In the early 1900’s, Adam Weber a local mechanic opened a shop to manufacture an assortment of metal specialties known as Weber Mfg. Co. As the business began to take hold, he recognized the need to make furniture trim for the heavily concentrated furniture industry in the Jamestown area. However, that type of product required an artist or designer.
In 1907 Ed Knapp came to Jamestown from Grand Rapids, Michigan to join the Weber Mfg. Co. Ed Knapp had been associated with the Grand Rapids Brass Co., who were already in the field of furniture trim manufacturing. At 6 ‘4″ and 260 lbs. Ed Knapp was a virtual presence in the room. This proved to be helpful in building relationships in the marketplace. Ed brought his experience in the design and sale of this new product line which resulted in a very successful fit with Weber’s strong manufacturing mentality.
In 1909 the firm was incorporated as Weber-Knapp Co. with Adam Weber owning 498 shares and Ed Knapp and Mrs. Anna Weber each owning one share.
In 1910 Weber Knapp relocated to the current address on Chandler Street and added an office manager, Larry Howard (Ed Knapp’s nephew) from Lake Odessa, Michigan. Larry later became Sales Manager and retired from the company after 50 years.
Sometime around 1915 Weber Knapp promoted its first woman to the position of Foreman/lady. She was in charge of the Scratch Brush Dept. and oversaw 8-10 other employees. As a side note during this time period, Mrs. Desiree (De De) Ball, whose daughter was the famous Lucille Ball, worked in this department at Weber Knapp and in 1918 married another employee, Edward Peterson after her first husband died.
The Keeler Brass Company of Grand Rapids, Ml was already established in the furniture industry at that time providing mostly decorative and some functional hardware. It was owned by the well-known Keeler family who, familiar with Weber Knapp, became interested in an Eastern affiliate. On April 1, 1917, Mr. and Mrs. Weber sold their stock holding to Keeler Brass.
In 1920, Ed Knapp sold his remaining interest to Keeler Brass Co.
This new relationship certainly resulted in expanded exposure within the furniture industry and Weber Knapp maintained its own identity and continued to operate as a separate entity with its own management structure and business strategy.
Leveraging the newly expanded sales force, Keeler Brass and Weber Knapp salesmen began representing both companies. The industry demand for decorative and functional furniture hardware simply served to increase their respective reputations. The two companies became synonymous within the industry for high-quality and dependable function. Notes from salesmen at that time refer to the products as being high priced but worth the extra money.
Prior to the new ownership structure, Weber Knapp was known for responding quickly to the need of any hardware required by the wood and metal furniture industries. The company continued to grow slowly but solidly and acted on any opportunity that could utilize their manufacturing capabilities.
Throughout its history, Weber Knapp has continuously been a supplier and contributor to innovations in this industry.
Shortly after WWI, the phonograph became a necessary piece of equipment at home. The cabinets housing the mechanical portion became beautiful pieces of furniture. To make the cabinet functional required needle cups, covers, piano type hinges, lid supports, tone arms and turntable automatic stops. The company quickly invested in the tooling and processes to manufacture these items.
In the early 1920s, wood smoking cabinets came into prominence. Manufacturing was expanded to include these new products and Weber Knapp began to manufacture ashtrays, pipe holders, cigar rests and matchbox holders in various finishes and in significant volume.
In the mid to late 1920s, a line of hardware was being developed for the metal furniture industry and Weber Knapp very aggressively entered this market with their own line of label holders and drawer pulls. The company remained a very dominant source for these products well into the 1970s.
During the early days of the Great Depression, the company recognized the need for a variety of hardware for the manufacture of caskets. Working with a casket manufacturer in Erie, PA. Weber Knapp began tooling up the hardware pieces such as latches, pivot arms and adjustment plates, called shell hardware and added a new line of products. Customers included Batesville Casket, Clarksburg Casket, Schuylkill Haven, high-end Marsellus Casket, and numerous “mom & pop” casket makers. This product line was very viable into the 1970s when the major casket manufacturers began producing their own hardware.
Taken from a note written by Larry Howard, “When the Great Depression of 1929 came, many manufacturers went broke and closed. We weathered the storm and paid our bills on time as well as never missing an on-time payroll”.
As represented in the company product sales catalogs of the 1940s and 1950s, our products were supporting multiple and diverse industries. In addition to the existing wood and metal furniture and casket lines, several other products were manufactured including clothes hooks, locker cabinet hooks, house numbers, drain protectors, sash locks, door stops, corner and mending plates, hardened steel open end wrench sets, a bicycle wrench, ignition wrench set for cars, kitchen cabinet hardware, chest hardware, spring latches, separable door hinges and regular door hinges. The beginnings of the mechanical motion control expertise we use today started with friction slide supports and toilet friction hinges developed during this time period.
Increasing volume in the 1950s led to an inability to keep up with demand. This resulted in additions to the original building totaling approximately 67,000 square feet through 1966. These physical additions are evident by the multiple roof lines and ceiling heights of the 441 Chandler Street property.
During the 1960s, technology-driven markets expanded and Weber Knapp continued to develop counterbalance solutions. A great example would be the counterbalance hinge (patent #3187374) that was utilized on the Magnavox television/record player console so popular in homes during that time period. Singer Sewing Machine was another example of Weber Knapp’s innovations. The Singer home model #15 was marketed for an in-home tabletop sewing center utilizing hardware from Weber Knapp including a flip-open top, knee lever control and spring assisted hinging to flip up the actual sewing machine for use.
Throughout the decades the company was known by its customers for managing continued support and supply for all the product lines it had established into final product life cycles. The success of Weber Knapp’s over the years has centered on the ability to respond to a specific need and quickly adapt the manufacturing capabilities to meet product demand. As the unique opportunities centered on mechanical motion control grew, the company recognized that their proprietary innovations needed to be protected. Prior to 1986, Weber Knapp had been issued 55 U.S. patents. Since 1986 Weber Knapp has been issued 51 patents worldwide and three additional currently pending applications.
The first known Weber Knapp U.S. patent was issued in 1918 (patent #1259075 Lip Support). Since that time the vast majority of the patents issued to the company have related to motion control and counterbalance products. Weber Knapp products are generally components in our customer’s end product. This has resulted in a number of patents being issued to our customers in which Weber Knapp is listed as joint inventors. Weber Knapp has been very proactive in protecting and leveraging our Intellectual Property.
Beginning in the 1970s, the strategy was refocused to concentrate development in the counterbalance arena. That didn’t preclude the company from following its history of leveraging its manufacturing capabilities. Opportunities included the Ford Truck Latch (utilized on the exterior to hold large truck hood closed until the mid-1980s) and Aluminum Couplers designed into high-end glass furniture.
Rapidly changing technology and the poor quality of pressure cylinders provided the opportunity to significantly expand counterbalance development. As an example: Xerox Corporation (Rochester, New York) was a revolutionary in the photocopy office equipment emerging market. Weber Knapp partnered with Xerox in developing multiple counterbalance solutions across their ever-expanding product offering. The other primary focus for market development was the Home Furniture market centered in the Carolinas. All other products lines and customers were maintained and supported but innovation efforts for them were limited.
The 1970s were a time of our largest expansion to the manufacturing facilities. In 1973, the company acquired the property of 415 Chandler Street across the river from the original plant and constructed a 45,000 square foot Plating & Waste Treatment facility. This project also included a bridge over the river connecting the new building to the main plant. In conjunction with the new plating building, 60 acres of farmland was purchased for the construction of a 67,000 square foot Assembly & Shipping Plant. These projects were driven by significant increases in the business and the expectation of future growth. Both of these projects were in full production by 1975.
The next decade brought more significant changes. Technology seemed to be moving forward dramatically and Weber Knapp implemented its first use of computers. Weber Knapp became one of the primary innovators in redefining functional hardware in the office furniture industry.
By the early/ mid-1980s, our number one customer, Xerox, was falling behind as a leader in the market resulting in decreasing sales revenue. In 1984, we began a product line that is known today as Office Ergonomic Furniture and Accessories. Weber Knapp created the first adjustable keyboard as it related to office furniture and the implementation of computers into the work environment. It was not until the 1990’s that the entire office furniture industry went vertical in growth.
It was during this period that we also experienced a major transition in the ownership of the company. Keeler Brass Company and Weber Knapp Company were sold as separate entities to Babcock International in 1979. In 1983 Weber Knapp was restructured as a subsidiary of Acco Babcock. A few years later members of Acco’s senior management broke away in 1987 establishing a new holding entity named FKI Industries LTD. This new UK Company owned Weber Knapp until 2008.
In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Weber Knapp became a major supplier of ergonomic workstation components and innovative motion control systems that are marketed throughout the world. The company achieved ISO certification in 1997, which serves as a benchmark for the commitment to high-quality products.
In the second half of the 1990s, the rapidly increasing sales volume mainly related to ergonomic mechanisms strained the capacity of the company. In response, a 65,000 square foot addition was completed in 1996 at the Allen Street assembly plant location. In 1998 to better serve the global marketplace a small manufacturing facility was added in Taiwan.
In 2000 the Intellaspace by Weber Knapp brand was launched as a marketing strategy featuring complete sets of ergonomic products to provide dealers with a better alternative to our traditional component products sold in the OEM market. In 2008 Weber Knapp sold the Intellaspace brand and returned to our core OEM and Distribution by restructuring this model and retaining our position in the supply channel.
Now locally owned and operated, the company is celebrating over 100 years of continuous business in Jamestown, New York. New products and innovation are still the cornerstones of Weber Knapp’s long history. Currently, over 100 employees continue to champion customer expectations by focusing on a common goal. Weber Knapp is already or will be your number one supplier for custom mechanical motion control components.