Mary mckenzie henkel; henkel-harris co.
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
Roy Briggs, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: This is Roy Briggs for the American Furniture Hall of Fame. This is an oral history interview with Mary Henkel, chairman of the board of Henkel-Harris and my old friend from way back.
Mary, when were you born?
HENKEL: Oh dear. Do I have to tell the truth?
INTERVIEWER: No, tell anything you want to.
HENKEL: I was really born in 1910, August 5.
INTERVIEWER: And where?
HENKEL: Winchester, Virginia.
INTERVIEWER: Now this is an interview of you, but it counts for you and for Carroll Henkel so tell me when he was born and where.
HENKEL: Sure. Carroll Henkel was born on August 23, 1910, in Spokane, Washington.
INTERVIEWER: Was your family in the furniture business?
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any in-laws, any connections in the furniture business?
INTERVIEWER: Is your family still in furniture?
HENKEL: Just me, and my son, Bill.
INTERVIEWER: Bill, who is the president of Henkel-Harris.
HENKEL: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your growing-up years. You grew up in Winchester.
HENKEL: I was born right here. I grew up here and went to school here. I went to a private school — Fort Loudoun Seminary. We had a John Handley, from Pennsylvania, who came to town and liked it, and when he died he left quite a bit of money for a school — a public school. I used to know how much, but I don’t remember. I think it was $100,000. Of course, that was a lot of money then. He was a lawyer judge. We had a public school, John Kerr public school, but that was a small one. They had private schools, so when Handley came and left the endowment, they took the money and built the Handley High School which is there now, of course, and is our main school. I don’t remember what year it was, but that’s the year that we all left the private schools and came to the Handley School.
INTERVIEWER: What was the name of the private school again?
HENKEL: Fort Loudoun Seminary.
INTERVIEWER: Was it church affiliated?
HENKEL: No, just a private school.
INTERVIEWER: So, then you went to high school.
HENKEL: Then we went to high school at the new school, Handley.
INTERVIEWER: When did you graduate from high school?
HENKEL: 1927 or ’28, I don’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: All right, you would have been 17 years old. Where did you go to college?
HENKEL: Penn Hall in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but I didn’t stay — I came back home. Then I went to decorating school, Parsons, in New York.
INTERVIEWER: Was it then Parsons School of Design?
HENKEL: Yes, and then I came back home. My mother was ill and we all came home to be with her. After that, I stayed home. Then I got married.
INTERVIEWER: Was your major interior design?
INTERVIEWER: How long did you stay in New York?
HENKEL: You know, I don’t remember. Mary Louise was 5 years old. I was up in New York, off and on, I guess for five or four years.
INTERVIEWER: What significantly was happening in New York that affected your life?
HENKEL: Nothing ... babysitting.
INTERVIEWER: You babysat for people in New York?
HENKEL: No, for my sister.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I see. Was she with you in New York?
HENKEL: Yes, she married and lived in New York. When mama died, I went up to visit, and I stayed for a while and went to school there.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, did you live with your sister?
INTERVIEWER: Which sister was that?
HENKEL: Bessie, the oldest one.
INTERVIEWER: How many sisters did you have?
HENKEL: Three. There were four of us ... and two brothers. My two brothers died.
INTERVIEWER: Bessie was the oldest sister. Who was next?
HENKEL: May, Mary and Ann.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t remember your sister, Ann.
HENKEL: No, she was gone.
INTERVIEWER: So, in New York you lived with your sister while you went to Parsons?
HENKEL: Yes and I came back when my mother was taken ill.
INTERVIEWER: But you did graduate from Parsons?
HENKEL: No, I didn’t graduate. I took courses at different schools.
INTERVIEWER: But you have an ASID certification (American Society of Interior Designers)?
HENKEL: Yes, well I don’t know how. I just took interior decorating.
INTERVIEWER: You had to qualify for that somewhere along the line.
HENKEL: Well, I qualified from there.
INTERVIEWER: From Parsons?
INTERVIEWER: OK. I had assumed that graduation from Parsons qualified you for AID then; it’s now ASID.
HENKEL: Yes, I don’t know. I just have it.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now tell me about Carroll Henkel, who is known as Henkel. He was born in Spokane, Washington?
HENKEL: Spokane, Washington, yes. Well, really the town of opportunity, but it was closer to Spokane so they always said Spokane. His father was a medical doctor and went there.
He wasn’t in such good health, so he decided to go out there, with his wife, to get well.
INTERVIEWER: Where were they from?
HENKEL: Martinsburg, West Virginia.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, right there, then?
HENKEL: He went out there, but the Henkels are from New Market, Virginia. There were five brothers and four were doctors. Henkel’s grandfather was, of course, a doctor and all, and two grand doctors came to this town. Winchester was too small for two doctors, so Dr. Miller Henkel went to Florida and Henkel’s grandfather went to Martinsburg. The others went to different places in regard to where they were going to go.
INTERVIEWER: So his father moved to Spokane?
HENKEL: Yes, he went to Spokane and while he was there, they built a pretty great big home (they liked it), and he also went into the milk business there — a very good milk business. It turned out to be a big one — the Henkel milk business. They came back home quite often, back and forth the families did, and on one trip, he came home and he said, “I’m going with a redhead girl out there.” (Carrie was Henkel’s mother’s name.) He said, “Carrie, if you won’t marry me on this trip, I’m going back to marry the redhead girl.” So they got up a real wedding, a very nice one. It was a big wedding, but they got it up quick.
INTERVIEWER: This is Henkel’s father, right?
HENKEL: Yes, so they got married and he took Carrie back with him. Grandmother Henkel always went with them. He was a “Grandmother Henkel’s boy.” His father had died. He was a doctor, but he had died. So they stayed out there for a while and he decided that this new doctor’s doings (a medical thing that came out) would be a good field. What do you call them — they work on your bones?
INTERVIEWER: An orthopedist?
HENKEL: Yes, one of those. So he said he’d like to come back and study that, so they decided to come back East. In the meantime, they had three children — two girls and a boy. They ran a milk business; it was a very good business.
INTERVIEWER: And the boy was Carroll?
HENKEL: Yes, he was 8 years old when he came here. So, they sold out everything in Opportunity and came back East. It took them six weeks to come back in a car. When they got here, Carroll’s father went on the road to the University of Chicago. Henkel’s mother stayed here in Martinsburg and they all went to Grandma’s. Grandma had a great big house in Martinsburg. So, they all went back home — the two girls and the boy. But Henkel liked his grandmother, and was sort of a pet, so he went to live with Grandmother Henkel in her home. Her husband was a doctor in Martinsburg before he died and before they went to Spokane. So they went there to live — Aunt Margie (Carrie’s sister), Aunt Carrie, Virginia and Nell. There were four girls.
INTERVIEWER: Those were Henkel’s aunts?
HENKEL: Yes. So he Henkel went to live with Grandmother Henkel in her big house. He lived there with her and was her “pet.” He went to school and everything. In the meantime, his mother was taken sick. It turned out that they said she bumped her head on the car coming in from the West, but it wasn’t a bump on the head — she had a tumor of the brain. They took her to this big Dr. Dandy — at that time, he was the big doctor in Baltimore. He turned around and said she would not live long. I think it was five years that she lived. So she stayed there with the sister at her home and the two girls. Henkel went to school in Martinsburg, and so did the girls — they all went to high school there. Then their mother died and the two girls stayed there until they married and then they left. One went to New York to school and then married a man from New Jersey. She went to New York School of Interior Design. She was a designer of clothes. The other girl went to West Virginia University. Henkel went to West Virginia University and also to Andover to prep school.
INTERVIEWER: You mean Andover in Massachusetts?
HENKEL: Yes, that’s right. His daddy had gone to the University of Maryland, right straight through, but he didn’t go to Andover. Henkel went up there. An uncle had gone there, so he went there because of that. When he got there, he had graduated from high school in Martinsburg and was called “the brain” of the class there. He went to Andover and was put in the 10th grade to prepare for college. That’s how far ahead they were — way ahead. So he went from Andover to West Virginia University. Then, Henkel took a course and had been accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he went to WVU.
INTERVIEWER: Did he graduate from West Virginia?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, he graduated there with a lot of honors and so forth. Then he wanted to go to MIT and this uncle of his was connected with Carnegie Steel in Pittsburgh and he said, “You don’t want to go to school all your life at MIT. It’s just nothing but books. You want to get the experience. Come out here and I’ll get you a job with experience at Carnegie.” So he went with Carnegie for a while in Pittsburgh.
INTERVIEWER: What was his degree from at West Virginia?
HENKEL: Engineering, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Well, he worked as a metallurgist.
HENKEL: Yes, well, that’s what he was. He graduated with that, yes, a metallurgist.
INTERVIEWER: You mean in Columbus, Ohio?
HENKEL: Yes, so we were sent out there. He was sent out to study and teach Japan about steel. We were out there for a long time.
INTERVIEWER: That was after you were married?
HENKEL: Yes, we got married.
INTERVIEWER: When were you married?
HENKEL: 1937 or ’38, you know, I don’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: And where did that fit in with his education?
HENKEL: He was already finished and had gotten a job. As soon as he got the job, we got married. We went to Pittsburgh, rented a nice apartment that I found. I was the first one in Pittsburgh, at Murray Hill. Oh, it was very nice — Squirrel Hill, Murdock Road. It was a very nice apartment so I was thrilled to death. I came back that night at suppertime with Patty Johnson. She was one of the better people of the company, and so forth, you know, connected with it.
INTERVIEWER: What was the company — still Carnegie?
HENKEL: Still Carnegie and U.S. Steel. They were all connected out there. So, Henkel came back and said, “How much is this apartment?” I said, “$165.” He said, “Mary, that’s my salary. How are we going to pay for that?” Well, anyway, we came around on it.
We weren’t there but about three or four days we hadn’t even unpacked and we went to Vandergrift. He was sent up there for research on something. They put him right to work. And while coming back, we had an automobile accident.
INTERVIEWER: Coming back from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh?
HENKEL: Yes, that’s right, to Pittsburgh. It was daytime and it was not Henkel’s fault. The man went to sleep. I went through the windshield and was hurt pretty bad.
INTERVIEWER: What year was that?
HENKEL: That must have been ’37. I don’t remember all those dates.
INTERVIEWER: That’s OK. You can fill those in later.
HENKEL: Well, anyway we came back to Pittsburgh, and he had a broken arm. We had brought my niece who had been in New York with me when I was up there. She was growing up near where I was in New York; this was years later. She was only 5 years old in New York.
INTERVIEWER: Was she in the car with you?
HENKEL: She was in the car, but she was not hurt.
HENKEL: But she took my pocketbook and held it for some reason, and she sat on the road until Henkel’s boss was notified. Two boys stopped and took me to the hospital. We never did find out who they were, never could thank them — we advertised and everything. I was taken to the Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh and I was there until close to Christmas, and the accident was in June, July.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, my.
HENKEL: So, I was there all that time.
INTERVIEWER: Seven months.
HENKEL: “Boogered up good,” but the hospital was nice. There are a lot of stories about that but it would take too long to tell the m. Oh, heavens. The funny thing about it that year was what they called the “sunflower year.” At the time that I went to the hospital, there was a square lot (the hospital was over here), and a big square parking lot. Henkel, of course, would come to see me every day and every night. Every time he came, he would bring me a sunflower. After I got my senses, I thought, “Oh, gee, he’s going to the florist, buying all these flowers. I wish he wouldn’t do that.” But he wasn’t doing a thing but leaning over the parking lot fence in the empty yard where the sunflowers were growing and bringing them in! And every time he’d come, there was a little one or a big one, or some kind of a sunflower. And this year, of all things, is “sunflower year.” At Christmastime, I got a bunch of sunflower things.
INTERVIEWER: You mean this year? 1994?
HENKEL: Right now, yes, this year everything is sunflowers. Down at William & Mary everything was sunflowers. I don’t know if it’s a warning or something, or whether it’s just a year they’ve just picked out for sunflowers. But the hospital is built up now on that corner. They bought it at that time for $5,000, and sold it to the city for $5,000. The city bought it back for $100,000. That’s how prices went up.
But we were in Pittsburgh and he was sent then to Columbus, Ohio to research at Battelle Institute. He was supposed to be a very, very clever person.
INTERVIEWER: How long was he there?
HENKEL: You know, I really don’t know. I guess over two years. But while he was there, he taught about 3,000 Japanese people all about steel and he would say to me, “Mary, they are so smart. They know more than I do.”
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
HENKEL: “They should be teaching me,” he said. “I shouldn’t be teaching them. They answer a question before you ask them.” So, he taught all those Japanese people and they sold all that steel to Japan and it all went out of New Jersey. It was shipped from New Jersey to wherever it was shipped to. Now how they did that, I don’t know, but anyway he did that in regard to the steel.
INTERVIEWER: Now while you were still at Mercy Hospital, was he still working for Carnegie?
HENKEL: Yes, he was still in Pittsburgh and still with the steel company.
INTERVIEWER: When did he go to Columbus? Were you out of the hospital by then?
HENKEL: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you move to Columbus?
HENKEL: We moved to Columbus and lived there and came back. He was in the Army Reserve and we went home for Christmas that year.
INTERVIEWER: Home is Winchester?
HENKEL: Back to Winchester. Of course, I came back every time I had a chance to come back. We came back that Christmas, and he was called here in Winchester to please come to Washington. So, when he got to Washington, they told him that he was going to be called back into the Reserve.
INTERVIEWER: From college?
HENKEL: No, from working. He was out of college, but he would have to be called because of being in the Reserve. They didn’t know when, but they didn’t think it was going to be until August, so we went back to Columbus with the dog and everything. The train broke down — we had to change in St. Louis or something. I forget where now. So, we dressed on the train and had to sleep on it. We got up and got dressed and went on to the office and to the apartment.
INTERVIEWER: The same apartment that you had?
HENKEL: No, this was in Columbus now. So, he called and said, “Mary, will you pack another bag for me until this weekend? I’ve got to go back to Pittsburgh.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I had a wire here waiting for me to report to Pittsburgh,” and he said, “I called and they said I’m in the Reserve and they want me back in because of a certain research on steel and plastic.” Plastic was a big thing right then; that had come in and they were researching on this plastic business.
He said, “They want me to come back in to do that, but I’ve got to go back to Pittsburgh this weekend to find out what it’s all about.” He called the general and the general said, “Read the wire, Henkel.” So, Henkel read the wire. He said, “You’re in the Army.” So, back to Pittsburgh he went. He called me and said, “I’ll be home.” When he came home he said, “It looks like we’ve got to move. We’re moving to Washington. You’ll have to tend to everything because I have to go right back.”
I went down and gave up the apartment and gathered up the stuff that I didn’t want and called home. I was tickled to death, you know. I was going to go home and it was so close to Washington and everything. I didn’t know what it was all about or anything like that. He went back on a Sunday. He comes back the next weekend, and he says, “Guess what? We don’t have to move. They’ve sent me to Oil City, Pennsylvania.” He was sent up there to do private research on this new plastic business. He was sent to Washington, where he was born. He called and wanted me to go along but I couldn’t go.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you living at that time?
HENKEL: Back in Ohio, but we had to get out of Ohio because he was transferred again. He was in the Army now. So, he was sent to Washington. I said, “Oh, that’ll be fun. I love it.” I went to the Shoreham Hotel because I had been there and the rooms were reasonable and the apartments weren’t very expensive. I knew Harry Byrd and all of them. That’s where they lived so I was going to be at home. I went right away. The manager’s name was McCarty. He said, “Mrs. Henkel, there are between 400 and 500 ahead of you. They all want to come here.” They had a swimming pool, a tennis court. Well, I didn’t get in there, so anyway, we found a little place out in Georgetown — an adorable little apartment. He had to take the bus into town every day. So, we went down to Washington to tell the people we were going to move anyway. I always had to do it because he was always sent ahead with the Army. “Report, report,” and he’d jump on the train or a plane or whatever it was, and go. So, he was in Washington, staying at the Officer’s Club, and I packed up the furniture for a while.
INTERVIEWER: Was this in Columbus?
HENKEL: No, that was back in Washington, D.C. He was back there now.
INTERVIEWER: But you’re still in Columbus?
HENKEL: I’m still in Columbus, Ohio. I have to do all of that, get it all packed up; I always had everything to do. I had a dog and it bit the mailman. I was scared I was going to be sent to jail, so I got out real quick, and took the dog back and went on home.
When the things came along, we put the things in the basement at home until we knew what we were going to do. I went to Washington and he stayed at the Officer’s Club. I would go down off and on during the week or on the weekend, and we would go to a hotel and spend the weekend. He never got off — they never let him off.
INTERVIEWER: Then you were living in Winchester?
HENKEL: I was in Winchester.
INTERVIEWER: This was before you got the apartment in Georgetown?
HENKEL: Yes, then we got the apartment in Georgetown. Even when we got the apartment in Georgetown, I did not live in it. It was an adorable apartment. He was sent on secret trips and was sent to Poland. Now why he was sent to Poland, I never did know and he never told me ... he was to research on something connected with the privacy of the Army. He would go and I would be in Winchester. He’d call and say, “Mary, I’m in Washington for a day or so ... want to come on down?” I’d jump on the bus ... I rode the bus ... I love a bus, going and coming all the time.
INTERVIEWER: But you kept the apartment in Georgetown?
HENKEL: Oh, yes. He would come in. I didn’t know when he was coming in or going out. As soon as he would get in, he’d call me and down I would go. Sometimes I’d stay.
INTERVIEWER: What year was this?
HENKEL: That would be 1942, ’43, ’44 and ’45.
INTERVIEWER: At the middle of the war and right after?
HENKEL: And he was sent abroad all the time to different places, in regard to private investigation of instruments that they used.
INTERVIEWER: What was his rank in the Army?
HENKEL: Well, that’s a story, too. He was Major at that time. He wasn’t Colonel then, he was Major Henkel.
INTERVIEWER: And then he became a Colonel?
HENKEL: Yes, when he went out.
INTERVIEWER: He left as a Colonel?
INTERVIEWER: When did he finish with his Army career?
HENKEL: He went out of the Army in, I guess, ’46 and back to Pittsburgh, and then came right on back here.
INTERVIEWER: First he went back to Pittsburgh with Carnegie again?
HENKEL: Yes, he went on back.
INTERVIEWER: And how long was he with that connection?
HENKEL: Oh, he went on back to his old job at Carnegie. He had visited a couple of places which he did not care for. He went to Miller’s in Syracuse and to Monsanto in New York.
INTERVIEWER: But that was just inquiring?
HENKEL: Inquiring about a job, yes, because he was to go back to Carnegie anyway.
HENKEL: So, he went back to Carnegie and we were just going to live in Pittsburgh, but we went to a cocktail party and during that was the first Apple Blossom that we had after the war. We didn’t have any during the war.
INTERVIEWER: So, that was back in Winchester?
HENKEL: In ’46. And so Henkel goes back to Pittsburgh and leaves everything for me to tend to. Johnny Harris stepped in and that’s the time the move was started.
INTERVIEWER: This was the beginning of Henkel-Harris, then, in 1946?
HENKEL: Yes so, we had the apartment and everything back there which we moved later.
INTERVIEWER: Back in Pittsburgh?
HENKEL: Back in Pittsburgh, but we had already started to work. He must have left the Army at the end of ’45 or the beginning of ’46.
INTERVIEWER: Then when did you start your company?
INTERVIEWER: So, there were a few months in between?
HENKEL: Yes, months in there but oh, we did it fast. We came to the Apple Blossom in May.
INTERVIEWER: That would have been in May, in Winchester?
HENKEL: And that is when we were at the party.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about that now.
HENKEL: Johnny Harris was the son of Dr. Harris here in Winchester. He had three brothers and a sister. He lived in Berryville and Winchester. He was an X-ray doctor at our Winchester hospital.
INTERVIEWER: That’s Johnny’s father?
HENKEL: That’s his father.
So, Henkel had come back and he did not have a job. He had his old job which he did not want. He was an usher in a movie theater. He said, “I don’t want to do that. I want a job.” And everybody was standing around — you know how they do at a party, and Henkel said, “I love this town, but I’m not a doctor, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a farmer, I’m not an apple man, I’m not anything connected and there’s no work here that I can do. But I would love to live in this town. I love it.” And he said, “I’ve got to go back to where I came from — old Pittsburgh.” And I spoke up and said, “Henkel, you don’t have to go back to Pittsburgh because you could stay here. I can be an interior decorator and I can do that part of it, and you can come home on the weekends.” Now I wasn’t thinking about any home life or anything. I said, “You can come home on the weekends, or I can go there and you can work. I’ll run the business here and then, later on, you can come on here to Winchester.”
INTERVIEWER: All right, but you were thinking directly in terms of a furniture factory?
HENKEL: No, no furniture factory. No furniture, no nothing.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of business was it going to be then?
HENKEL: I was just going to be an interior decorator and he was going to come in. Nothing was said about what he was going to be later on. I just had it all fixed. I just wanted to stay in Winchester.
INTERVIEWER: Right, all right.
HENKEL: And, then, Johnny said, “Gee, what are ya’ll talking about?” I said, “We want to go into business.” He said, “What kind of business?” I said, “Oh, we could go into the furniture business.” He said, “Oh, I’d love to go into business. I’ve got $6,000. I’ll go in with you.” I said, “Good, come on. You’ll be a partner. What shall we name it? Oh, fine ... H & H ... that’s easy to remember. Oh, that’s marvelous. We’ll name it Henkel-Harris. Henkel, you be the president. Johnny, you be the vice president. I’ll be the secretary.”
So, that’s how the Henkel-Harris company started?
Then they said, “All right, Mary, you find the building.” They left me to find the building. Now, wait a minute. I knew nothing about furniture, how to find the building, how to get the papers all drawn up for a corporation. We were going to be a corporation. I knew how much we really and truly had — about $40,000 that we had saved up.
INTERVIEWER: Harris put up $6,000. What were you to put up?
HENKEL: Well, we had all of ours. We had close to $40,000 all together, honest we did. That was a lot of money then. See, we didn’t think of it as that — it was just there, what we had saved up. Mama had left me a piece of property, I sold that and got that money. I got everything together, and we were still in the home and had no expenses and so forth.
So, anyway, Henkel said, “All right, I’ll go back and take a month’s leave.” He was allowed to take a month’s leave; any time he wanted to, he could come back. He got it all fixed up in case, you know, anything would happen. His uncle was one of the main things, so that part was easy.
INTERVIEWER: Now, when you say you lived at home, was that the house that you still live in?
HENKEL: Right, where I am right now. And we used all the home things and so forth. So Johnny was right below and he was going to live at home. He got a job for two weeks, making $18 a week, to learn how to make furniture.
HENKEL: Johnny did, with Copenhaver. When we got married, a man named Boyd Headley, he’s dead, but his son is our antique man, auctioneer and everything. He had a big family, the Headley family, old German furniture people.
INTERVIEWER: Here in Winchester?
HENKEL: In Winchester, he and Dr. E. C. Stewart had started a reproduction of antiques some years ago in the lobby up at the George Washington Hotel. Beautiful furniture.
But it didn’t succeed. They didn’t make any money and they lost everything. Dr. Stewart came to us. He was a friend and he took our hands and he said, “Children, you’ll never make any money. We were in it for 12 years and we didn’t make anything. It’s the wrong business to go into.”
Well, we were going to go into it, but how we got the idea of going into the furniture business was ...
INTERVIEWER: Manufacturing furniture?
HENKEL: No, we didn’t know anything about manufacturing. We were just going into business. We were just going to make pieces of furniture to sell.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, all right, that’s manufacturing.
HENKEL: Well, it’s manufacturing but that word was never used. We didn’t have any word like that.
Anyway, Dr. Stewart talked to us, and Headley also said, “We didn’t make any money; don’t do it.” But we went ahead and Johnny had his two weeks and they sent me to find a building. I found the Ford building, which was the Ford automobile dealer, there were no cars, it was Schutte’s building. So, I went in and talked to Schutte’s partner. He said, “Well, we have an empty room back there — it’s a great big room. It’d be wonderful for you to start.”
INTERVIEWER: Where was this, in Winchester?
HENKEL: In Winchester at the Ford place.
INTERVIEWER: What street?
HENKEL: On Valley Avenue, right where we turn to go up to Stewart Street. You know that curve where you go here and you go there out on Valley Avenue.
INTERVIEWER: OK, south of Winchester across the street from Handley High School, south of downtown, but still very much in Winchester.
HENKEL: Yes, and the Ford place was right there, the great big Ford place, but there were no cars. Mr. Smitty was there — Schutte was not there. He said, “I’ll rent it to you for $50 a month with heat.” I was tickled to death! Oh, I was thrilled to death.
So, of course, I went and called to tell them we got a building. Well, in comes Mr. Fred Ritter, who was in with the Ford people. He said, “My, God, no. Pretty soon the Fords will be coming in — where are you gonna put them? We have no place to put the new cars. We’re still in business. Nothing doin’! Awfully sorry.”
INTERVIEWER: This was 1946?
HENKEL: 1946, yes. They sent me again to find the building. There were no buildings in Winchester. We didn’t have buildings. We didn’t have people making things. So, out on Main Street, all the way out North Loudoun Street, was an apartment house. Below the apartment, was a big room that was going to be rented by Mr. Vernan Whitacre as a Safeway grocery store. But then Safeway backed out, so there was this great big room and so I went out to ask about it. It was $400 a month. Well, that didn’t sound too bad, but it was a lot of money compared to $50 that I had rented the other one for. No, that was even later, after we found out about … yes, Safeway was a later one; see, things happened so quickly and everything. So, at first, we couldn’t find any place. Well, next door to us was an awful place.
INTERVIEWER: Next door to your home on Boscawen Street?
HENKEL: Yes, there was an old building that was just used for anybody to throw junk in with no windows, no doors, no nothing. It was just an old “back building,” in the back of the yard. So, we found out about it and said, “Well, we’ll fix it up.” They said, “You can have it for $40 a month and you do all the fixing.” Well, that was wonderful — $40 a month. It had no floor, no heat, no lights, no windows, no doors.
INTERVIEWER: Did it have a roof?
HENKEL: It had a roof!
So, then Henkel came up for the weekend. Henkel had asked for a month, so he came home that time, and stayed home for a month. He lost 40 pounds the first week. Oh, they worked hard. Everybody in the family worked. The neighbors worked. Everybody worked so hard to clear up that building that we were going to rent. We called the carpenters in, naturally, but you see, we didn’t count the money. Our money went flying, concrete floor, heat, a front door. I’ll show you the pictures. I have the pictures of it at home — what it was, and then later, how it looked and so forth. But, when we were doing it, we didn’t think about the place to make the furniture!
INTERVIEWER: You mean to assemble the furniture?
HENKEL: There was no place to make the furniture. We made an office and a place to fix the wood, and a place to put the wood, but there was no place to make up furniture.
INTERVIEWER: In other words, you had the machine room and the machinery, but you didn’t have the place to assemble it, no cabinet room?
HENKEL: No, so, what were we going to do? We had to find a place. By that time, everything — all of the money — was all gone. See, we didn’t know that we bought the wrong things and so forth, so we went to the bank.
INTERVIEWER: And you were buying machinery, too?
HENKEL: Oh, we bought machinery — what we thought was right, but it wasn’t the right machinery.
INTERVIEWER: Did you buy it locally?
HENKEL: We went to Hagerstown and went to Charles Henkel stayed up all night one time when he heard the machinery was going to be sold. We bought a few pieces that were right, but not the right things to make the right furniture. He just didn’t do it. So, we go to the bank and two of the “once upon a times” started the same way: Cammer, Mr. Claude Cammer, from the Shenandoah Bank; and John Rosenberger of the lumberyard. The Rosenbergers were good friends of ours so we thought he would be a good one. They were in the bank and so forth. They called and they went through what we had and they came out and said, “There wouldn’t be any chance at all for the bank to lend you money. You have nothing here to do anything with. We couldn’t lend you any money on just this. There would be no possibility. No board will lend you money.”
Well, in the meantime, Mama had left what you call a “spendthrift will” in trust, nothing could be sold or anything. Then the bank took that “spendthrift will business” and they would have gotten in trouble if we had closed up because that wasn’t to be touched but, from that, they lent us a little bit of money and gave us all kinds of notes to sign and everything like that. We borrowed enough money so we could get a bigger place. Well, we went looking and that’s when we found the grocery store, Vernon Whitacre yes, it was for rent for $400 a month.
INTERVIEWER: That was going to be a Safeway?
HENKEL: Yes, it was going to be out on Main Street, a busy street. It’s still there. They said they’d rent it, but afterwards Mr. Whitacre said, at the time, he was “scared to death.” He said, “You all had no machinery. You had nothing to work with. What were you going to do to make any money?”
But we moved out, we had no secretary — I was the secretary. In the meantime, I went to work and took the study course right away of how to be a secretary, how to keep books. I didn’t know debit from credit. I did that right here in Winchester. I went to school every day.
INTERVIEWER: You had an office in an old house, next door to the factory?
HENKEL: Yes, but now we were getting ready to move from there, you see. We moved up to the Safeway grocery store place, up on Main Street. But we had no machinery.
INTERVIEWER: Where was your machinery?
HENKEL: I had to put it there in the Safeway store. That’s when the banks wouldn’t lend any money. So, then we heard about William Iselin, that they would lend money. They loaned us $10,000. That was the smallest amount that they ever lent. We borrowed plenty later. So, they worked along with us and lent us money.
By that time, we knew what to buy — the right kind of machinery, and where to buy the wood and how to buy it. Thompson Mahogany were very good people. They’re all dead now but one.
We bought the right mahogany from them; then we bought cherry and the first thing they made was curly maple. We would put them in May’s shop down below. We would put them in the window and then would stand back at nighttime and let the people talk to hear what they had to say. “Oh, who would buy that furniture? Oh, what is that furniture? What is that, anyway?”
INTERVIEWER: And this is the maple?
HENKEL: The curly maple, but we soon got away from that and went to walnut for a while. Walnut was good then. Then I said, “No, we’ve got to get mahogany.” Mahogany is what they’re going to bring in. I was going by what I had learned in New York.
INTERVIEWER: This curly maple that you made, what style was that?
HENKEL: Oh, we still kept the same style.
INTERVIEWER: 18th century?
HENKEL: Oh, yeah. We copied right from the furniture we had at our house.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I see.
HENKEL: We didn’t do any doin’s out. When we would do something different, it wouldn’t go over, so we’d go right back to what we had done in the beginning.
INTERVIEWER: In your home?
HENKEL: In the meantime, the hospital wheelchairs were all broken. We took them all in and fixed them, but the hospital was in such bad condition, that we couldn’t ask them for the money, so we called that off. Then we took in a few repairs.
INTERVIEWER: Furniture repairs?
HENKEL: Yes, people wouldn’t pay us. They’d say, “That’s too much.” We’d say, “We’re only charging you for what the furniture was. We didn’t charge you for the time.” They would only give us a certain amount of money. There was just no money. It’s a good thing that we had a place to live, and that we had food given to us, you know. It was home and so that is where we lived.
We moved the machinery out there and we had one customer — Henry and Grace Becraft. They were from down outside of Baltimore. They were looking for antiques. They’d start out on a Sunday and go down the Valley. On a Friday, they’d return to our place. In the meantime, they would leave an order for a drop-leaf table, and other things that we were making. They would stop in on Friday to pick it up. That was our payroll for our people.
INTERVIEWER: Just one table?
HENKEL: Yes, they would order, and then pick up and pay us in cash.
INTERVIEWER: And they were from where — Gaithersburg?
HENKEL: Gaithersburg, Maryland. The daughter still has the place. The Craft Shop — the daughter is Dolly Irvine, and her daughter, Carol, is with the shop now, too. She calls it “antiques” and she adds these reproductions to help out business.
INTERVIEWER: But the other stuff they were buying through the week were real antiques?
HENKEL: Real antiques, real good ones, through the Valley, through every place, through Pennsylvania. I guess one of the nicest collections of antique stores that there could be. But they would stop back in on a Friday and that was my payroll.
So, then I would go out every day. We had no secretary and I couldn’t type. I didn’t learn how to type. I just learned how to keep the books. The correspondence was all written; I would write on the bottom of a letter. We bought from different people; they let us have it. And then I’d write on the bottom of a letter, “Please give me time. You’ll be paid, somehow.” And they all were paid. Not one bill was put in the collectors’ hands; not one bill was sued, or anything. They were good to us. I think everybody just felt sorry for us — indeed I do.
One time we made chairs — nice, pretty plain, little kitchen chairs, you might say.
INTERVIEWER: How many did you make?
HENKEL: I don’t know — a couple dozen of them. So, Henkel took them to Washington to see if he could sell them, but nobody wanted them.
INTERVIEWER: Henkel did this?
HENKEL: Henkel did this. And he couldn’t sell them. He used Annie’s truck — she had a little pickup truck. She lived in the country, so we used her truck and they helped us with everything that they could do. Oh, everybody helped us, really.
So, we went to work and Henkel said, “I think I’ll call Cooper. He’s in the furniture business. We’ll see how he’s doing.” He was a Captain in the Army with him. He called him up and said, “Ah, come on out and see me.” He was east of Pennsylvania, on the east side of Washington. And he said, “Oh, those are nice looking chairs. What are you asking for those?” He said, “I’ll buy them from you.”
Henkel wasn’t asking hardly anything, so he bought all of them that he had. He didn’t go back to him and one day he ran into him and he said, “Henkel, why didn’t you come back to me? I wanted to see the balance of your stuff.” He said, “To tell you the truth, I was afraid. I didn’t know whether the chairs were going to stay together or not.”
But we didn’t want to sell to those kinds of people; we wanted to sell to better people. So, then we got together a few pieces – we made a drop-leaf table, a corner cupboard, a night table, there were four pieces and I said, “All right, the best thing to do is start out with the best.”
Annie’s truck — she had chickens on her farm, and they didn’t clean up, you know, farm people don’t clean up. So, the chicken feathers were in the truck, but we didn’t have sense enough to clean it out. We just put the furniture in, wrapped the pieces all up, and Hank and I went to Washington, to Connecticut Avenue. Sloane’s was on Connecticut Avenue.
INTERVIEWER: W. & J. Sloane, a great big store.
HENKEL: W. & J. Sloane was a great big store. It had a great big bay window all across — it was half a block almost. And, so we stopped there. We parked the truck right outside on Connecticut Avenue. Nobody said anything to us. We went to unpack our furniture and so forth, to get it out of the truck, and the feathers and everything were all around. Oh, it was all dirty. Henkel said, “Oh my, this is terrible.” But, we got the furniture out. We got the furniture all out, cleaned it all up, and shined it.
INTERVIEWER: On the sidewalk, in front of Sloanes?
HENKEL: On the sidewalk, people were walking up, walking down, and stopping, what in the world’s going on? But we were unconscious of that, honest and truly, nobody was there as far as we were concerned.
INTERVIEWER: This is on Connecticut Avenue?
HENKEL: We were on Connecticut Avenue shining up the furniture to go into Sloanes. But inside Sloanes, in front of a window, there were about eight of them, standing, looking, making fun of us.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, inside the store?
HENKEL: The head man, Mr. Boyd, was there with his pipe in his mouth; he was from New York. He couldn’t have been any nicer — the nicest person in the world. So, he was standing there. Finally, Henkel put his coat back on and I fixed myself up, and we went in to see them, to show the furniture to them. Well, believe it or not, they gave us an order. Mr. Boyd gave us a nice order. He was really a nice person. I think they felt sorry for us.
INTERVIEWER: How much of an order did he give you?
HENKEL: I don’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: How many pieces of furniture did you have outside on the sidewalk?
INTERVIEWER: A drop-leaf table, a corner cabinet ...
HENKEL: ... a little night table and another little kind of a table — I think a candle table.
INTERVIEWER: But you don’t remember how big of an order you got?
HENKEL: No, but it was very nice. And from then on they always bought.
INTERVIEWER: How long did it take you to fill that order?
HENKEL: Oh, that I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: I want to be sure about that because that’s important. Was that, by then, curly maple, cherry or mahogany?
HENKEL: No, that would have been walnut.
INTERVIEWER: So, you had gotten away from the curly maple?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, we dropped that right away. That would have been walnut.
INTERVIEWER: So, that’s what got you started with W. & J. Sloane?
HENKEL: There was another store down there. I don’t remember the name. We went there.
INTERVIEWER: The same day?
HENKEL: The same day with the chicken truck, or country truck, or whatever you want to call it, a little pickup truck.
INTERVIEWER: Where was that store?
HENKEL: That was on Connecticut Avenue.
INTERVIEWER: Further out?
HENKEL: Further out. Mr. Miller had it, and his two sons.
INTERVIEWER: OK, but this was just further out on Connecticut Avenue.
HENKEL: Then he called on a couple of other people. They were interested, but I said we’re going to the best. I didn’t believe in going just any way. We ran into the man we sold the chairs to. He said he could have sold many more, but we didn’t go to him because he was on the other side of Washington.
INTERVIEWER: He was on the low range?
HENKEL: Yes, on the lower end, so we weren’t going to sell to those kinds of people. We sold to Woodward & Lothrop.
HENKEL: No, not then.
INTERVIEWER: How many calls did you make that first day? Sloanes and then the Millers?
HENKEL: Oh, we called on a couple of them. There used to be more stores than there are now.
INTERVIEWER: Well, then you came on back to Winchester with the truck. You could have sold the samples to somebody. I’m surprised Sloanes didn’t just keep them.
HENKEL: No, we brought our samples back. They just gave us the order, hoping, I guess, that they would look nice. They were nice looking.
Then we came back and thought we’d research into our finishing doings. We wanted the best, so Lambert & Co. sent in a man from Holland and he stayed with us. We’d sit there at the table and talk. He’d look over and advise. He said, “Now, Mr. Henkel, you will have to make in the neighborhood of at least, we had six men working for us then, and no carpenters; they didn’t know any more about it than we knew. And from these six men, you should get two corner cupboards out about every three days. You should get so many tables out, and so many things. You have to in order to stay in business.”
INTERVIEWER: Now Henkel wrote all this down?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, I have all the books.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, he liked to write everything down. How many of his notebooks do you have?
HENKEL: All of them, I guess. I’ll show them to you. And Henkel looked at me and said, “Well, it looks like we’ll go back to Pittsburgh.” I said, “No, Henkel, we’re not going back to Pittsburgh.” We couldn’t make ... we made a corner cupboard once a month.
We didn’t know how. See, we didn’t know which way to turn or anything. Oh, there are so many little crazy things that happened.
INTERVIEWER: Well, we’ve gotten a little bit ahead of our questions, which is all right, but the next question is: What was your first furniture job? You’ve certainly covered that.
HENKEL: Well, the first big job we made ...
INTERVIEWER: Well, now, that’s ahead — let’s get up to that. Your job, you, yourself and Henkel, was covered in the starting of your business.
INTERVIEWER: The next question is: Who was your boss? You were your own boss and you’ve told us good deal about your work then, but go on now. You said there was another [order]]]] you got after the Sloane order.
HENKEL: A man comes in and finds out about where they’re making, you know how “antique people” go. He has an antique shop in Georgetown, right on the main street just before you go over the bridge.
INTERVIEWER: That’s M Street, isn’t it?
HENKEL: Yes, right there, the big bridge that you cross over into Georgetown. So, he came up and placed an order for six drop-leaf tables, corner cupboards, end tables, everything. Oh my golly — that was a big ordeal.
And more drop-leaf tables and corner cupboards than any of the other things. We finally got them all made.
INTERVIEWER: How long did it take you to make them?
HENKEL: A few weeks.
INTERVIEWER: Weeks, all right. You’re still getting close to what the Dutchman said — two pieces in three days.
HENKEL: In order to stay in business. He said, “You’ll never stay in business unless you do.” So, we went out and got — what was their name? Two boys came to town to build houses and they worked for us for a month. They built the best houses in Winchester that were ever built, and the highest prices, but they didn’t stay with us for two weeks.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I’m sure you learned from that.
HENKEL: They said, “No, there’s no chance of us staying.” They knew what they were doing. Then we picked up people here and there. We began asking people, inquiring more about what they could do and couldn’t do. We learned more and more.
INTERVIEWER: And Henkel went around and visited people and furniture manufacturers?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, and then we started going to factories — going in and looking and seeing what they had, what they worked with, and what they sold most of and all that. So, we made these tables for this antique mart and, oh, we thought this would be a nice thing. We made them up and they did look beautiful. We got them made and the night before we went down to the little place and thought, “You know, it’s awful cold. Maybe we ought to put the heat up.” So, we put the heat up.
INTERVIEWER: In the factory?
HENKEL: The next morning we came down we didn’t know what you meant by kiln-dried and we didn’t buy kiln-dried wood, and the wood of the tables, from the heat ...
HENKEL: So, he comes in and says, “No, indeedy.” He couldn’t take any of it — he wouldn’t take any of it.
INTERVIEWER: So, he came up here and looked at it.
HENKEL: He came up to get it.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I see.
HENKEL: It was ready to go.
INTERVIEWER: And this was all walnut?
HENKEL: All walnut. He said, “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t.” So, we sold it to him for half price. But I went down to his place and he didn’t have half price on it!
HENKEL: And it looked beautiful, so that’s when I said, “Henkel, we just don’t know what to do.” So, we inquired about the kind of wood to buy — the right kind. That’s when we got in with Thompson.
INTERVIEWER: Did you buy walnut from them or mahogany?
HENKEL: No, we bought mahogany from them. They only sold mahogany. And then we bought from I. T. Williams. They had very fine mahogany. We always had to pay cash for I. T. Williams. They wouldn’t give us any credit. The others gave us credit.
HENKEL: Thompson gave us credit. The old man bought the first teddy bear for Bill. He was a good man. They were nice people and they sold good furniture, lumber. The young boy is still living; one boy wrote a story about Henkel-Harris and won first prize for it in college. These boys are grandsons of the original Mr. Thompson.
INTERVIEWER: The sale to the guy in Georgetown on M Street — when was that?
HENKEL: Well, we were in business. I guess ’47, the following spring.
INTERVIEWER: In the first year sometime?
HENKEL: Yes, almost in the beginning. We learned, and worked like the devil.
INTERVIEWER: When did Henkel start traveling the state of Virginia selling?
HENKEL: Well, we thought, “We’ll sell in Virginia.” So, he started out and he had a great big briefcase that he’d carry and he’d travel on the bus. He’d put his briefcase and the samples and the pictures.
INTERVIEWER: By this time, you’re making photographs instead of carrying furniture?
HENKEL: Yes, well, every now and then he’d carry a piece of furniture if he could. Then if we could get the car, he’d take the car and put a piece of furniture in the car.
INTERVIEWER: Whose car was it?
HENKEL: Ours, I mean the family’s car. It was an old Buick (not the same old Buick, but an old Buick) and he’d carry that and go around. Maybe he’d stay out for four or five days and then come back on a Friday. I’d run the shop while he was gone.
INTERVIEWER: Now, where was Mr. Harris by this time?
HENKEL: Well, Johnny worked when we went out on Main Street. We were out there and Johnny worked, but Johnny didn’t like getting up and going to work at 7:00. Johnny said, “We can open up at 8:00.” We said, “We can’t do it.” We never fussed though. We grew up together; he lived right below Louise and all of us. Johnny said, “I want to go into interior decorating.”
INTERVIEWER: He said that?
HENKEL: Yes, so he said, “I want to sell out.” So he sold out and this is how little sense we had. He had bought $6,000 worth — no profit because there was no profit in it, but he said, “I want to sell out.” In the meantime, there were two people in Winchester that were after our stock. One was Wilkie Hunt who had been with Pulaski and lost his job. Well, we weren’t going to sell any stock, only to the family. And that was just almost like a loan for collateral because they gave it all back and didn’t give us a penny or we didn’t charge them anything and so forth. They could have given, but we didn’t have sense enough to say, “You have to pay. We’ll sell the stock for more” ... or something. We didn’t have sense enough for that. So it took, with just the ones in the family, and they just bought 10 shares. When we got in a better position, we gave them the 10 shares back, 20 shares, $500 worth, $1,000 worth. The family, we’d better not take a chance. They had their money all invested. Everybody was old and was living off of their income. Anyway, Charlie let us have $4,100. But when he built his house for his mother, he came to us and said, “I’ve got to have cash. I don’t have enough cash.”
INTERVIEWER: Charlie was your nephew?
HENKEL: Yes, May’s son, Charles Mort. He said, “I’ve got to have the cash because I just don’t make enough to pay all the carpenters and they want their money as soon as they finish.” We said, “Oh, Charlie, take it out in stock. Please take it.” They won’t take stock. So, who did we get the money from to pay him? We paid him $4,100, of course, no interest, no nothing, just what we had borrowed.
INTERVIEWER: You paid back the $4,100 that he had loaned you?
HENKEL: If he would have let us keep the money, he would have owned the company!
INTERVIEWER: Well, now, Harris sold his $6,000 worth.
HENKEL: He sold $6,000.
INTERVIEWER: To whom?
HENKEL: To Wilkie Hunt. Wilkie said, “I don’t want any $6,000 worth.” So, he sold half of his to Bill Battaile, the Chevrolet man. Bill Battaile really wanted it. He and Wilkie almost killed each other because of that stock.
INTERVIEWER: He wanted all of it?
HENKEL: And just as soon as Henkel died, my aim was to get my stock back so I did everything. I went to Wilkie and said, “Wilkie, I want my stock back.” So, I borrowed money and paid 8 percent to get Wilkie’s stock back, but Bill Battaile did not want to sell.
The understanding was that he was to sell — give it back to us — as soon as we wanted it, but he didn’t want to give it back.
INTERVIEWER: By that time, you were making money.
HENKEL: We borrowed another $4,000 from the family. Well, they didn’t ask for any profit either. We paid all the debts back, with no profit, though.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now what about Mr. Battaile? How did you get him out?
HENKEL: Well, we got him out.
INTERVIEWER: For how much?
HENKEL: Well, he made out — he only made $370,000.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a pretty good investment on $3,000.
HENKEL: All for $3,000.
INTERVIEWER: Not bad.
INTERVIEWER: Not bad.
Now tell me a little bit about the furniture industry when you were just starting, like going to Grand Rapids to the Market. Or did you go to the Chicago Market at all?
HENKEL: Well, they said, “You’re not in the furniture business unless you go to Chicago or Grand Rapids.” Grand Rapids was the place to go.
INTERVIEWER: This was in 1947?
HENKEL: Yes, so we went to Grand Rapids in ’48.
INTERVIEWER: Did you drive out there?
HENKEL: No, we went out by plane. He went out to rent a place because we had the furniture shipped. We had our four pieces of furniture shipped to Grand Rapids. On the 6th floor some old man rented us the corner — a mean old man.
INTERVIEWER: Now this is the Furniture Exhibition Building?
HENKEL: Waters Building. All the furniture people went there. There were two buildings: the Exhibitors Building and the Waters Building. The Exhibitors Building, of course, I found out right away was the best building. Baker was there — I mean high-class furniture.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, yes.
HENKEL: I didn’t want to be in the Waters Building. I wanted to get into the other building. We were put on the 6th floor, this old man back in the corner, there were meter machines to park the cars.
Well, every hour he had to go down, he wouldn’t put it in by two hours or anything. He’d put money in every hour.
INTERVIEWER: You mean the old man?
HENKEL: The old man and he “clip-clopped” down the hall; he had heavy feet. He was a white-haired man — a great big old man. He clipped down that hall. It was on the 6th floor and he would go down to put his money in the meter, and every time he went down, I would pull the table out in the middle of the floor so the people would go by and see us!
We didn’t sell anything. We weren’t known or anything. We had no ad or anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: You had a sign up.
HENKEL: Well, I guess we put a sign up. But, anyway, we were up on that 6th floor. I said, “We don’t want to stay on the 6th floor, Henkel. We’ve got to get away from there.” So I went looking.
INTERVIEWER: This was during a formal Market time.
HENKEL: A two-week Market, in the summer of 1948. So, I went to the Exhibitors Building, to the high-priced furniture — Kittinger and all of those furniture people.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
HENKEL: Well, I went in all of them and looked around. They knew I was looking because I carried in my arms, all the magazines I could pick up everywhere, whatever I could pick up to carry for information. So, I walked along. It was summertime and I had a cute little outfit on that the hat matched, and I was skinny and so forth. I talked, everybody talked to me and, of course, I would talk a mile a minute and ask questions.
I got to Baker’s space and all these gentlemen were dressed up to the extreme. Some would have tea, some would have cocktails. Oh, it was very fashionable. I would say, “Oh, I’d be delighted” and I would talk and say “that’s beautiful.” To this one man who was very polite, I looked over and there was this great big beautiful breakfront, which was all glass and each glass was a different color. It was gorgeous.
INTERVIEWER: This was in the Baker space?
HENKEL: In Baker’s space. They used to be very nice. They’re making the furniture now for Williamsburg, but they’re not that good anymore. They used to have nice shops of their own. They had one on Connecticut Avenue. Baker was nice furniture. He failed the first time. He told me his life and everything. The son had the apartment in the same apartment house as Charlie.
INTERVIEWER: Now, wait a minute — was this in Washington or Grand Rapids?
HENKEL: That was his apartment. No, this was the showroom in Grand Rapids where the father was. He had all these very well-dressed people, all perfect gentlemen and so forth. So, I walked around and looked and said to Mr. Baker ...
INTERVIEWER: Was this Hollis Baker?
HENKEL: Yes, Hollis Baker. I said, “By any chance, would you mind telling me the price of that? It’s beautiful.”
INTERVIEWER: The breakfront?
HENKEL: The breakfront. He said $12,000. Well, I was afraid to say “wholesale or retail?” It was wholesale.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a pass or a badge or something? Did they know you were an exhibitor?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, in the other building. Yes, I didn’t camouflage myself.
I didn’t camouflage. I was Mary Henkel and we had started in business and so forth. He was the nicest man. I met him every day, and I brought Henkel over. He told us things.
INTERVIEWER: This is during this two-week Market.
HENKEL: Yes, the two-week Market.
INTERVIEWER: That was your first Market?
HENKEL: The first Market. And, so, we went out there. He didn’t come over to look at our pieces. They didn’t come over to our building, but I went over there. They were very nice to us. Gave me information upon information. So, we went over and Henkel wrote everything down. He said he would buy a piece of furniture. That’s where we got the idea of buying from Baker.
He would buy a piece and he would copy it exactly. I sat in a Napoleon’s chair. He bought a Napoleon’s chair, so I sat in that for him. I have a picture with me in it.
INTERVIEWER: Henkel bought it.
HENKEL: No, Baker had bought it. He never made it. Baker had a display of his furniture that he had bought. It was in his showroom, all along with his furniture, to show the people that he did copy. We looked at all of that, and he explained all of that to me, so, right away I was going to do just what he did — buy the furniture and copy it.
INTERVIEWER: You meant buying antiques, not buying Baker.
HENKEL: Yes, buying the antiques and copying the antiques. He was so nice to both of us. The time that he told me about the price of the breakfront, I took my paper and fanned myself. He said afterwards that I was a young lady and he thought perhaps I was pregnant and was going to faint. I was going to faint over the price of it. I never heard of such a price!
But we always kept in contact with him, with all of the Bakers. It was funny. When they had the Baker House down at the Market, I always went up. All of them were nice. They were all older people, along with him, you see. The son never liked it and never paid any attention to us. I really stuck to them. I said, “If he can do it, by golly, we can do it.” They were nice and there were other places in there that were nice. There were a lot of nice places, I mean companies, that had furniture.
HENKEL: In the Exhibitors Building in Grand Rapids. The report went around that said if you’re starting a business, Grand Rapids was the place you were supposed to go, but everybody’s going to High Point.
INTERVIEWER: Now, did you ever go to Chicago?
INTERVIEWER: You never went to Chicago?
HENKEL: We went to Chicago, but we would have been nothing. We had nothing to show. We had no furniture. We went to look.
HENKEL: So, in the meantime, from the Waters Building, we moved our few pieces back and we went down to High Point.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go back and show again in Grand Rapids? You only showed there one time?
HENKEL: Only one time. That one first time, the two weeks that we had.
INTERVIEWER: OK, that was in 1948.
HENKEL: Yes, maybe ’49.
INTERVIEWER: So, then you went to High Point.
HENKEL: Then we went down to High Point. When we arrived we looked down the street and saw into that big yard. The furniture was all out in that big yard where you said Snow was. It was this great big, old-fashioned house – furniture was everywhere, on the porch, in the yard. To my recollection, the building was across the street.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, directly across the street was the big furniture exhibit building.
HENKEL: But there was this big yard with all this furniture.
INTERVIEWER: The Snow house was used to show furniture because of the overflow from the building. We called it “the haunted house.”
HENKEL: Well, anyway, we asked, “What have we done?” So, we had no place to go. We went around and looked everything over. I don’t know how we really got into the building, or where we went. We were on the 3rd floor.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now, where did you stay when you were down there for the first time in High Point?
HENKEL: I think we rented a room on the left-hand side in a big house, in a home across from the Episcopal Church on one corner on High Street.
INTERVIEWER: Main Street?
HENKEL: Well, Main Street. The next time we went to the hotel in Greensboro.
INTERVIEWER: It would have been either the O’Henry or the King Cotton.
HENKEL: O’Henry. King Cotton had burned down. We were there when they tore it down. O’Henry was where we stayed. We didn’t get to stay in the motels. They weren’t there in the beginning. We didn’t stay in a motel until the Holiday Inn. We stayed at O’Henry quite a few times.
INTERVIEWER: During the Market.
HENKEL: Four times a year.
INTERVIEWER: At that period, that’s correct.
HENKEL: Summertime, fall and spring.
INTERVIEWER: How did you end up in the building where you exhibited?
HENKEL: You know, I really don’t remember. It might be in his notes, but we got in on the 3rd floor of that small building.
INTERVIEWER: It was called the Merchandise Mart.
HENKEL: And you were in there.
INTERVIEWER: I was your next door neighbor.
HENKEL: Over on this side and we were on this side.
INTERVIEWER: Jamestown Sterling at that point.
HENKEL: Down in the basement on the 1st floor were machines to buy sandwiches and drinks. On the corner were, what do you call those sandwiches, pork things?
INTERVIEWER: Barbecue sandwiches.
HENKEL: Henkel loved those. He loved them.
INTERVIEWER: So, you stayed at a private home on Main Street and then you stayed at the O’Henry Hotel.
There were four Markets a year and you were at the Merchandise Mart. That was your first space.
HENKEL: That was our first space. We were told that we had to belong to things, so we joined everything that we could get into.
INTERVIEWER: So you joined the SFMA (Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association)?
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever join the other, the NAFM (National Association of Furniture Manufacturers)?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, we joined that, too. We joined everything. Then we met Henry.
INTERVIEWER: Henry Foscue.
HENKEL: And what’s his name? Name the people who were there. What was the name of the man that was married, they were Catholic. He was the first one — or was he the second one in charge, what was his name? He had a pretty wife with black hair. They were of the other building.
INTERVIEWER: Do you mean the little building or the big building?
HENKEL: The big building.
INTERVIEWER: Well, there was Paul Casey and then there was Leo Heer.
HENKEL: I remember him.
INTERVIEWER: And then Bob Gruenberg. But that would have been back in the Heer time when you first went in there. But the little building where you first showed, Stanley Taylor owned that, and Ed Mendenhall.
HENKEL: Well, anyway, we rented that room, but we didn’t have enough furniture.
INTERVIEWER: The space you had was 1,000 feet. Mine was next door and it was 2,000 feet.
HENKEL: Yes, we didn’t have much furniture. So, anyway, we moved the stuff down there and Emile was on the next floor with upholstery. Emile had upholstery and he would jump up and down on the steps right there.
INTERVIEWER: And you hired him in High Point then?
HENKEL: Right there in High Point. He worked for us.
INTERVIEWER: When I first knew you, you had a fairly complete line. I remember a big poster bed that was right in the middle of the space. You had it on short display rails.
HENKEL: Now, wait a minute — we didn’t have that bed right in the beginning. We started a bed. We said we should have a bed like Continental Furniture on East Green Street.
HENKEL: They had a bed like we had. Our bed wasn’t finished. We went down and bought Continental’s bed. We put it up in our room for display and a customer came in, shook the posts and said, “Oh, I’m so damn glad you’ve got a good bed finally.” He said, “My, I am glad! This is a fine bed.” So, he bought a couple of them. It was a Continental bed. I said, “We’ll just decorate it, but don’t say nothing.” We were scared to death that he would discover that it wasn’t ours. We bought it from Continental and set it up there and pretended like it was ours because we had copied it from Continental. Then they moved away.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you show in the little Merchandise Mart on the 2nd floor?
HENKEL: Could it have been three years?
INTERVIEWER: I think it was longer than that.
HENKEL: Longer than that? Because we found the building, oh, on the 6th floor.
INTERVIEWER: Of the big building, and I think Henry was?
HENKEL: United Furniture was right there, close by. What was the name of the Jewish furniture company? I tried to think of it last night. They had very nice furniture. They had two sons and were right opposite of us. And a mirror company was right there close to us.
INTERVIEWER: That was Carolina Mirror, I think.
HENKEL: So, we were up there (on the 6th floor) quite a few years.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the old original building. When did you move down to the ground floor?
HENKEL: We had this part of it when we got another room, and they moved over to the other building and we took that room. We had all of that space down there on the 1st floor.
INTERVIEWER: You mean that was on the ground floor? So, you moved to the ground floor next to the elevator with one, 1,000-foot space. Then the SFMA was your next-door neighbor. Then we moved across the street. So, then you had the whole corner, the northeast corner of the ground floor.
HENKEL: Then Victorian came up at the other end, in the front.
INTERVIEWER: Right, the people from Birmingham, Alabama.
HENKEL: And on the 3rd floor was Mr. Best of Craftique. They were nice folks. I’ll tell you who else I liked, he was in the corner — he died, lived in Galax, he had a funny name. He married Frances Bassett.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, you’re talking about Wyatt Exum. His wife was Frances Bassett. He was sales manager of Vaughan-Bassett.
HENKEL: Yes, he was a nice person. He was nice to us. Then we got to going to the cafeteria downstairs.
INTERVIEWER: The Dogwood Room.
HENKEL: Is that still there?
INTERVIEWER: Yes. Let’s go back a little bit and see what you can remember about the first Markets when you were down at least three years at the Merchandise Mart. You were staying in the O’Henry Hotel. What can you remember about that Market, and how is it different from the way Markets later became? Of course, you pretty well stopped going to Markets while you were still showing in the furniture building.
HENKEL: I didn’t stop until, say, five years ago. I came until we definitely moved. I’d never been there until last year, the last day. I got the neighbors to open up and let me see.
INTERVIEWER: You haven’t worked the Market for Henkel-Harris up at the North Hamilton Street address?
HENKEL: No, I don’t know anything about it. I went up to see the two brothers that were in business. I got to see the different people I knew. Alice Hinson worked for a glass and lamp place. I’d go around and visit everybody, see who was there. May and I would go down and Henkel like two or three days before. They tore down the old house and put up the Holiday Inn.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, that’s where the haunted house was.
HENKEL: Yes, we stayed at the Holiday Inn a couple of times. There was a pool there. I brought Bill in the summertime and I sent Bill over to the pool. Oh,, we went out to Sedgefield Inn a couple of times.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, you stayed there a number of years.
HENKEL: And we had the machine man, Mr. Sutton ... Of course, Bassett had a separate building out of town. They didn’t know that Bob Spilman was a cousin of Henkel’s. He sent over for me to go for lunch one day. He sent the policeman from Bassett in the car, and he came in with the big pistol on him and all dressed up and asked for Mrs. Henkel.
INTERVIEWER: What about the growth of the company? You started in 1946, so the company is now almost 50 years old. How many years was it before you made any profit?
HENKEL: Twelve years.
INTERVIEWER: Twelve years. How much were you shipping by the time you started making any profit? Do you remember any shipment figures? A lot of people won’t give them out.
HENKEL: No, I don’t remember.
INTERVIEWER: But it has been substantial growth.
HENKEL: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: OK. How has your company’s growth been affected by labor?
HENKEL: Well, most of them, we’ll say 3/4 of them, were taught when they first started working, definitely by Henkel. He would give them two weeks to learn and he worked along with them. They were put out there and told, “This is a table, you rub it down — you take a shave to it.” But Henkel was learning, too, remember.
INTERVIEWER: Henkel spent a lot of time in the factory. Tell us about Henkel’s factory.
HENKEL: Well, he loved it. He had a drafting room there. He would go out and work on a Sunday. He worked in the snow. He couldn’t get out of the place because he couldn’t get out from the snow. He drew the factory plans.
The plant layout has been copied three or four times by foreign places because it was so well planned — the placement of the machinery.
INTERVIEWER: I remember, from visiting, that he kept it clean, like a hospital. I’ve never, ever, seen a cleaner factory.
HENKEL: First prize for being a clean one. He demanded that the people had five or 10 minutes to clean up around them. We had a girl for us one time working. She said, “I’m not going to sweep up the sawdust. That’s not my job.” He said, “That is your job and if you don’t do it, don’t come back.” And he gave them all enough time to clean up before they left. They were given, twice a day, a period to rest. They were given all kinds of books to read. They were given chances to go to Lord Fairfax Community College up in Middletown.
INTERVIEWER: Did you pay them for going?
HENKEL: We paid their expenses. We didn’t take it off their salaries or anything.
INTERVIEWER: You paid their tuition?
HENKEL: Paid their tuition.
INTERVIEWER: Did you pay them for the time they were studying?
HENKEL: No, not at home. They got their salaries here and then they went up there at night.
INTERVIEWER: Did they get paid a salary for going up there or just expenses?
HENKEL: Just expenses. I don’t think we gave them a salary — I’m pretty sure we didn’t. And we took them places. When Henkel died, you see, I was not a talker. I put the books out in the dining room and said, “You take these books home and read them, and learn how to do certain things.” Well, they didn’t take any of the books home, you see — they weren’t that kind of people.
INTERVIEWER: No, of course not.
HENKEL: So, I said, “What shall I do? How am I going to get them to do it?” I didn’t know what to do. I really got scared. I thought I might have to go out of business. I might have to sell the business.
So, I got an idea one night, I don’t know how I got it. I thought, “You know what I’ll do, by golly, I’ll take them to Williamsburg and show them where the furniture ideas came from.” So, that is when I started taking the buses every place I could take them. We went to Mount Vernon — they were wonderful. The president of the foundation came over from Mount Vernon, and Harry Byrd was there. They opened it up all day just to our employees — six buses of them. Now, some of them didn’t even know where Williamsburg was.
INTERVIEWER: How many times did you take them to Williamsburg?
HENKEL: Twice. And then we went to Winterthur. We went to all the old houses.
INTERVIEWER: Did you just close the factory and take everybody in six buses?
HENKEL: No, we went on a Saturday. They got paid and they were given their meals. They had the best meals you ever heard of when they were away.
INTERVIEWER: When was the first one of these bus tours?
HENKEL: The first one was almost right after Henkel died because I couldn’t talk to them.
INTERVIEWER: What year did Henkel die?
HENKEL: January 1969.
INTERVIEWER: So, you had Henkel then for 21 years.
HENKEL: Yes, so I started right in, right away and we had a board meeting. We had a board meeting with Mr. Hunt, Mr. Battaile, the auditor and another man that was there.
INTERVIEWER: When did Jack Wiltshire come into the picture?
HENKEL: Jack came into be the plant manager. He had worked for Lane. He had not had a job for six months. Hamp Powell told us, “He’s a good man for a small company. Henkel, he’d be good for you.” So, we went and hired him. But he could not come in and say, “We’re going to do this today.” You had to tell him what to do.
You had to make a list, which was good, because that’s what he went by. Make a list and mark off as you finish. He said, “Mary, you won’t get anything done unless you do it.”
INTERVIEWER: Hamp told you this?
HENKEL: Yes, he’s the one who got us him. He said, “He hasn’t been with us for six months, but he was no good for a big factory,” which he wasn’t. See, we were little then.
INTERVIEWER: Now Henkel was still here then?
HENKEL: Yes, and when Henkel died we kept Jack. They said, “You need a man here so we’ll keep him.” So he ran the factory — he and Dorr Louks, who was the man that knew the finish. We got him from Grand Rapids. He came and stayed here. We got his wife here, got a house and everything for him.
INTERVIEWER: That was his son that we met at the door?
HENKEL: Yes, I had to go every Monday morning to see where he was and bring him in, but he was a good man. We had to borrow $10,000 from him. We gave it back to him, and Henkel gave him a little gift on the side. But if he had the $10,000 left here, he would have owned the company, too! But, anyway, he died. He was a good man.
But Jack is not well now. He and I got along all right. We hired a salesman that I didn’t care for. It took me six months to get rid of him. I didn’t know how to fire somebody. I didn’t know how to hire and how to fire.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you had to learn.
HENKEL: So, when they wanted to give me a salary, they said, “Well, she has never run a factory, so we can’t give her anything.” Well, in the meantime, I didn’t know Henkel was going to die, so I had borrowed money to build some of these houses. I owed an awful lot of money.
INTERVIEWER: That was in this location.
HENKEL: Right here.
INTERVIEWER: I want to cover that, but let’s cover these questions and then come back to that.
HENKEL: Anyway, after Henkel died, I went to work and Jack took over to be the foreman of the plant, with Dorr. They were to tell me everything that went on — good and bad. Well, something went bad because I got a telephone call. This person said to me, “Did you know that you’re firing a good man?” Well, Jack wanted his son to come. He didn’t know how to get rid of somebody and we couldn’t hire somebody, so he got rid of him. The man came and said, “Mrs. Henkel, you’re the one who let me go.” I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why are you going?” He said, “You ought to know. You’re the one that gave me my papers.” I didn’t give him any papers. I said, “It’s time for me to go over on the other side.” This was soon after Henkel died. See, I was still learning. I was staying over there and they were telling me all that was going on over there. Well, I wasn’t getting all that was going on over there.
INTERVIEWER: When you say over there, what do you mean?
HENKEL: I mean on the other side of the wall. So, I went over into the factory. I went out there every day, two and three times. I went to all the meetings and I had meetings. I learned from the working people how to make the furniture. They are the ones who made the Henkel-Harris [company]]]]. It wasn’t us in here.
INTERVIEWER: In turn, it was Henkel who had trained them.
HENKEL: Yes, but he had left and they needed somebody. I learned then, from them, what Henkel had taught them. Eventually I knew just as much as Jack knew. Then his son came and it wasn’t too long before the son said to Jack, “If you could make it there, you could make it for us.” They rented a little place down the road from us and went into business. But they didn’t stay. There was something, I can’t tell you, the Lord was awful good to me. Whatever I picked out, for some reason, it would sell. If you would pick it out, it wouldn’t sell. If I would pick it out, it would sell.
INTERVIEWER: That’s my next question. How has the growth of your company been affected by style and design? And that’s a whole new ball game. If I may, the best starting point, I think, is to go back to Hollis Baker and talk in terms of buying antiques and copying them. You didn’t have to buy a kit, you had your own.
HENKEL: Make them good and sell them — make them good, but not a lot of them. You can make just as much money with a little line. Believe it or not, I really made money the time that I was here and didn’t have but a few pieces. But I went to the right people to sell them. I sold just what they wanted. We tried other pieces. They didn’t go over. It seemed whatever I touched would sell.
When Jack said letting the night force go … that we’d go out of business, I said, “Then we’ll go out of business.” But we didn’t. We went up. Whatever the Lord did for me, I had the biggest fight I ever had in the whole world when we added the big chest and the desk that we made for your son. “Oh, absolutely that would not go over,” they said. But it did. Jack said, “Mrs. Henkel, it will never go over. You will never sell it. It’s not the piece that you want.”
INTERVIEWER: Which piece was this?
HENKEL: This was the New Market Chest. I said, “I don’t care whether it goes over or not — I want it. It’s a historical thing.”
INTERVIEWER: Where did that piece of furniture come from?
HENKEL: It came from Henkel’s grandfather’s office in New Market, Virginia. Aunt Martha used to tell how the patient whether he was a Yankee or what, would come in the office and have to have a leg taken off, and the leg would come off and be thrown into the drawer. Aunt Martha would clean out the drawers at nighttime. She said, “I took many an old Yankee leg out of there.” So, we got that and the bench.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of bench?
HENKEL: The bench that was in the doctor’s office. The house is still in New Market. You’ll have to go and see it.
INTERVIEWER: Where is the furniture that you copied?
HENKEL: The chest is at my house.
And then, of course, I took trips to Europe. I went over there alone. In England, I went up to Bath. I went up there and stayed, and picked out furniture that I wanted.
INTERVIEWER: How many pieces did you buy in Bath?
HENKEL: I bought five pieces there.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you go there instead of London?
HENKEL: I don’t know. I was taken into all the select places in London. I was taken to places where you don’t go. They sent guards along with me.
INTERVIEWER: Were these stores or museums?
HENKEL: Museums. I was taken in the special places of the Queen’s. I saw the special pieces that they had, that they don’t use — rare pieces. I have seen all of that in London in the museum and all that.
INTERVIEWER: But you couldn’t have bought those.
HENKEL: No, no way, I was just to look. I wasn’t even allowed to touch.
INTERVIEWER: What is it about Bath? I thought it was a resort.
HENKEL: It’s a beautiful place. It is a resort. Napoleon had his bath and everything there, but they have antique shops there, too. I went to the antique shops.
INTERVIEWER: And you bought six pieces.
HENKEL: I bought six pieces there and had them sent. A Mr. Brown took care of me. I went to a place called Broadway up there. Oh, I bought something in St. Andrews.
INTERVIEWER: In Scotland, where the golf course is?
HENKEL: Yes, I went there. Oh, I went everywhere.
INTERVIEWER: Were you by yourself then?
HENKEL: By myself. I just went right on. I had nobody.
INTERVIEWER: Was that after Henkel?
HENKEL: This was all after Henkel died so I had to do it. I’d go over on the plane. To tell you the truth, I was scared to death, staying at the hotels, but I went on.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now the six pieces that you bought — did you copy them all?
HENKEL: I copied them all, and of course, I have the originals. Now, I don’t know what to do about these originals. Williamsburg has asked for the chest of drawers. They would like to have it. They offered me $26,000 for it. They would put it down into that room. I would like to go back down there. I went down at Christmastime. They have a special building they will put me into. Now, if and this is if Bill and Gay and the boys don’t want to fool with my paintings, I would like for Williamsburg to take them, and put the pictures and the furniture there and say that they came from this part of the country. Those pictures there are all family pictures and old pieces. If Williamsburg won’t do it, I’m going to ask the school, Shenandoah University in Winchester. I gave the money to the school and I built the Henkel Building. You’ll have to go out and see it. In the building, they have a Henkel room, so if Williamsburg won’t take the things, I’m going to give the pictures to Shenandoah for the Henkel room.
INTERVIEWER: That would be appropriate. I would think Winterthur would be happy to have them, too.
HENKEL: Winterthur might or anyplace like that. They are old and they are not to be put in the attic, like I have a couple up there right now. They are not rare pieces. They are just plain old.
INTERVIEWER: But your family is more attached to them.
HENKEL: Now, the Henkel family came in from Germany. I’ll show you the room where I have the trunk that he brought over with him from Germany. We finished it — we shouldn’t have done that. We could have left everything as it was. “He” was Henkel’s great-great-grandfather who came from Middletown, Germany. He brought it over, found out where he was going to live, went back and got his wife and brought her over. The Henkels were right from Germany. Now there are Henkels over there in the liquor business and all kinds of businesses. I called up a couple of them, but they didn’t know if they would be related or not. Anyway, that trunk was brought over and the German ancestor established himself as a doctor in this country. Carroll Henkel once wanted to be a doctor. He operated on a dog that was poisoned. He put the knife back in the kitchen and didn’t wipe it off. His mother and father punished him.
INTERVIEWER: This is Henkel?
HENKEL: Yes. After that Henkel said, “I’m not going to be a doctor.” Henkel did not like blood. Now, he could fix up a bandage or a cut wonderfully, but he just didn’t like dead people.
INTERVIEWER: About how many pieces all together did you actually copy of old furniture?
HENKEL: Every piece in the beginning was copied from an old piece. Not one piece was copied from a new piece. We hadn’t gotten the new pieces. The company since has added new pieces. They are not from originals.
INTERVIEWER: There were no prototypes for those late pieces?
INTERVIEWER: Well, give me a guess, how many pieces did you develop all together?
HENKEL: I would say 25. For instance, there’s only one reproduction piece in the Blair House and that’s our bed. All the rest are antiques.
INTERVIEWER: Where was the original of that bed?
HENKEL: I have it.
INTERVIEWER: They’d probably be glad to have your bed.
HENKEL: We enlarged our bed because it was a 3/4 bed and Henkel made a new head for it; but the posts are original and he enlarged the things going up and down because it was so narrow that I was falling out of the bed all the time. It was just a little bit bigger than a twin bed. You can see how it was done when I take you to the house.
Now, Mount Vernon, we went down and got Mount Vernon pieces. We got the buffet from Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon right now wants us to make pieces from there, but we could make no other pieces. We couldn’t do that because we wouldn’t sell enough of it for us to stay in business.
INTERVIEWER: Couldn’t you sell the same pieces to anyone else with your regular line of furniture?
HENKEL: No, they want us to make furniture just for them. Now, we’re going to go to Mount Vernon and look around again. I have given a Mount Vernon sideboard to Winchester’s Kurtz Cultural Center. We’re going to work up Winchester, so we’re going to have a story about our going to Mount Vernon. We took the people from the factory there, and Kenneth Robinson and Harry Byrd, our congressmen at the time, came over from Washington. They closed Mount Vernon that day so it was available for our employees only. They spent the whole day there. That was nice.
We have taken the employees to Winterthur, too. There are some employees who don’t want to be bothered so we don’t fool with them. First, they didn’t even know where Mount Vernon or Williamsburg were. When we took the bus to Williamsburg some of the employees said, “What the hell are we going here for?” As soon as they saw it, they said out loud, “Mrs. Henkel, we could make that. I don’t know what you call it, but we could make it.” So, you see, that’s why I got that going. We’ve been to all these places. The company won’t do that now.
INTERVIEWER: Now, this is style and design. You got six pieces in Bath, which you recreated.
HENKEL: Yes, we still make two of them. We don’t make the Delaware card table. I’ll show you the first pieces.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now, one time my son and I just happened to cross your path in West Chester, Pennsylvania when you ware giving a show in the furniture store. It was called, “Tea with Mrs. Henkel.” You had a platform set up and pieces of furniture.
You were talking and there were six pieces there. You did that a number of times. What were those pieces?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, we did that at the DuPont Hotel, too. They were very nice to us.
INTERVIEWER: The one where I happened to be was in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which was right by Jamie’s school.
HENKEL: Yes, there’s a little village there, like Williamsburg. No, what’s the name of the little village there that’s like Williamsburg?
INTERVIEWER: I don’t know.
HENKEL: It’s not West Chester, it’s where the first shipping was a long time ago.
INTERVIEWER: Now, what were the six pieces you had with you when they had the “Tea with Mrs. Henkel”? One of them was the Lady Astor Desk.
HENKEL: I found that in the mountains, down here in Virginia.
INTERVIEWER: That was successful, wasn’t it?
HENKEL: Yes, very good. We don’t make that anymore. We don’t make any of those pieces anymore. I got everything of Lady Astor that year. I went over to my sister, Annie’s, in Upperville. I went over to her house and stopped to get a newspaper. There was a little shed at the top of the hill, so from curiosity I walked up and this little desk was there. I said, “Who does that belong to?” The reply was, “That came out of Mary Astor’s. I’m fixing it to sell.” I said, “Good, do you want to sell it now?” Well, I talked him into it; I gave him $75 and put it in my automobile. I said, “Henkel, we’ll doctor this up and sell it and have a big showing of Mary Astor.” We got her pictures, we got Mary Astor’s books, everything of Mary Astor’s.
INTERVIEWER: The real Mary Astor?
HENKEL: The real Mary Astor lived there. The real Lady Astor. That’s where she came over and lived, you know. That was a big year — everybody came in that year.
INTERVIEWER: The “Tea with Mrs. Henkel” was a real success. Now, one other question: What about advertising? You never have advertised.
HENKEL: No, magazine people came to us. They came and got information. We never had to pay.
INTERVIEWER: So, you did it mostly in terms of PR — Public Relations?
HENKEL: Yes, House Beautiful and all would come and say, “This is what we want.”
Very little advertising was paid for, unless it was for something special. More so now than ever.
The company now wants a lot of furniture in the line. I didn’t want a lot of furniture. I wanted certain pieces that people could know and where they could get it. Salesmen would come back and say, “Mrs. Henkel, you’ve made it hard to get. They can’t get it for six months.” But that is what I wanted because that made it something that was rare to get. The company now seems to think that you have to grow. That in order to stay in business, you have to grow, you have to add. I don’t believe that.
INTERVIEWER: Now, let’s see, we’re back on track. We’ve covered all of the questions about the company’s beginnings. But, there’s one thing I want to ask you to talk about that isn’t covered here. It’s such a wonderful story, about your getting the money to build this factory. You were in the factory up on North Loudoun Street and Henkel decided he needed more room.
HENKEL: To tell you the truth, we were tired of paying $400 a month for rent. Those weeks went by awful fast.
INTERVIEWER: He made a plant layout of what he wanted; he designed this factory.
HENKEL: Yes, the first part of it, which is really way over there now.
INTERVIEWER: On the other side of this building that we’re in now?
HENKEL: Yes, and he said this is what we should have, this is the way our factory should be. Then, we inquired about the land — the very land that I told you was the family land, and that we thought would be excellent.
INTERVIEWER: On the way out here, the 400 acres.
HENKEL: Yes, and “they” say always go by a railroad. Now this is the old-fashioned way — always build close to a railroad. Of course, railroads are gone now. So we looked everywhere for land close to a railroad. Well, the only land close to a railroad was out there between the Montgomery place. I inquired about it. I went to two uncles, the two that were left, and asked them in regard to the land. That was right out here by the railroad.
INTERVIEWER: They still owned it?
HENKEL: Oh, yes.
INTERVIEWER: These were your mother’s brothers?
HENKEL: Yes, I thought perhaps they would not exactly give it to us, but let us have it for cheap. They got together and said, “Yes, Mary, we’d be glad to, but we can’t sell it. But we will let you put your building on it and we will rent it to you.” So, right away they were two very shrewd people. Of course, everybody didn’t think we could make it and it would be theirs. The building would go to them because the land belonged to them. I said, “I’m awfully sorry. We’ll think it over.”
INTERVIEWER: What year was this, Mary?
HENKEL: Well, 1963? You know, I swear to goodness I don’t remember. I wonder who is here that would be able to help me out on these dates.
I said we’ll let them go their way and I’m going my way. So, we went from right down here on this road and we rode up to here. There was nothing up here. An old farmhouse was right over there and there was nothing over here — just the hill. The city had just bought some land up around here, making an industrial section. I said, “Henkel, there’s a spot that would be nice.”
INTERVIEWER: By the railroad tracks?
HENKEL: Yes, by the railroad tracks and that old red house. We said, “Let’s find out who owns that.” So we found out from Riley, who was in the real estate business, and he kept it very quiet. He said a man from Berryville Virginia. I said, “Well, find out what he wants for that old house.” It was all done on the quiet — it wasn’t out all over town that we were going to buy and all that. He came back and said “yes” so we said, “All right, we’re going to buy it.”
INTERVIEWER: How much land was it in acres?
HENKEL: Six acres. Then we went to work and bought the six acres here from the industrial development people that had bought up the land and was trying to get business to come here. Well, Wilkie Hunt was a very fair person, in reality and he was on the board. In the meantime, they had given a piece of land behind us to Harris Intertype. That land was given to them to start a business in Winchester. You see we had no business in Winchester. They gave that land to them, and they built a beautiful building right back over here. So, we inquired from the industrial people and they said that it was for sale.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the six acres?
HENKEL: Yes, right where we are. We went to work and said, “We’d buy it.” Wilkie was on the board and he thought it should be given to us because we were Winchester people, and they gave the land to those people over here and it
should be given to us, too. He went off the board because of that.
INTERVIEWER: Now the board is the City Development Board?
HENKEL: Yes, so he went off of that. Anyway, we bought it. We had to go all around from bank to bank. We got our six acres. We moved in here in 1963, into this part down here.
INTERVIEWER: You built the new plant?
HENKEL: Yes, we got that built. But the banks at that time didn’t lend money, and especially to people experimenting. Each bank turned us down so I finally went to the old Farmers & Merchants.
INTERVIEWER: That’s here in Winchester?
HENKEL: Yes, right here. I said to Wilbur Feltner, “Wilbur, where do you get the money when you want to do something like this?” The banks would only lend $125,000 and that wasn’t enough. It was $400,000 plus.
INTERVIEWER: That you needed to build this structure?
HENKEL: Yes. We had the plans and so forth.
INTERVIEWER: But you didn’t have anything but the plans and the real estate.
HENKEL: So, finally I said, “All right, we’ll do this.” He said, “I’ll tell you what you do. I’m going to write it all down.” I went to Richmond to the Virginia development. I spent four days.
INTERVIEWER: Did Henkel go with you?
INTERVIEWER: You went all by yourself?
HENKEL: Yes, all by myself. It was going to take $465,000 to put that up and Bill Battaile said, “I have $100,000 in cash and I will borrow the balance of it from the bank.” He was on the bank’s board. He said, “I’ll charge you all 16 percent.” In other words, he was going to clear 10 percent on his own. I was sitting in the corner. Wilkie Hunt always used to say to me, “Oh, you little old fox, you sit in the corner and take it all in and you don’t say anything.” So, I went to him and said, “Listen, we haven’t got any cash, but if he can borrow it at the bank at 6 percent, why can’t we borrow it at the bank at 6 percent?” So Wilbur Feltner at the Farmers & Merchants said, “You go to Richmond, take this address and these letters, go down there and you can get it.” Henkel said, “You can do what you want, Mary, I don’t care.” He was getting down in the dumps.
INTERVIEWER: He didn’t go with you?
HENKEL: No, I went to Richmond and was going to borrow $400,000, but I thought, “Oh, hell, I’m going to ask for the whole thing. If they’re going to turn me down, they’re going to turn me down for the whole thing.” So I asked for all of it.
INTERVIEWER: How much was that?
HENKEL: $465,000. It was $65,000 for the driveway. I came back with it! Bill Battaile nearly killed me!
INTERVIEWER: But you didn’t pay 16 percent interest!
HENKEL: No, so I got it and paid $3,000 plus per month.
INTERVIEWER: For how many years?
HENKEL: Oh, I don’t know. It seemed like an awful long time, and I had to keep it up and there was so much to do and everything.
INTERVIEWER: It’s all paid out.
HENKEL: Yes, Henkel was tickled to death because that’s what he wanted. So then we started getting it and we moved into the factory at Christmas of 1963. We said, “We might as well move into the office, too.” Of course, this wasn’t here and that wasn’t here. It was just right up in here. We only had just a little part of it – it wasn’t the whole thing.
We all moved out at that time and everybody was so proud of it. Everybody was happy. We had our own place, so we started in.
INTERVIEWER: So you moved everything away from North Loudoun Street?
HENKEL: Well, on North Loudoun we were paying $400 a month and $200 for a shed because we couldn’t put everything into it.
INTERVIEWER: You were in a house next door?
HENKEL: No, that was a long time ago. We had gotten out of that.
INTERVIEWER: I can remember being here when you were in the house and the factory was next door.
HENKEL: Yes, that was a long time ago. That was in the beginning, but we got out of that and went to Main Street to the Safeway grocery store. So we moved out of there into here, and we started from there on. After Henkel, I added all this middle part and this room here for Bill.
INTERVIEWER: You moved out here in December 1963?
HENKEL: Yes, ’63. We weren’t going to move until after Christmas, but we said, “Let’s go,” so we all came and were tickled to death at Christmastime. I’m pretty sure it was ’63. I tell you the years pass so.
Then the Market started going twice a year — January and June — and during that we had to get a few more pieces of furniture to sell and more salesmen.
INTERVIEWER: The Markets, when you first went down there, there were four a year; then it dropped to two, but it was two in October and April, not January and June. January and June were phased out.
HENKEL: Yes, so we got ready for the Markets. All the Markets might have been plain and simple because that’s all we had to show of what we did. Poor old May, we would take down things from the house to decorate because we didn’t buy. I broke the Waterford liquor thing from Scotland that I carried down there. I’m sorry I only have one now. Poor old Henkel said he’d get me another one sometime if he ever could, but you don’t buy those.
So we moved and worked on the grounds that spring. Bill was still just a kid. I brought him out here and he’d ride his bicycle and play, and I planted flowers all up here. It would be after supper and still light. The yard was pretty and we had a pond in the back. That’s all been covered up since they added on.
INTERVIEWER: How many times have you added onto that original factory?
HENKEL: I would say three times.
INTERVIEWER: Including the office?
INTERVIEWER: And the office was built in two steps?
HENKEL: Yes, the office was right out here in the beginning — everything was right out there. Henkel was in there with everything. We didn’t have all of this. It wasn’t too big.
INTERVIEWER: All right, that’s all the questions about the actual starting of the company. Now we go into the involvement in the furniture industry. As you have said, you belonged to almost all the associations.
HENKEL: Yes, I think Henry Foscue told us to join everything.
INTERVIEWER: So you joined SFMA and also the NAFM which was sort of unusual in those days.
HENKEL: Yes, that came later.
INTERVIEWER: Over all this period of time from 1946, which is almost 50 years, what changes have you seen in the production of furniture?
HENKEL: At our place?
HENKEL: Well at first a lot. A lot more and all kinds ... different styles.
INTERVIEWER: In other words, you have a much longer line than you ever did before.
HENKEL: Yes, and the funniest thing about it is that it’s all done the same way it was done in the beginning, and they go through the same length of time. Jack, one time, quickened it up, but he stopped because it wasn’t the right thing to do.
I began to hire women and that turned out wonderful. There was one woman sitting down out in the factory one day when I went out there to see what was going on. I said, “Dora, what’s the trouble?” She was a clean woman. I made them wear little shorts to their knees, and wear white blouses with no sleeves in the summertime. I didn’t let them wear all these outrageous things that they wore — these tight pants and all. I would have liked for the men to have worn dark green pants and white shirts. Now, in the beginning, they wore almost anything, but when I came in, I made them wear certain things, but now they don’t. Anyway, I went out in the factory and saw Dora sitting there and said, “What in the world’s wrong?” She said, “The finish is not right.” I said, “It looks all right. How can you tell? There’s nothing wrong with it.” She said, “No, it’s not right. I’m not going to do it.” I said, “Oh, come on Dora, get up there and do it. The work is piling up on you. You better hurry.” Dora said, “I’m not going to do it. It’s not right.” So, I said, “Let’s call Jimmy.” He was the “top” of that department. Jimmy came over and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” I said, “Dora, you’d better get busy because you’ve got too many, you’re going to have to hustle through. We’ve got to get it done.” Dora said, “I’m not going to do it.” I said, “All right, let’s call Dorr and all of them out here and find out what is wrong.” I said, “Dora says there is something wrong with this.”
Goodness knows, they came back and said, “Well, it’s not right. Dora was right.” So they changed it and, by golly, Dora went back to work. Now, I had a lot of them who were like that, and there were some who were not. They didn’t talk to each other — they really worked.
INTERVIEWER: Your production process is essentially exactly what it was when you started?
HENKEL: Yes, same thing. Very little has been changed. Now, if a board would be bad or something like that, we’d have to correct it first. There are a right many things to do with the finish.
It does take a long time to make a piece of furniture.
INTERVIEWER: Now you’re still all solid wood?
HENKEL: All solid wood, well, not this new stuff they have added — this “subsidiary thing,” I don’t even know what it’s called. The new company has a lot of veneer, but we didn’t in the beginning.
INTERVIEWER: It’s veneer. Is it on wood cores or is it on particleboard?
HENKEL: No, it’s on wood. Everything’s solid wood.
INTERVIEWER: What about changes in purchasing?
HENKEL: What do you mean? We still buy from the same people.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you mentioned Thompson.
HENKEL: Well, he is out, but it’s still the same company.
INTERVIEWER: You’ve got walnut.
HENKEL: Yes, we’re back in walnut. The only thing with walnut is a lot of it is wasted because a lot of it has holes and so forth. It’s not like it used to be, but we’ve had calls for it and people like it, so we just make it. The cherry comes from the States. Our cherry is very good. Our mahogany, every now and then, we get an order from Honduras, but not much anymore.
INTERVIEWER: What changes have you seen in sales and merchandising?
HENKEL: Well, it has picked up a little bit recently.
INTERVIEWER: You have more salesmen than you had.
HENKEL: Lots more. Carlton has put them all over the United States. We basically didn’t sell anything beyond the Mississippi. I had two customers in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and a couple of customers in Texas, but that was all. Now they sell everywhere and we have a lot of salesmen. But I don’t know too much about this other company. You’ll have to inquire about it.
INTERVIEWER: What about changes in finance? Banks have changed.
HENKEL: Yes, well, of course. I’ve been to all the banks.
INTERVIEWER: But, now William Iselin is not still in business, are they?
HENKEL: Oh, yes, but we were able to carry our own. I’m sorry that we left them. They knew that we paid and we were always on time, and I think it was much easier, but we needed the money.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, to borrow the money to build the factory. Iselin probably would have been tickled to death.
HENKEL: We went out and we hadn’t wanted to pay all that extra money. I’m funny. They were awfully good to us. To me, the little bit more that we were paying them was worth it.
INTERVIEWER: And back in those days there was not much factoring being done in furniture manufacturing. Now a lot of the suppliers are factoring, particularly textile people.
HENKEL: They were mighty good to us all along. In fact, maybe if we hadn’t factored, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to stay in business because people would want their money.
INTERVIEWER: If you hadn’t been factoring, you’d have had some credit problems which you probably couldn’t afford.
HENKEL: They were mighty good. They might have charged, but they were in business, too.
INTERVIEWER: What about changes in management?
HENKEL: There really hasn’t been too much changing. We let Mike LaTella go. Henkel hired him just before he died. I liked Mike and I still like him, but he wanted to be too big. See, they start out little, but they want to get big so quick and you just can’t do it, unless you have oodles of money. We made our business by having good people with the same purpose. Our people were good honest people. They may not have been well educated in school, but they were good people who wanted to make good furniture and they were proud of it.
INTERVIEWER: Just like your lady Dora who sat down when the finish wasn’t right.
HENKEL: Yes. They liked it. Now there are some out there who don’t bother, who just get the money and go on, but most of them, only left when they were ready for retirement. I only fired a couple and they had done things that they should not have done.
INTERVIEWER: Well, listening to you, it seems to me management was much more personal earlier. It may have been because you had fewer people.
HENKEL: No, even after I got up there, they were nice. My husband had died, and of course, I never had to work and I never realized there were so many working people. That was my first realization. It was just something else to learn about. I will say this, some of them were the kind that didn’t know either and we would work together and say, “hey, let’s try this and see what it does.” They were those kinds of people. Let them talk all they want — they were good people. They had to learn, too; they were part of it. Another thing, we were always “first” in United Fund. I said one year to the foremen, “I’m going to go out and just ask everybody for something.” The foremen said, “Mrs. Henkel, they won’t give you anything.” I said, “You just wait and see.” So, we had 290 people working. I asked them and collected $260. I asked everybody for one dollar and said I would double whatever I collected. Then I got J.C., my youngest grandson to present it on behalf of the employees on the telethon. He was 10 at the time and announced loudly on TV that the money was from the employees of Henkel-
Harris and his grandmother was going to double it! That was a few years ago. This year I didn’t do anything. I didn’t feel like it. I’m sure they did all right.
There is a fellow in our community who has started a camp for children with cancer. Several years ago his little girl died of cancer when she was only 5 years old and he has built a camp for children with cancer to visit every summer. It’s Camp Fantastic, located in Front Royal. I help that a great deal. Those kids are so cute. They hold dinners and put on shows. They can’t act, but they’re thrilled, and I get the people to work with them. There are certain working people who are good people, but they are bashful. You have to ask them to do certain things. When you do, they will do what you ask and do it better than you can. So, that’s the way I’ve gotten these people involved.
Our factory is known to be a very good, giving factory. The people there want to help.
INTERVIEWER: This next question is more involved with the industry: Describe the support you personally have received from people in our industry. You might want to make that in terms of Henkel and yourself because I know that he was famous for going around and talking to people and asking for advice.
HENKEL: Oh, my yes. We both did. I still do! I ask more questions than anybody in town.
INTERVIEWER: Can you give me a specific example from people in the furniture industry, like Hamp Powell and Henry Foscue?
HENKEL: Oh, I couldn’t tell you they taught me so much. I’ve asked an awful lot of questions — what do you do, how do you do it? Oh, I’ve learned an awful lot from those people. I would say that the furniture people are just bent to help. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been through the same thing or because they feel sorry for you. They want to see you do all right. There were things that Henkel and I just didn’t know, honestly. Henkel was never taught anything about furniture and, heavens above, I never heard of going into the furniture business. I think people just felt sorry for us, indeed I do. We went to every kind of course we could take in regard to it. We went to every kind of meeting that we could in regard to it.
INTERVIEWER: You had somebody at every SFMA meeting I’ve ever been to.
HENKEL: Oh, yes. Our people with different positions went to learn. I would go with them. One time they combined two together, the sales and something else. There was a great big crowd. Our personnel manager, who was a nice person with a handicapped child, took me with him to one of the AFMA meetings. I hadn’t been but to a couple of them. I forget who the gentleman was who got up and introduced the topic and then he said, “I’d like to announce who we have with us, Mary Henkel from the Henkel-Harris Company.”
INTERVIEWER: Was this an SFMA meeting?
HENKEL: Yes, and I hadn’t been for a while. Everybody was just as sweet as they could be. They are just plain nice people.