History of Lane Furniture

The cover


Dear readers, I am excited to announce that after months of Lane research, I’ve had a lucky break! I was able to find an informational pamphlet that was published in 1962. As you all know, it is incredibly challenging to find reliable sources for the history of Lane furniture. While this booklet isn’t all-inclusive, it’s a great start and I’m very pleased to share it with you. Let’s dive into the first decade of the company’s history, relayed to us by the master himself: Edward Hudson Lane.

We’ll begin with real estate’s golden rule: location, location, location. In reading this booklet I was surprised to learn that the city of Altavista, Virginia is literally the town that Lane built.

Established in 1907, the majority of the city’s infrastructure was constructed by (and the land owned by) the Lane Brothers Company, General Contractors. Fun fact – the name Altavista means “high view” and is a nod to its beautiful surroundings.

The beginning of something special

In the month of March fifty years ago, my father, who was a Virginia contractor and railroad builder, attended a public auction and paid $500.00 for an old packing box plant which had gone bankrupt. In June, he suggested to me that I go over to Altavista where the little box plant was located and start manufacturing cedar chests. I was nearly twenty-one years old at the time. I had no manufacturing experience and I had never heard of a cedar chest! – Edward Hudson Lane

As Edward began his journey to the plant, fate intervened in the form of a man: Mr. Loop. Who, you may ask, is this person and why is he significant? Well, he was none other than Edward’s former woodworking instructor. The two gentlemen ended up touring the plant together. After a brief inspection, they quickly realized they needed better tools and soon they had scribbled down a shopping list. With a generous loan of $50,000 in hand, the crafting could begin!

Think about that amount for a moment – in today’s terms that is about $1.8 million. In our modern lending environment, do you think a bank would put forth this much investment for two unproven businessmen – one a teacher and the other a bright-eyed green twenty something? This seed money provided the working capital for an American dream. But not everyone was convinced, including the elder Mr. Lane. When he discovered the amount of the loan he was not pleased. But young Edward held firmly to his belief that this venture could work. In the beginning the plant was producing a handful of chests per day; fast forward a couple decades and that amount exploded to 300.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s get back to those early days. While Edward was excited and hopeful to get the company going, he didn’t feel confident enough to put his name on the letterhead (not just yet at least). Lane Furniture therefore started its life as the Standard Red Cedar Chest Company.

The original label

Image from ebay

The initial decade was not easy (they were barely making ends meet and getting rejections from investors), but the team was dedicated to building something bigger and better. Slowly they expanded their enterprise and decided to saw their own lumber. This particular decision proved very profitable in the long run – not only did Lane get to control its own supply, but the savings allowed for a robust advertising budget.

During the first few years, Edward himself was the company’s sales team. After a particularly discouraging trip to New York, he had a burst of inspiration. He sketched an idea for a window display – one that showcased the material in all its forms: trees, shavings, and the finished product. This innovative marketing approach of showing the progress from raw material to polished chest turned heads and earned him his first big sales break.

The world enters the Great War and Lane adapts

During the first World War, the government inserted its authority into industry and cedar chests weren’t immune. They became part of the embargo and Edward was faced with another critical decision: close shop or make something that could help with the war effort. Ever the industrialist and patriot, he chose to contribute. Lane manufactured ammunition boxes and used the time to refine techniques that they could apply to furniture production once the war ended. This time was challenging, but proved fruitful. They devised an assembly line and developed conveyor belt systems that would efficiently shuttle the parts from Point A to B.

With this creative energy bolstering his confidence, Edward decided to officially change the company name to The Lane Company. The year was 1922 and the firm was celebrating their first decade of business. With the change in name, came a flurry of entrepreneurial efforts: a dedicated research and development team, the launching and training of a nationwide sales team, and experimentation with wood species beyond cedar. Where will these decisions lead? Find out next time in our continued story of Lane’s history….

For our readers: do you feel that Lane embodies the same values as their 21st century counterparts? It seems we have a healthy start-up culture at Lane… do you think that approach is needed to ensure a lasting brand?

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