Kimball / National
William Wallace Kimball founded the W.W. Kimball Piano Company in 1857 in Chicago. Following a fire, then rebuilding in Melrose Park, the W.W. Kimball piano factory was one of the largest manufacturing operations in the world, with rail lines running through the facility, dropping off raw materials and picking up finished pianos for shipment. W.W. Kimball was the world’s largest piano manufacturer from the late 1800s until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Despite pursuing War Department contracts to manufacture needed items for the war effort during World War II, the company was never able to fully recover.
Throughout the 1950s the company endeavored to strengthen their vertical integration, becoming largely self-sufficient in every aspect of wood manufacturing, from raw materials to production to marketing and distribution. With an employee base of skilled wood craftsmen and an eye toward growth and production stability, Kimball began looking for a new primarily wood product or company to acquire.
In the early 1950s the W.W. Kimball Company acquired a kitchen cabinet manufacturer. Then, excited by the growth of several new technologies, the company’s founders decided to begin manufacturing high-quality veneered television cabinets and hi-fi stereo phonograph cabinets. The new company was soon making products for a number of well-known American brands.
By 1959, the W.W. Kimball Company, then a century-old piano maker, had slipped to seventh place in global rankings of piano makers, and was purchased from the last remaining Kimball family heir by Mr. Arnold F. Habig. Kimball became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Jasper Corporation.
In 1970, the company’s strategic decision to manufacture and market office furniture under the Kimball brand name would profoundly affect the company’s future. The Kimball office furniture brand quickly achieved success in the marketplace, building on its reputation for fine wood craftsmanship, high-quality products and quick delivery.
Just as the company rode the wave of the television revolution in the 1950s, in the 1980s Kimball International took advantage of the timely opportunity to develop a new set of customer relationships in the electronics technology sector. As electronic organ production phased out, the company took the processes already in place from their organ production business and created Kimball Electronics. As the market for pianos and organs continued to shrink, in 1996 Kimball ceased piano manufacturing operations and aligned those resources into the company’s contract furniture and cabinets group.
Adaptability has been key to Kimball’s survival for over 100 years. In 2005, the company realigned it’s business model to focus only on the contract and commercial office and hospitality furniture markets, eliminating residential furniture lines. Then, in 2014, Kimball spun-off it’s Kimball Electronics business and Kimball International became a fully focused furniture company. Over the past decade the company has acquired David Edward (seating), as well as several companies in the furniture e-Commerce and Healthcare segments. Today, Kimball International includes furniture brands Kimball Office, National Office Furniture, Kimball Hospitality, Kimball Healthcare and Poppin.
Pear Project Services’ inventory frequently includes a variety of Kimball and National chairs, desks and filing cabinets, as well as some eCommerce items like drawer pedestals from Poppin. One of these days we hope to find a piano or two!