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There was a time when furniture was upright and formal, when
seating was relatively hard and rigid and demanding of proper
posture. A pair of American cousins from Monroe, Michigan
changed all that with their invention of the world’s
first reclining chair.
Edward Knabusch was born on January 7, 1900. His cousin,
Edwin Shoemaker, was born on June 2, 1907. Both Monroe natives,
the two settled into secure day jobs—Knabusch as a woodworker
for the Weis Manufacturing Company, and Shoemaker as a farmer.
Shoemaker developed an interest in woodworking himself after
discovering the wonderful tools his cousin had to work his
craft, including band saws and jointers. The two began to
imagine a business of their own. On March 24, 1927, they left
their jobs and set out to execute a plan to establish their
own furniture company. They began in Knabusch’s father’s
garage, naming the outfit, at first, the Kna-Shoe Manufacturing
Company. The two complemented each other well -- Shoemaker
had excellent mechanical skills and Knabusch was a talented
Later the men changed the company name to Floral City Furniture,
after Monroe’s nickname. The business began to flourish,
and they outgrew their humble facilities. Borrowing money
from Shoemaker’s father, the men built a manufacturing
plant, and the business continued to expand. Soon they started
designing novelty furniture, including a slanted, folding,
wood-slat chair for the porch. The prototype for the chair
was fashioned from orange crates and shaped to follow the
contour of a person’s body, whether sitting up or leaning
back. It was the first of its kind -- the first ever “La-Z-Boy.”
A year later, in 1929, Shoemaker and Knabusch incorporated
their company and patented their reclining chair design. At
the suggestion of a customer they began making upholstered
versions of the chair for year-round use. The chair they had
designed was immediately popular, and as part of a marketing
campaign they held a contest to give the chair a name. Entries
included “The Sit-N-Snooze,” and “The Slack
Back,” but the winning entry was La-Z-Boy.
Floral City Furniture grew and grew—straight through
the Depression. Then, in 1941, the cousins decided to separate
La-Z-Boy from Floral City, establishing it as an independent
company. After a brief slowdown in business during World War
II, the La-Z-Boy Chair Company began to thrive, seeing its
reclining chairs score mass appeal with men and women alike
through the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually competing companies
came up with their own recliner variations, but the La-Z-Boy
original held its own as members of the television generation
bought thousands of recliners for their living rooms.
In 1961, the company’s invention of the “Reclina-Rocker,”
a rocking-chair variation of the original recliner design,
sent sales soaring. The company says this chair, alone, boosted
sales from $1.1 million to $52.7 million between 1961 and
1971. In 1972, the company went public, after management of
La-Z-Boy was passed on to Knabusch’s son. Charles T.
Knabusch served as chairman and CEO until his death in 1997.
His father had passed away in 1988. Shoemaker survived both
the Knabusch’s; he died in 1998.
La-Z-Boy has continued to add to and restyle its furniture
products, including its ever-popular reclining chairs. In
1996 its name was officially changed to La-Z-Boy Incorporated.
The company, still headquartered at its original location
in Monroe, Michigan, now makes more than 30,000 chairs and
sofas each week. It employs more than 20,000 people with 57
manufacturing facilities in 12 states and four countries.