Chittenden & Eastman Company History

Address:
401 South Roosevelt Avenue
Burlington, Iowa 52601-1685
U.S.A.

Telephone: (319) 753-2811
Toll Free: 800-553-5623
Fax: (319) 752-1163

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1869
Employees: 175
Sales: $50 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 337910 Mattress Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

The Chittenden & Eastman Company has been handcrafting America's finest sleep products since 1866. No mattress in the world rivals the comfort, support and durability found in our flagship Eastman House line. Chittenden & Eastman sleep products maintain their superior comfort and support features night after night, week after week, and year after year. That's why Chittenden & Eastman proudly offers America's Best Mattress Warranty!

Key Dates:

1866:
G.M. Todd and H. Bailey formed H. Bailey & Co., the predecessor to Chittenden & Eastman.
1883:
The Chittenden & Eastman name is adopted.
1889:
Chittenden & Eastman Co. is officially incorporated.
1923:
Plans to build a six-story building on the corner of Third & Division Streets are announced.
1942:
Walter B. Eaton succeeds H.W. Chittenden as company president.
1972:
Mattress manufacturing operations move from Main and Market Streets to a new 90,000-square-foot facility on Roosevelt Avenue.
1975:
Chittenden & Eastman completes a 170,000-square-foot addition to its new plant.
1982:
Company officials decide to cease the manufacture of furniture and focus exclusively on mattress making and furniture wholesaling.
1993:
Chittenden & Eastman enters the New York and New England markets via a joint venture with Blue Bell Mattress Company.
1994:
Company purchases Aireloom Bedding, divests its furniture division, and focuses exclusively on the manufacture of mattresses.
1995:
Dormir Sleep Products, a manufacturer of mattresses and Murphy beds, is acquired.
2003:
Chittenden & Eastman announces plans to relocate production to Missouri, with headquarters remaining in Burlington, Iowa.

Company History:

Based in Burlington, Iowa, Chittenden & Eastman Company is a leading U.S. mattress manufacturer. The company's products are marketed under the name of its Eastman House division and include: Chittenden & Eastman's Individually Encased Coil Innerspring mattresses; Chiropractor's Care Sleep System mattresses, which promote better spinal alignment through more equalized weight distribution; and the Renaissance Latex Foam Collection.

The Formative Years: 1866-82

Chittenden & Eastman prides itself on being one of the world's oldest continuously owned furniture companies. Indeed, the company dates back to 1866, when Andrew Johnson was president of the United States and the nation had scarcely entered the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. That year, a writer and politician named G.M. Todd and a dentist named H. Bailey formed H. Bailey & Co. Located in a three-story brick building on Burlington's Washington Street, complete with a 20-foot storefront, the new company was devoted to furniture jobbing and retailing.

Prior to adopting the name Chittenden & Eastman, a number of ownership changes occurred. When Bailey went back to his dentistry practice, H. Bailey & Co. was re-named G.M. Todd & Co. Another name change happened in 1873, when the company assumed the name of Todd, Pollock & Granger. At this time the company erected the first part of a facility on Third Street, which it would continually expand to accommodate growth. Two years later, a traveling salesman named Henry W. Chittenden, a native of Keokuk, Iowa, joined the enterprise. Upon Todd's retirement in 1877, Chittenden became a partner in the business, which was renamed Pollock, Granger & Chittenden.

Amidst the continual changes in ownership, the company became involved in furniture manufacturing and introduced its Square Brand of mattresses in 1880. According to the November 20, 1995, Hawk Eye, these mattresses were marketed as "the cleanest, most healthful and most luxuriant mattresses ever made," requiring "only an occasional sunbath to make them last a lifetime." A dealer network--which included independent furniture retailers, as well as morticians also interested in selling furniture--was eventually established. The company enjoyed steady growth from settlement-bound westward travelers who came through Burlington in covered wagons. Many of these pioneers settled on farms and returned to Pollock, Granger & Chittenden when it was time to furnish their new homes.

Pollock eventually withdrew from the company, which then became Granger & Chittenden. When Granger died in 1882, Chittenden suddenly found himself alone at the company's helm, which bore his name only. According to an 1882 publication entitled The Leading Business Houses of Burlington, Iowa, by this time the enterprise had evolved into one of the city's most influential companies and was "the largest exclusively jobbing business in furniture throughout the entire west, not excepting either St. Louis or Chicago."

At this time, H.W. Chittenden had annual sales of $500,000 and 24 employees. Operations were conducted in two buildings, one six stories in height and the other two stories. Together, these structures provided 46,800 square feet of space, which almost always held an inventory valued at $100,000. In addition to Iowa, three salesmen served customers in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Progressing Toward 100: 1883-1966

An Ohio bookkeeper named Edward P. Eastman, who had joined the company in 1877 at the age of 17, became H.W. Chittenden's new business partner in January 1883. Chittenden & Eastman was thus born, and in 1899 the firm was officially incorporated under the name Chittenden & Eastman Company, which it would retain through and beyond the next century. With Henry Chittenden as president and Edward Eastman as vice-president and general manager, the company set upon a successful course.

Chittenden & Eastman published its first mattress catalog in 1891, and by 1915 had annual sales of approximately $2 million. Products were marketed in a 700-page catalog, and the company's motto was "the best goods for the money." Two years later, a 48,000-square-foot showroom opened in downtown Burlington. In History of Des Moines County Iowa and its People, Chittenden & Eastman was described in glowing terms: "The company manufactures an exceedingly tasteful and well made line of upholstered goods, for which they have won an enviable reputation. No factory in the country can excel their mattress department, for the building has been especially designed for the purpose for which it is used and is perfect in its convenience and sanitary arrangements. Carrying an immense stock on hand, the company is ready to meet any order at almost a moment's notice."

In January 1923, Chittenden & Eastman announced plans to build a six-story building on the corner of Third and Division Streets in order to consolidate the manufacture and storage of chairs. At the time, this process was scattered among various other buildings and warehouses. Around this time, the company also sold its warehouse on Third and Elm streets to Burlington Buick.

Although Edward Eastman died in 1925, Chittenden & Eastman carried on and continued to prosper. In 1927, the firm established a sales office in St. Paul, Minnesota, to serve the growing northwestern United States. The branch benefited from a seven-story "sample room" to showcase its offerings to customers. By 1928, Chittenden & Eastman was recognized as a catalyst for Burlington's economic prosperity. It was around this time that the company was responsible for bringing a new plant to the city. In September 1928, Dahlin Brothers and Davis Manufacturing Co., which made frames for chairs and davenports, announced that it would build a $100,000 plant in Burlington to serve Chittenden & Eastman, which at the time was Dahlin Brothers' largest customer.

As the 1930s approached, Chittenden & Eastman offered a truly startling array of products to retailers via sales offices in Burlington, Chicago, and Minneapolis. In addition to virtually every imaginable piece of furniture for homes, offices, hospitals, and hotels, the company sold such items as picnic baskets, birdcages, ironing boards, breadboards, carpet sweepers, humidors, refrigerators, baby strollers, playpens, electric vacuum cleaners, tapestries, and rugs. In fact, a full-page ad in the 1928-29 directory American Manufactured Furniture touted the contents of Chittenden & Eastman's 748-page hardcover catalog, claiming: "It has been aptly described as a veritable encyclopedia of the furniture industry, for there are few items that a dealer needs which he will not find illustrated in this unusual catalog."

In its first 63 years, Chittenden & Eastman had firmly established itself as a leading supplier and manufacturer of mattresses and upholstered furniture, carrying some 120 different lines of goods. This early success allowed the company to enjoy a period of steady, gradual growth as its 100th anniversary loomed in the not-too-distant future. During this time, a significant development occurred when the only remaining member of the Eastman family sold his stock to company employees in 1942. Also that year Walter B. Eaton succeeded H.W. Chittenden as company president. While Chittenden served as president for 43 years, the office was held by a comparatively large number of successors in the years immediately following his vacancy. Eaton served as president until 1947, when C.A. Duffy took the reins. In 1954, C.W. Reger succeeded Duffy.

In 1960, Manfred A. Nordstrom was named as Chittenden & Eastman's president. Nordstrom, who would hold the top post for nearly 20 years, joined the company in 1936 as an office boy. Then 25, Nordstrom's salary was $10 per week. In the December 5, 1999, issue of the Hawk Eye, Nordstrom recalled: "I spent $4.50 a week for a room at the YWCA. That left me less than a dollar a day to eat on." Nordstrom joined the Navy, and then came back to Chittenden & Eastman in 1941. In addition to growing annual company sales from $15 million to more than $100 million, Nordstrom oversaw a number of key developments during his tenure.

By the early 1960s, Chittenden & Eastman's upholstered furniture brands included Perma-Rest and Permalux. In addition, it also sold mattresses under the Restonic name. After nearly 100 years, Chittenden & Eastman had retained its position as one of the world's largest wholesale furniture distributors. The company's 275 workers manufactured thousands of tons of furniture that were shipped to retailers by rail or commercial trucks. Chittenden & Eastman's main facility spanned 750,000 square feet, and its 23 salespeople served an 18-state territory that included Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the entire Pacific coast.

Preparing for the Future: 1967-89

As the 1970s arrived, Chittenden & Eastman made preparations to ensure its success into the 21st century. In March 1972, the company moved its mattress manufacturing operations from Main and Market Streets to a new 90,000-square-foot facility. Located on a 23-acre site on Roosevelt Avenue, the new building was devoted to the manufacture and distribution of mattresses, allowing Chittenden & Eastman's old plant to expand furniture production.

At the time the new plant was built, Chittenden & Eastman employed 315 workers. Prior to its construction, the firm made about 100,000 mattresses per year, comprising approximately one-fifth of gross sales. However, the new facility allowed for a production increase in this area by as much as 50 percent. A 25-person sales force continued to market the company's own brands, as well as furniture from other manufacturers, to retailers in 18 states.

In 1975, Chittenden & Eastman completed a 170,000-square-foot addition to its new plant in order to accommodate the need for furniture and mattress storage. The addition increased total usable space to 264,000 square feet. The company ended the decade by promoting Anthony R. Weiler to the office of president. Weiler had joined the company in 1960 as a sales representative and quickly rose through the ranks, earning promotions to sales manager in 1965 and vice-president in 1972.

Weiler was at the helm of Chittenden & Eastman in 1982, when company officials decided to cease the manufacture of furniture and focus exclusively on mattress-making. Although the company no longer made furniture, its distribution arm continued to function as a furniture importer and wholesaler.

National Expansion: 1990 and Beyond

By the early 1990s, Chittenden & Eastman was primarily doing business under the name of its Eastman House division. In addition to its own brands of mattresses, the company made private-label mattresses for Thomasville. By this time Chittenden & Eastman had expanded its market territory to 21 states. In addition, it operated a chain of six retail stores and had also become a King Koil licensee.

When Weiler was promoted to chairman and CEO in 1992, Donald H. Robb was named as Chittenden & Eastman's president and chief operating officer. Robb had joined the company in 1990 as vice-president of Eastman House's mattress division. Prior to that time he worked as a buyer for Sears and was president of Restonic from 1975 to 1983, a vice-president of Sealy from 1983 to 1988, and a vice-president of Sealy's Stearns & Foster division from 1988 to 1990. One of Robb's first challenges as Chittenden & Eastman's president was to integrate the King Koil brand of mattresses into Eastman House's existing offerings.

As the 1990s progressed, Chittenden & Eastman began to set its sights on a larger market. With estimated annual sales of $40 million, the company was among the nation's leading bedding manufacturers, along with Restonic. In October 1993, Chittenden & Eastman formed a joint venture with Hartford, Connecticut-based Blue Bell Mattress Company that enabled it to enter the New York and New England markets. Robb told the trade press that the agreement was the first step in a larger plan to expand nationally.

In January 1994, Chittenden & Eastman made another key acquisition when Eastman House purchased Aireloom Bedding, an El Monte, California-based bedding and furniture manufacturer with sales of nearly $10 million. In the January 17, 1994, issue of HFD, Robb commented on the acquisition, explaining that it would "greatly increase our manufacturing and distribution capabilities on the West Coast, while simultaneously freeing up an additional 15 to 20 percent manufacturing capacity at our Burlington facility." Founded in 1950 by King Karpen, Aireloom's manufacturing facility spanned 88,000 square feet and ramped up Eastman House's production capacity by some 60 percent.

Furniture once accounted for approximately 80 percent of Chittenden & Eastman's sales. However, by the mid-1990s this was no longer the case. Mattress sales had nearly tripled between 1989 and 1994, and had grown to represent the lion's share of sales. Thus, in 1994 Chittenden & Eastman opted to divest its furniture division, as well as its Eastman House Furniture Showcase retail outlets, and focus exclusively on the manufacture of mattresses. At this time, Eastman House produced some 350,000 mattresses per year.

After a 35-year career with the company, Anthony Weiler resigned as Chittenden & Eastman's chairman and CEO in January 1995. He left the organization to become senior vice-president for merchandising at Heilig-Meyers, then the leading publicly held retailer of furniture with 640 stores and approximately $1 billion in annual revenues. Following Weiler's resignation, Robb assumed the role of CEO and Norton Butler eventually was named president. In August 1995, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it intended to expand into the Southeastern United States. This was accomplished by the acquisition of Dormir Sleep Products, a Montgomery, Alabama-based manufacturer of mattresses and Murphy beds that operated from a 70,000-square-foot plant.

When it was determined that the Roosevelt Avenue Chittenden & Eastman plant, built in 1972, was inefficient in a number of ways, the company talked of relocating its manufacturing operation to a newer facility in Burlington. However, the move never transpired. In May 2003, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it planned to relocate production to Missouri. Although the corporate headquarters would remain in Burlington, where some 21 people were employed, the move meant the city would lose approximately 50 manufacturing jobs. In late May, Chittenden & Eastman announced that it had sold its facility to the Schwenker family, owners of the Standard of Beaverdale lumber yard. Eastman House's manufacturing took up about 40 percent of the building, and the company established a lease to continue operations there indefinitely, until a final decision was made on when Burlington would lose a manufacturing base that had been part of the city's history longer than any resident could remember.

Principal Divisions: Eastman House; Eastman House Of California (Aireloom Bedding); Eastman House Of Sterling (Bollingers House Of Furniture).

Principal Competitors: Restonic Mattress Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • American Manufactured Furniture, West Chester, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1988.
  • "C. & E. Tells Architect to Design Big Building," Burlington Hawk Eye, January 31, 1923.
  • "C & E Unveils Plans for New Factory," Hawk Eye, June 18, 1971.
  • "Chittenden & Eastman Co. 96th Year in Burlington," Burlington Hawk Eye, July 10, 1962.
  • Delaney, Steve, "C&E Managers Propose to Buy Out Trust," Hawk Eye, November 20, 1995.
  • ------, "Firms Eye Business Park Locations," Hawk Eye, October 1, 1995.
  • ------, "Robb to Succeed Weiler at C&E," Hawk Eye, January 27, 1995.
  • "Eye on Eastman House," HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, August 28, 1995.
  • Fields, Ron, "Another Loss for B-ton," Hawk Eye, May 4, 2003.
  • ------, "Eastman Warehouse Sold," Hawk Eye, June 15, 2003.
  • "New C&E Factory Is Now Turning Out Mattresses," Hawk Eye, March 8, 1972.
  • Noon, Carolyn, "Company's Roots Stretch Back to Early Burlington," Hawk Eye, December 5, 1999.
  • Schancupp, Pam, "Chittenden CEO Joins Heilig-Meyers," HFN--The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, January 30, 1995.
  • ------, "Eastman Buys Aireloom Bedding," HFD--The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, January 17, 1994.
  • Schancupp, Pam, "Eastman House-Blue Bell Pact," HFD--The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, October 11, 1993.
  • ------, "Robb to Head Eastman," HFD--The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, May 11, 1992.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 58. St. James Press, 2004.