only 7 years old when father died, and he continued in school. After the close of the war in 1865, my brother returned having attained the rank of captain before he was 20 years of age. He was one of the youngest captains from the State of Michigan, an especially honorable record for a boy of these years. He married about a year after his return and soon had a large family of his own to care for.
My earnings were not large, neither were the girls, and Mother decided to enlarge the house and take boarders. She took about $1,800 of her capital and rebuilt the house, adding several rooms. She readily filled the house with boarders and continued it for several years until my sister Libbie, who had married L. E. Hawkins, had a home of her own when she discontinued the boarding house and went to live with her. This became her home although she visited at times her other children and relatives. She died on January 23, 1892 at the home of sister Libbie. Her remains are interred by the side of Father’s in Fulton Street Cemetery.
Our immediate family consisted of:
James W. Sligh born December 12, 1821 in Ayton, Scotland
died November 15, 1863 in Tullahoma, Tennessee
Elizabeth Wilson Sligh born August 3, 1822 in Armagh, Ireland
died January 23, 1892 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
James May Sligh born May 19, 1845 in Rochester, New York
Elizabeth Rosalia Sligh born October 22, 1847 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
died in 1913 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Julia Maria Sligh (twin) born January 5, 1850 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Charles Robert Sligh (twin) born January 5, 1850 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Robert Burns Sligh born March 9, 1856 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
died October 3, 1879 in Leadville, Colorado
James May Sligh enlisted in the First Regiment Michigan Engineer in September 1861 as a private, was soon promoted to sergeant, in 1864 was promoted to lieutenant and in 1865 was made captain of Company E, when he was only 20 years of age. He served to the end of the war and was honorably discharged and mustered out in October of 1865. He returned to Grand Rapids, entered commercial life, engaged in business for himself at Saranac, Michigan for a short time but sold out to accept a position in the Custom House at Detroit. He was for several years deputy collector of customs in Detroit. During his service there he studied law and was admitted to practice by the Supreme Court at Lansing. He concluded he was better adapted for the life of a physician so while still in the government service, he took a four year course at the Detroit Medical College and graduated at the head of his class about 1879. A year or two later, he moved to Grand Rapids where he practiced medicine very successfully for several years. About 1888, he moved to Montana where he became prominent in medicine and politics. He had a fine practice and became president of the State Medical Society, was elected to the state legislature for two or three terms and was an influential man in the state. On account of his health he went to lower California in the fall of 1908 and from there moved to Arizona (Phoenix) where he practiced medicine and conducted an orange grove until the spring of 1913 when he returned to Anaconda, Montana and resumed the practice of medicine.
He married Sara E. Hill of Grand Rapids in 1867. They had born to them four daughters and one son: Lilla Sligh, Bessie Sligh, Caroline Sligh, Katherine Sligh (died in Montana), and Charles Edward Sligh.
Lilla married A. B. Kinnan by whom she had one son and two daughters.
Bessie married Don Davenport by whom she had one daughter. She was divorced from him and married a lawyer by the name of McIntyre.
Katherine, unmarried, died when about 20 years of age.
Caroline married George W. Wigler and had no children.
Charles Edward never married.
Elizabeth Rosalia Sligh married Lewis E. Hawkins when he was bookkeeper for Leonard H. Randall, a wholesale grocer. They had two children: Julia and Leonard Randall. Hawkins became a partner of Randall’s and eventually succeeded the firm and prospered. He owned a fine residence and two business blocks. He made unfortunate investments and became involved. Julia married a Mr. March but soon became a widow. She and her mother conducted a gift shop until her mother’s death in 1913. L. Randall Hawkins engaged in the wholesale meat business with his father in Grand Rapids but was unsuccessful and sold out about 1910. He married soon after, and had a boy.
Julia Maria Sligh married December 27, 1877, a Lyman D. Follett, a lawyer. They had two daughters: Marion and Irene. Marion married Charles R. Ellicott, who did business in New York City, but lived in New Jersey. They had two boys and one girl. Irene is unmarried. L. D. Follett was an exceptionally capable and popular young man; was elected alderman as a Democrat in a Republican ward; was later elected Judge of Probate and served for several years. He later moved to Honduras, Central America and died there. Mrs. Follett and Irene are keeping house in Grand Rapids.
Robert Burns Sligh never married. He moved to Leadville, Colorado during the mining excitement. He was a deputy sheriff, and was accidentally shot. He died in 1878 when 22 years old.
My father and mother formed many warm and close personal friends during their early life in Grand Rapids, principal of whom were their old neighbors from Rochester, Honorable Wilder D. Foster and family, and his sisters, Mrs. C. C. Rood and Mrs. Noah Stevens. Mrs. Rood and my mother were like sisters. They were scarcely separated a day during many years. Also Mr. and Mrs. Wright L. Coffinbury, two as good old souls as ever lived. Mr. Coffinbury was a civil engineer and he and his son, Andrew, were both captains in the same regiment with my father and brother. Dr. Charles Shepard and his family; Dr. Charles Hempel and wife and her sister, Mrs. Sim Johnson; Peter R. L. Pierce; Colonel Wm. P. Innes and family; Rand Williams and family who were neighbors; Ira Hatch and family; The Frank Benedicts, Gage, Wymans, Stocking. Honorable C. H. Taylor and family. Dr. Botsford, Hiltons, Butterworths.
On January 6, 1875, I married Miss Mary Stowell Conger of Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. We were married in the evening at her mother’s home by the Rev. E.C. Hull, a Presbyterian minister. She was a beautiful, intelligent and altogether lovely girl, 20 1/2 years old. She was an especially affectionate, lovable and devoted wife and mother. Her life was one of devotion to her husband and children, while a consistent Christian and church member, her home afforded her greatest happiness. She was the soul of honor, cheerful, helpful, generous and one of the best of women. She was of a gentle disposition and our married life was a very happy one extending over a period of 28 years.
There were born to us three daughters: Edith Conover, Adeline and Loraine. Having been deprived of a good education, I decided to give my children the best I could afford. Edith and Adeline graduated from high school. Edith spent four years at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and graduated. Adeline went to Wells College in New York for two years and then spent two years perfecting her musical education in which she became very proficient. On account of illness, Loraine did not complete her high school course but spent two years at National Park Seminary in Washington, D.C.
David Conger, the father of my wife, was a Princeton graduate, and a gentleman of exceptionally fine character. He invested all of his means in the first Atlantic Cable and lost. He moved with his family about 1860 when my wife was about 6 years old to Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin and engaged in general merchandise and loaning eastern money. He prospered and became one of the most substantial men in the community, highly respected and esteemed. He died about two years before our marriage.
My first wife died July 29, 1903, after a long illness. On February 1, 1905, I married Miss Edith Ethelyn Clark, daughter of J.M. Clark, an educated, cultured, talented, refined, able and delightful woman, at that time, 35 years of age. We were married in Grace Church by the Rev. R.H.F. Gairdner, assisted by the Rev. J.F. Hubbs of Elmira, New York, a former rector of Grace Church.
For our wedding trip we took passage on a ship bound for the Mediterranean, stopping at the Azores. We were accompanied by two of my daughters, Adeline and Loraine. Edith had married M.C. Miller three months previous. We left the ship at Gibraltar, visited Langier, toured through Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France. We tired of sightseeing and returned home in about three months. My daughters remained there some three months longer with some friends of theirs.
We have had two children born to us, Charles Robert Sligh, Jr. and Gertrude Ethelyn Sligh.
Isaac M. Clark, the father of my wife, died in 1892. Although we were businessmen in the same community, we were not acquainted. He was born in Canada and when very young came with his parents, who were farmers to Kent County, and settled on a farm near Cedar Springs. When my wife was very young, about 1875, he moved to California but remained only a short time when he returned to Michigan. He engaged with his brother Melvin J. Clark in the wholesale grocery business in Grand Rapids under the name of the I.M. & M.J. Clark Company. Their business was very successful. I.M. Clark devoted his time exclusively to the grocery business, while M.J. Clark devoted most of his time to business. I.M. Clark was for many years the president of the wholesale grocers association. He was a man of absolute integrity and uprightness of character, and of high ability. His competitors and associates held for him a very high regard. He died before his time at the high tide of his usefulness.
In the course of one of my trips to Honduras, I met a Mr. R.A. Brett, an Englishman. Later he moved to Chicago, married a Miss McElroy and acquired an interest in the Harrison Telephone patents. He came to Grand Rapids when we organized the Harrison Telephone Company of Michigan, which controlled the patents in our state. I was president, Brett was manager, and associated with us were S.B. Jenk, C.B. Judd, Lewis Cody and some others whom I have forgotten. Brett went to the eastern part of the state and started an exchange in Flint. I interested Judge Stuart and Cyrus E. Perkins, in addition to the above, and we organized the Citizens Telephone Company. With the assistance of the above, I secured a franchise from the city and subscriptions from citizens of $40,000 with which we commenced operation. We started with about 700 subscribers on five-year contracts. The company became a great success and has today about 13,000 subscribers. I remained with the company until about 1897 as a director when I resigned, as my business required all of my time, and the directors in those days did not get any compensation for their services.
My son will be so young in all probability when I die that he will not have an intimate knowledge of his father’s struggles and activities. I am writing this, of myself, largely that he may know, and with the fervent hope that his life may be broader, more useful and more successful than mine.
He is now too young to give any inkling of what his bent or inclinations may be, but whether it be along professional or commercial lines, I abjure him to live a temperate, upright, honorable career; never be ashamed to profess himself a Christian; do fearlessly always what he believes to be right; be courteous; give his mother the love and affection that is due her – a boy who loves his mother will never go very far wrong; protect his sister; be studious; cultivate friendships; do not unnecessarily antagonize others, but be fearless in maintaining your own rights and dignity. In all things be a gentleman, pursue your business diligently, but take an active interest in the affairs of the community in which you live, make your aim high. The most exalted positions are open to the humblest boy, do good and keep the faith.
Grand Rapids was incorporated as a city the year Julia and I were born with a population of about 3,000. It was a small pioneer place on the so-¬called outskirts of civilization with no railroad or telegraph communication. There was a daily stage with Kalamazoo, an overland wagon road (very bad) with Detroit, and a steamboat connection with Grand Haven. North of us was a vast, unbroken wilderness of pine and hardwood. Indians abounded in abundance.
Julia had an abundance of black hair when born and I had none, but she was born five minutes earlier than I. We prospered as babies. I was larger and the stronger of the two. Mother’s watchful care brought us through our babyhood days all right. My earliest recollections are of dolls, sand hills, marshes, mud and cookies, mother’s cookies which I helped make and unmake. When we were 4 or 5 years old, Father and Mother made a two week visit to Rochester and left us in the care of the Coffinburys, where I have a distinct recollection of helping her bake some pies. From Mother’s account I was an active child and always leading Julia astray. One time when we were about 3, I remember taking her out of a window onto the roof of the house.
When quite young, I entered into a partnership with an older boy in the neighborhood to get into the fur business. He furnished the steel trap. The first cat we caught and skinned happened to be a family pet of a neighbor. I paid for it with a bare skin the next day. When about 7, mother started me at school. She took me personally up to the old stone school on the hill, but as soon as she was out of sight I made a beeline for home and got there before she did. A little later I entered the primary school on the corner of North Division and Bridge Street. This was the first primary school built in the city and I attended from the first day it opened. It was opened with Mr. and Mrs. O.H.L. Crozier as teachers. Later a Miss Morton became teacher and I am sure I received more of her personal attention than any other pupil in school. She got so in the habit of whipping me that when there was a disturbance she could not locate, she whipped me on general principles. She married a Mr. Butler, moved to Montana, came back a widow with two daughters, and opened a boarding house. I boarded with her with my family for a few months while I was building a home. She often spoke of me to my wife as that “ear little, curly-headed boy” of the years gone by. I never harbored any ill will against her as I realized I deserved all I got.
When I was 5 or 6 there were no pavements in the city. When rain came, Monroe and Canal streets were quagmires. Father was then with Tolford & Porter, on the southeast corner of Monroe and Market streets. I remember going to the store one day about this time and getting stuck in the mud up to my middle, crossing Monroe Street. A passerby pulled me out.
My boyhood days were uneventful. I went to school, did chores around the house, played on the logs in the river and canal, went swimming in summer, skating in winter, got licked frequently, came near drowning twice, broke through the ice once in rear of what is now the Eagle Hotel, was rescued by a Mr. Valentine, got into deep water at the Grand Trunk R.R. bridge before I could swim and was rescued by Will Conant. I was so chagrinned at this that I went in every day after this until I learned to swim. I always went barefoot in summer as a matter of economy and boyish pleasure. I was especially devoted to my mother and she was watchful of me. I progressed from the primary to the then old stone school house, the so-¬called “high school” of those days, and where I, at 14 years of age, was in the then grammar grade, what is now the eighth grade. I was dull in my studies, and it took me a long time to get the rudiments of arithmetic. Grammar, I never could comprehend. I was compelled to study Latin two years which with me was worse than time wasted. I was proficient in geography but dull in everything else. When about 10 or 11, one of my teachers, a Miss Backus, ordered me to read the Bible before the school. I refused and got the worst licking I ever received. My father was so incensed over the incident I am sure he would have thrashed her if she had been a man. My parents took me out of school for the rest of that term.
My father was in business for himself in 1860 and 1861 in Abels Block, Monroe Street. I slept at the store with my older brother James. I would arise early, about 5 or 5:30 and go home and build the kitchen fire for Mother, and do chores around the house feeding chickens, etc. While sleeping at the store I met with an accident that came near to being my finish. From my earliest recollection it has been almost impossible for me to keep awake in the evening. I wanted to seek my couch very soon after supper. Stores kept open in those days until 8 o’clock in the evening. Our bed was a bunk in the rear of the store, used for a working bench in the daytime and opened up for a bed at night. In making up the bed one night a spark from the kerosene lamp or a candle caught on the bedding and smoldered without my knowing it as I was in the soundest of sleep. When my brother turned in at about 11 o’clock, the store was full of smoke. The wonder is I was not suffocated. He opened up the front and rear doors and soon located the fire in the bedding. Another hour or so and it would have undoubtedly burned me to death. He yanked me out of the bed and we extinguished the fire.
Father kept a cow which he milked. After he entered the Army in September of 1861, I milked the cow for two or three years while attending school. About this time while playing with a small brass cannon, it exploded. It was loaded with a small buckshot, one of which passed entirely through my nose. My face was filled with black powder. It was a marvel I did not lose my sight.
For about a year and a half when between 13 and 15, I carried the Daily Eagle for which I received at first 75 cents and later $1.25 per week. I always liked work and responsibilities came to me early. Fourteen months after my father’s death, and before I was 15 years old, I went to work for Peter R.L. Pierce who was then county clerk. I worked in his office which was the southwest corner of the old county building, on the corner of Kent and Lyon streets, as office boy for $3 per week. This building was torn down in 1913 and the Empress Theatre was built on the site.
On April 10, 1865, I commenced an apprenticeship of three years with Wilder D. Forster to learn the tinsmith trade with the agreement that he would pay me at the rate of $3.50 per week for the first year, $4 per week the second year, and $4.50 per week the third year. The last half of the third year he paid me $7.50 per week. I lived at home and gave Mother most of my earnings. When my apprenticeship expired, I was 18 years of age and had never been outside of the state of Michigan but once, when I went to Chicago. So I started out to see some of the world. Mr. Foster, who was one of the best men who ever lived, told me I could have my job back whenever I got ready to return. I worked in Chicago at my trade for a month or so, then I went down to Dwight, Illinois. I worked for a week or two, and was discharged from this job as not having large enough experience. I started to find a job and got broke. I walked on an R.R. track all day one day carrying my baggage from one town to another with nothing to eat except the corn I picked off R.R. cars. I arrived at a junction late in evening in the summer, told the hotel keeper I was broke but expected to get a job from my Uncle Wm. Wilson, who was a master mechanic at Galesburg. I told him if he would give me lodging I would pay him my first payday. He gave me supper, a good bed and woke me early in the morning to catch the first train from Galesburg. When the conductor came for my fare I told him my story. He held my baggage as security and carried me through to Galesburg on C.B. & Q. When we arrived, he went with me to Wilson’s office and said, “Billy, here is a kid who says you are his uncle.” After a few days visit, my uncle gave me a job in the tinsmith department of the C.B. & Q. shops. The first payday I sent money to the hotel man who had treated me so friendly and redeemed my watch which I had pawned at Dwight.
At Galesburg I boarded with a widow, Mrs. Weeks, who had a son Charlie Weeks. We became fast friends. After an absence of about six months, I became homesick for my mother and returned to Grand Rapids. She was as glad to see me back as I was to get there. I went back into Mr. Foster’s tin shop and worked there about six months when he gave me a position as clerk in the hardware store where I remained for five years until the fall of 1874 when I entered the employ of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Co. While clerking for Mr. Foster I realized the great injustice I had done myself by leaving school so young. I began a course of study with an old schoolmate of mine, Edward M. Adams, as my tutor. I then cherished the hope of taking a course of engineering at Cornell and becoming a civil engineer. Two years of fever and ague blasted this hope for an unfortunate investment I made at this time which made it impossible. While clerking for Mr. Foster I invented and patented a crosscut saw handle, which was the best that has ever been made. I sold a half interest in the patent to a friend of mine for $500 cash which was a fortune to me then. We had it manufactured on royalty for several years until the manufacturer discontinued business.
My mother owned her home on Division Street free of encumbrance. She borrowed $4,000 on it and loaned me to buy stock in the Berkey & Gay Furniture Co. In the fall of 1874, I received a salary from them of $800 the first year which was gradually increased to $1,750 in 1870, the last year I was with them. My service with them was during the panicky years following 1873 and the investment was not profitable from a financial standpoint. I sold my stock in 1879 to Deacon Convease at a loss and acted as an agent for him in the purchase of other B &G stock on which I made a profit. So I left them with a little better than $4,000, the amount I had invested in 1874.
Of the five and a half years I was with them, I spent four of them on the road selling goods. During that period I covered every part of the United States west of Pittsburgh and south of Washington, D.C. This was the most profitable experience I had ever enjoyed. It gave me an opportunity to familiarize myself with nearly all parts of the United States. It broadened my vision on all subjects. It brought me in personal contact with all the big retail furniture dealers in the territory I covered. It gave me a great deal of time on trains, and evenings and Sundays for reading and study of which I availed myself liberally. These four years were educational to me and have been of great value to me in my business life.
I formed friendships with dealers who became our customers for many years and some of whom are buying of us yet. I was the first Grand Rapids man to sell furniture in Texas. The first trip I made I staged it into San Antonio and from there to Austin by stage.
While I was clerking for Mr. Foster, I became one of the charter members of Co. B, Mich. State Militia. I was 1st Corporal of the Co. I resigned from the Co. to accept an appointment, which I had solicited in the Custom House at Detroit, thinking this position would give me more opportunity for study. The Hon. Charles H. Taylor persuaded me however that a political position for one of my age was the worst thing I could do. As he was a man of large experience and one of my father and mother’s best friends, I accepted his advice and later declined the position and remained with Mr. Foster. After this, the company was called out for service at Greenville and later at Muskegon on account of riots. I accompanied them on both trips, being sworn in on both occasions by General J.C. Smith who was then the captain of the company. While I was with Berkey & Gay, I was at home for five or six weeks in summer without much to do. I was elected secretary of the Citizens 4th of July Celebration Committee and was largely responsible for two or three of the best celebrations the city ever enjoyed. As a young man, public meetings of any kind were always of interest to me and I attended nearly all of them as an interested spectator.
ORGANIZING SLIGH FURNITURE CO.
I left the Berkey & Gay Company on December 31, 1879. I had for some months previous, contemplated organizing a new company to manufacture furniture, and getting in business for myself. Specia (sic) payments had been resumed and we were at the end of the 1873 panic, and the time was most propitious for a new venture. John Mowat had agreed to go with me and superintend the factory. He was offered a position with Robert Mitchell Company of Cincinnati at a larger salary which he accepted. So I induced Willard P. Sharpe to take his place.
We organized in January 1880, the Sligh Furniture Company with authorized capital of $100,000 and after very hard work I succeeded in getting subscriptions to the stock of $18,500 as follows: myself $4,000; L.E. Hawkins $4,000; George D. Conger $4,000; Willard P. Sharpe $2,500; A.B. Watson $2,000; George C. Pierce $1,000; and Edwin F. Uhl $1,000.
We organized the company with the following directors and officers:
L.E. Hawkins Lewis E. Hawkins - President
A.B. Watson Charles R. Sligh - Vice President
Geo. C. Pierce Geo. D. Conger - Secretary
Geo. D. Conger Geo. C. Pierce - Treasurer
Charles R. Sligh
We bought our first lot for $600 of the G.R. and I.R.R., and built the factory and started manufacturing in June 1880. We made our first shipment in September. Our shipments for 1880 were a little over $22,000, with profits of $4,900. This inspired our stockholders with so much confidence that we were able to get additional capital of $11,000 which made a total of $29,500 which is all the cash that ever went into the Sligh Furniture Company. What we have paid out in dividends and what we have today is profits made from this modest little $29,500. We have made profits in round figures up to June 1, 1914, $1.5 million, and have paid in cash dividends $450,000. The great bulk of this has been made in the last 15 years.
Do not imagine this came easy. For the first 10 years it was incessant toil. My wife loyally supported my efforts and kept family expenses at the minimum. We sold our home and moved into cheaper quarters on Sheldon Street so as to be nearer to the factory. A few years later, we built a home on Sheldon Street where we lived until Edith was old enough to go to the high school. When we sold the Sheldon Street house and moved up on North Prospect Street, we sacrificed everything for the success of the business. About our only recreation were excursions into the country on Sundays with the children. Neither of us cared much for society, so it was no hardship for us to give it up. Our pleasure and happiness came in our home life and in the feeling we were laying up for a rainy day.
When I married my wife, she was living in a beautiful home in Wisconsin with every comfort and many luxuries, many of which she was deprived of after our marriage. I am sure however, that our love for and devotion to each other recompensed her for the privations she had to forgo for a few years.
We were very happy in our humble home on Sheldon Street. Yet in 1891, as soon as I felt warranted in doing so, I built a beautiful home at 31 South Prospect Street, and which was better than I was financially able to afford at that time. But I felt that her patience in the years previous, during our early struggles, justified me for her sake in going a little ahead of my means.
Mr. John D. Case came with the company in 1887 as secretary. He has been an indefatigable worker and a very large factor in the success of the company. Mr. John E. Brown entered the company’s employ in the fall of 1895 and remained for 13 years during which time he undoubtedly did his very best work assisting materially in the reputation acquired by the company.
Mr. David Ackley, our superintendent, has been with us in various capacities for over 20 years. His services have been invaluable.
When the panic of 1893 came, we were in elegant financial condition. There was a terrible shrinkage in business and before the panic was over our sales were less than half of what they were in 1893.
In 1895, we added the manufacture of bicycles to our business and made a profit on them the first year. Then we consolidated in 1896 with the Hamilton Bicycle Company of Hamilton, Ohio. This proved a great mistake as Charles L. Thayer, the owner of the Hamilton plant, proved to be a scoundrel and thief of the first magnitude. He secured our confidence and endorsements. After stealing all he could he bankrupted the concern in 1897. We lost the $45,000 we put into the business and a large amount besides which Mr. Case and I had endorsed for.
We sweat blood for the next two years when we sold out the bicycle business and redoubled our energies in the furniture business. These two years were the crucial period of our business life, as is usual when in adversity friends were few. John C. Fitzgerald was our attorney. His advice and counsel were very valuable to us. Mr. Case and I probably worked harder and longer than any other period of our lives. This and the years following were the years when Mr. Brower’s work was of the greatest value to us. We soon doubled our business and profits and with prosperity rapidly increased the number of our friends. Since 1900, we have had uninterrupted prosperity which has enabled us to build several additions to our plant. Norman McClave came with us in 1907 and I have shifted most of my responsibilities on to him. Charlie Campbell came two years later and is a valuable man. Milton Miller has just come in this year, 1914, and taken Mr. Case’s place and work. The future of the company is largely in their hands.
During 1897 and 1898, my daughter Edith worked in one office during the forenoons making invoices and for which we paid her $5 per week. She was very accurate and correct and speedy in her work.
As a young man, before I could vote, I was much interested in the political situation, which came as a result of the Civil War. My early education and sympathies were all with the Republican Party. I cast my first vote for General Grant in 1872. I became as active as I could politically without interfering with my work. I was a member of Republican clubs and committees and always marched and carried a torch in the campaigns of those days. My travels as agent for Berkey & Gay in the south convinced me the carpet bag policy of the Republican Party in the south was little short of a crime. Ignorant, thieving, vicious Negros were legislating for and bankrupting the country.
In 1882, I was nominated at a caucus of my friends for member of the Board of Education and was elected and served two years. I enjoyed the work very much but declined a re¬-election as I felt it was interfering too much with my business. I remained active in the Republican Party and was often a delegate to city and state conventions. I was twice, between 1886 and 1892, offered the Republican nomination for mayor, but declined for business reasons. I was one of the charter members of the Lincoln Club and one of its officers.
In 1892 (I think) I visited my brother, Dr. James M. Sligh, in Phillipsburg, Montana, where he was practicing medicine. This was during the great controversy throughout the country over bi-metalism. He was an ardent bi¬metalist and especially directed my attention to it. When I returned home, I studied the question very thoroughly, reading books on both sides. When the contest was at fever heat in 1894 I subscribed for the Congressional Record, in fact I devoured everything I could find on the subject with the result that I became one of the most ardent advocates of bi-¬metalism in the state of Michigan. I discussed the subject in the Lincoln Club, contributed articles to the daily papers, made speeches in favor of it before other clubs, and helped organize several bi-metalic clubs in the city. In 1895, I helped organize the Republican Silver Party of Michigan of which the Hon. James M. Turner of Lansing was chairman and which counted among its members many of the most prominent Republicans of Michigan. After Mr. Turner’s death early in 1896, I was elected to succeed him as chairman. When the Republican Party in 1896 repudiated bi¬-metalism, the Silver Republicans, Democrats and Populists organized a new party at Bay City and I was unanimously nominated for governor after a contest on the part of the Democrats to nominate Justin R. Whiting of St. Clair. This nomination came to me when I was 46 years of age, absolutely without any solicitation on my part. My nomination was first suggested by D.A. Reynolds of Lansing, a Populist. I had the unanimous support of the Silver Republicans and the Populists and nearly all of the Democrats from Kent County in the State Convention. The majority of Democrats however were so insistent that a Democrat should head the ticket, after two days struggle I suggested to Wellington R. Burt, who was a friend of Whitings, that we should draw cuts, the one drawing the longest to be nominated for governor and the one drawing the shortest to accept the nomination for lieutenant governor. This was agreed to and suggested to the convention, when the Populists refused to abide by it and commenced leaving the hall. I selected Samuel W. Hopkins of Mt. Pleasant to represent me, and Burt represented Whiting. These two retired and returned almost immediately with the announcement that I had drawn the long slip. This satisfied the Populists who returned and the tickets were completed in perfect harmony. I learned several years later from Hopkins that when Burt and he retired, that Burt said Sligh had been so white about the drawing that he was willing to give me the long slip without drawing.
Whiting was an eloquent, forceful and convincing talker. We stumped the state together in one of the most exciting campaigns the country had ever seen. I would generally talk for half an hour when Whiting would fill out the time. Governor Pingree was the Republican candidate and was elected by a large majority. However, I polled the largest vote by 10,000 that had ever been polled by an opponent of the Republican Party. I polled 225,000 votes and was defeated, while Woodbridge N. Ferris in 1912 polled 195,000 votes and was elected. I was much surprised and disappointed at my defeat as it was generally conceded that the vote in Michigan was going to be very close.
My political friends had planned that if we carried the state and the legislature, that they would elect me to senator, thus making Whiting governor. While I was terribly disappointed at the result, I think the most grief stricken person in Michigan was Loraine who could not conceive how her father could be beaten. She and her mother had been on one of the Bryan trains with me for a day or two. She couldn’t see how the other side had any show. She was inconsolable. The morning after the election, however, I arose early, took a bath and was at the factory soon after 7 o’clock for business.
After the 1896 election, Governor Pingree offered me a position on any of the state boards that I desired, but I declined. Governor Pingree had been Mayor of Detroit for four years previous to 1896, and had advocated reforms which have since been of much value to the state. I was a supporter of his and when his nomination for governor early in 1896 was conceded, I was suggested as candidate for state treasurer on the ticket with him, and I could easily have had that nomination if I would consent. My convictions on bi-metalism however, were so strong that I preferred to fight for a principle rather than for a party.
My contributed articles to the press in 1896 received wide circulation being reprinted in other states than Michigan. The campaign of 1896 caused more bitterness than any that ever preceeded it or since. Party lines were broken. The strong financial interest of the world financed the Republican Party and the Gold Democrats. The most shameful and brutal intimidation of working men was resorted to. Businessmen who were borrowers of the banks were threatened with ruin if they supported the cause of bi-metalism. Independent thinkers were ostracized, and every disreputable method that the financial interests could conceive of that they thought would win were utilized. They won in the nation at large by a very narrow margin in a campaign that was fought almost entirely on the financial question. After the election of McKinley, the business of the country and the general depression continued to grow worse until June 1897, when the lowest level of prices were reached. Soon after this, the enormous production of gold in Africa and Alaska began, thus giving the country a large increase of basic money. The production of gold soon amounted to more per year than the combined production of gold and silver had previously, and prosperity returned, thus justifying the contention of bi-metalists that what the world needed was a larger volume of metallic money.
After the election of 1896, all business continued in such a deplorable condition that it was necessary for me to devote all my time and attention to my business to keep our head above water. I eschewed politics and everything else that I might devote all of my time to business. Our losses in 1896-1897 and 1898 were very large, amounting to nearly $100,000. I took an active part, however, in the campaign of 1900. I was a delegate at large from Michigan to the Silver Republican National Convention at Kansas City which concurred in the nomination of Bryan for the second time, and I did what I could to promote his election. From this time on, I affiliated with the Democratic Party, and presided at many of its meetings and conventions.
The one political ambition of my life was to be Governor of Michigan. So in 1902, I thought the time was opportune. I stood well with the party in the state. I announced my candidacy for governor subject to the approval of the State Convention. I was supported with enthusiasm by the Kent County delegates. My name was presented to the convention in an eloquent speech by Henry Houseman of Grand Rapids, an attorney. I received large support and lacked only a few votes of a majority. Judge Durand of Flint was nominated, but he died before the election and his brother of Saginaw was substituted. It looked to the rank and file as though the convention had been dominated by the R.R. interests, and no enthusiasm could be instilled into the voters and the campaign fell flat.
I was offered by the party leaders the nomination in 1904 for Congress, but refused it. I never had any ambition in that direction.
In 1904, I was elected chairman of the Democratic City Committee which resulted in the election of Edwin F. Stout for mayor. His administration was very unsatisfactory to Democrats. In 1906, I was the Democratic nominee, Geo. E. Ellis was the Republican, and Edwin F. Sweet, the Independent. Ellis was elected on a minority vote. After this election Ellis persistently and repeatedly urged me to accept an appointment from him on the Board of Public Works. This was a position that ordinarily I would have liked, but he was and is a man of such disreputable character and reputation that I declined. In 1908, I was again induced very much against my inclination to again accept the nomination for mayor. Ellis was nominated by the Republicans and hired someone to run as an independent. I was defeated by the active opposition of Geo. R. Perry who accepted Ellis’ money and used his influence for him on the west side of the river among the saloons and gardens. Ellis was elected by less than 700 plurality. If it had not been for Perry’s perfidy, I would undoubtedly have been elected as he unquestionably influenced 500 votes.
While Perry has a disreputable reputation, he was under political obligations to me and I had a right to expect his support. The result of this election so disgusted me that I permanently quit politics, although I have since generally supported the Democratic ticket. Percy was a candidate again for mayor in 1912 when I openly opposed and helped defeat him.
I decided sometime ago that while I have been successful in some things, I am a very poor politician. At the Democratic State Convention in 1912, I was nominated as one of the Presidential Electors at Large. The Progressive Party (Roosevelt) however carried the Presidential election.
While my life work has been the development of the Sligh Furniture Company, my active disposition has found vent in many other directions. I never derived pleasure in social clubs or fraternal organizations. As a young man, I joined the Odd Fellows but soon quit. I was a member of the Peninsular Club for a short time, but counted my hours there as time lost. For business reasons I joined the Lakeside Club. For my family’s sake I joined the Kent Country Club, and in that we all derive pleasure from. I am also a member of the Plainfield Country Club. To please Mr. Brower, I joined the Elks but never visited the lodge but four or five times. When I was 21, I was confirmed in the Protestant Episcopal Church (St. Marks). For four years I was superintendent of a mission Sunday school on Wealthy Avenue, which later became Grace Church. My wife and I helped organize the first Kindergarten Association in Grand Rapids of which I was treasurer. I have been active in all of the furniture associations ever organized in Grand Rapids and was president for several years, also president of the National Furniture Manufacturing Association from 1888 to 1892, and was again vice president of it in 1913. I made a special study of transportation and the tariff as chairman of the transportation committee. I worked for better rates for Grand Rapids and with effect. While president of the association, I went to Washington, D.C. and testified before the McKinley Committee advocating for lower tariffs on glass, burlap and mahogany. I helped organize and was secretary of a Freight Bureau in Grand Rapids which was put out of business by the passage of the Interstate Commerce bill. I helped organize the Grand Rapids Board of Trade which flourished for 20 years, and was instrumental in the upbuilding of Grand Rapids. A committee of which I was chairman, Amos S. Musselman, M.R. Bissell and other members edited the first publication issued by the Board of Trade. I was chairman of the River Improvement Committee which labored several years and accomplished much for the improvement of the Grand River. Executive Lieutenant Governor, M.S. Crosby and I went to Washington and secured from Congress the first appropriation for the river. While chairman of this committee we advocated and carried by popular vote in Michigan, an amendment to the state constitution authorizing the city to bond itself for river improvement. The river improvement was opposed by the R.R. and some prominent citizens, as impracticable. It took several years to educate them to the benefits to be derived, during which time I spoke at many meetings and wrote dozens of articles advocating it. The work has not yet been accomplished but it will be some day, probably a generation hence.
In 1883, James D. Lacy obtained a concession from the government of Honduras, California and invited me and E. Crofton Fox to accompany him on a trip of investigation. We went down there in July by the little ship Wanderer from New Orleans, and spent about six weeks in investigation. It was the first sea voyage I had taken and my first visit to a tropical country and naturally it was exceedingly interesting. We went a short distance into the interior up the Ulúa River to San Pedro. This river ride was a revelation. We saw alligators by the thousands, and tens of thousands of monkeys filled the trees on both sides of the river. The government’s proposition was to give Lacey 10,000 mahogany trees for certain things he was to do. It did not look good to me and I declined to go in. Lacey, however, organized a company in Grand Rapids with $100,000 which after two years of operation they lost every cent of.
I thought money could be made operating on a different basis. I organized the Honduras Mahogany Company with my brother, Major McBride and Wm. H. McKee. We bought mahogany logs delivered to the vessel at the best price we could, had them sawed in New Orleans and shipped to Grand Rapids. We operated for about five years and made a little money, but not enough for the energy expended so we discontinued. I made five trips to that country during this period. When the Sligh Furniture Company commenced using mahogany more extensively in 1902, I made a final trip there taking my daughters Edith and Adeline expecting to make more contracts, but conditions had changed so I concluded it. It was not advisable to undertake it.
In 1890, the importers of German mirrors in the U.S. formed a combine and without any other reason, advanced prices about 33 1/3 percent. The furniture manufacturers objected but were powerless. I conceived the idea of going to Germany and buying direct. I proposed this to several Grand Rapids manufacturers but could not get the cooperation of anyone except John Widdicomb. We agreed he would advance $500 for expenses against my time, and I was to buy for Widdicomb Furniture Company and Sligh. I went secretly so the combine could not head me off. They knew nothing of my going until advised by their agents in Fürth, Germany. I took letters of credit with me so I had no trouble in contracting for large quantities of glass at lower prices than the trust. We continued to import direct as long as we used German plates, not only for our own and Widdicomb use, but for other manufacturers to whom we sold at a profit. It was one of the best strokes of business I ever did, and redounded to the reputation of the Sligh Furniture Company and helped break up the combine. On this trip I went to Scotland and Ireland and visited the birthplaces of my father and mother.
I made another trip to Europe in 1894 to investigate the practicability of establishing a branch in London. We, with some other Grand Rapids manufacturers, opened up a branch then, but it was a failure. The designs of our goods were not suited for that market.
In 1911, I was appointed by Governor Chase S. Osborn, a member of a commission, to draft and present to the legislature a law providing for Workmen’s Compensation for accidents. The commission consisted of the following: Hal H. Smith of Detroit, chairman; Charles R. Sligh, vice chairman; Wm. P. Belden; Ira S. Reeves; McQueen; John S. Drake, secretary.
We spent several months on this work in investigation. The bill was drafted by Wm. P. Belden and submitted to the full commission. After two days discussion and some amendments at a meeting held in Detroit, we unanimously agreed on a report which was submitted by the governor to a special meeting of the legislature, and after a few slight changes, was enacted into law. It has been quite generally recognized as one of the best laws on the subject in the United States.
In 1905, I was elected a director of the Grand Rapids National Bank. After its consolidation in 1909 with the National City Bank, its directors automatically became directors of the City Trust and Savings Bank.
In 1913, there was organized the Grand Rapids Trust Company in which I was also asked to become a director and which I accepted.
The semi-annual furniture sales made it imperative that the city should have additional hotel facilities. The agitation took definite form in 1911. Mr. Hollister of the Old National Bank wanted to build on the site of the old Pantlind. Mr. Keeler tried to finance a project on North Division Street. Dudley E. Waters tried to promote one for the corner of Ionia and Pearl. Several other sites were proposed which I favored one near the head of Monroe Street on high ground. I induced Joseph Biefield and Company, Sherman House, Chicago to look the situation over. They offered through me to take a 25-year lease from Edward Lowe of the Porter block paying 8 percent net taxes and insurance. He made such impossible conditions that the project fell through. I then turned in and helped boost the Pantlind project, which after many months was consummated and is now building. I am vice president of the company and a member of the building and executive committee.
I am also a stockholder in and vice president of the Empress Theatre Company, which is now building on Lyon Street, the finest theatre building in Michigan. But I have not taken any active part in the work of its construction.
CHARLES R. SLIGH
From a History of Kent County
Charles R. Sligh – In his rise from tinsmith’s apprentice to prominent position in the business world, Charles R. Sligh has had only the assistance given him by his natural gifts. In fact he was given even less than the regular advantages which it is felt that youth should receive, for when he was but entering his teens his father fell as a martyr to the great god of war, and the lad was forced to assume a man’s responsibilities at a time when he was still a boy. It was his fortune, however, to have been possessed of sturdy Scotch-¬Irish ancestry, and to have inherited from his forefathers the best qualities of both races. With these as his capital he fought his own battles bravely and faithfully, and won his way to high honors and to a place where he now commands the respect and esteem of the leading businessmen of his city. Grand Rapids has been the scene of the working out of Mr. Sligh’s entire career. Here he was born, January 5, 1850, son of James W. and Eliza (Wilson) Sligh. His father was born in Scotland, in 1821, and his mother in Ireland, in 1822, and they met at Rochester, N.Y., where they were married in 1843. Three years later they came to Grand Rapids, where Mr. Sligh was engaged in business until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he enlisted in the service of the Union, becoming captain of Company F, First Michigan Engineers. He was a brave, valuable and faithful soldier, serving his country with valor and fidelity until 1863, when, as a result of injuries received while in the performance of duty, he died. Mrs. Sligh survived him for many years, dying at Grand Rapids, January 23, 1892. There were three children in the family: Dr. James M., who is engaged in the practice of medicine and surgery in Montana; Mrs. Julia S. Follett, a resident of Grand Rapids; and Charles R. Charles R. Sligh was attending the public schools of Grand Rapids when news was received of his father’s death, and he continued to apply himself to his studies until he was 15 years of age, at that time becoming apprenticed to the tinsmith’s trade under Wilder D. Foster. He served his full apprenticeship and mastered his vocation, and continued to work there for some time, being with Mr. Foster in all for about nine years. At that time, Mr. Sligh gave up the tinsmith’s trade and turned his attention to the furniture business. His first practical experience therein was secured as a traveling representative of the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company, and for six years he was a knight of the grip, familiarizing himself with every angle of the business, becoming widely acquainted with the trade, and making numerous friends in various communities. Thus, when in 1880 he effected the organization of the Sligh Furniture Company, he had already laid the foundation for a successful business structure and the company, of which he was president and general manager, had a rapid and steady development. Since that time, Mr. Sligh has been identified with various business organizations. He has given his support to incipient enterprises and has assisted them in their growth to maturity and prosperity. He still retains his connection with a number of leading firms, being at this time a member of the board of directors of the Grand Rapids National City Bank, the City Trust & Savings Bank and the Grand Rapids Trust Company; vice president of the New Pantlind Hotel Company and of the Empress Theatre Company; president of the Furniture Manufacturers’ Insurance Company, and secretary and treasurer of the Clark Iron Company. For many years, he was president of the Grand Rapids Board of Trade.
Mr. Sligh is a man who has led a career touching on many sides, and whatever he has found to do he has done to the full measure of his strength and ability. He is a great believer in the development of youth, and in this connection is serving as president of the Grand Rapids Council, Boy Scouts of America. Until 1896 he supported the principles and candidates of the regular Republican organization, but in that year he assisted in the formation of the Silver Republican Party and for a time was prominent in its ranks. However, he has never been a politician, nor has he made a business of seeking favors at the hands of any political organizations. He has been primarily a businessman and has found success and contentment in working out the problems and complexities of competition in the world of industry and finance. Mr. and Mrs. Sligh are members of Grace Protestant Episcopal Church, in which he belongs to the vestry. Mr. Sligh was married in 1875 to Miss Mary S. Conger of Wisconsin who died in the faith of the Congregational church in 1903. She is survived by three children: Edith, Adeline and Loraine. In 1905, Mr. Sligh was again married, being united with Miss Edith E. Clark. They have two children: Charles R. Jr. and Gertrude.