Lane Furniture Company
Altavista, Virginia was founded, in large part, by several members of the Lane family in 1907.
In 1912 a small box company in town experiencing financial difficulty was purchased at auction for $500 by John Edward Lane. John put his 21 year old son, Edward Hudson (E.H.), in charge of the manufacturing facility even though he had no experience in the industry. Given the uncertain future of the little box company, instead of attaching the family’s name to the venture, it was incorporated as the Standard Red Cedar Chest Company with John as the President and Edward as the Vice President and General Manager. The production facility was decked-out with $50,000 worth of machinery and initially employed seven people with John acting not only as General Manager but also as the sole salesperson. One of the seven original employees was John’s woodworking professor from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Professor Loop ran the cabinet room.
The Standard Red Cedar Chest company was not the only company producing
cedar chests at this time. There were no less than twenty-five cedar chest
manufacturers vying for sales in a very competitive market. Two main rivals at
the time, and for many years to come, were Caswell-Runyan Company of
Huntington, Indiana and Roos Manufacturing Company of Chicago.
Although the company was contracted by the United States government to
transition the factory from cedar chests to ammunition boxes for the war effort
in World War I, the company didn’t realize a huge financial windfall as some
companies and industries did. Even though the war years were a set-back, the
company was able to sustain itself with capital from the Peoples Bank of
Charlottesville. The post-war years were very successful for the company and
in 1922 the company’s name was changed to the Lane Company.
Starting in the late 1920’s, the Lane company invested heavily in national advertising including advertisements featuring well-known celebrities like Shirley Temple and Miss America. The Madison Avenue firms used by Lane often incorporated the mantra of E.H. Lane, “you’ve got to sell with an idea!” These “ideas” ranged from buying chests as gifts for young girls’ keepsakes to promoting the company’s patented moth-proof innovations.
In the late 1920’s, the company began the Girl Graduate Plan. The Plan was a national campaign enthusiastically embraced by the dealers distributing Lane cedar chests throughout the entire country. The Plan offered a gift to young ladies upon graduation from high school and invited the girl (and her parents) into the furniture dealer to receive the gift. The gift was a miniature cedar chest and usually also included a special discount offer on the purchase of a full-size cedar chest. Lane knew this was a great opportunity to encourage the parents to buy a chest for a graduation gift. They also knew that in those early days,
one-half of girls were likely to be married within eighteen months. The promotion
introduced the dealer to a young lady who would likely need furniture for her
new home within the next couple of years. In 1962 it was reported by E.H. Lane
that between ½ and ⅔ of all girls graduating from high school in the United States
were presented with a Lane miniature cedar chest. By 1962, approximately seven
million girls had received a box for graduation. It has since been estimated by
Lane executives that over 27 million miniature Lane chests were made and and
either sold by Lane or distributed through the Girl Graduate Plan. The miniature
department of the factory was closed around 2004.
The Lane Company expanded from cedar chests to other lines of furniture in the
1950’s through the 1970’s. The Lane Company is now part of the Heritage Home
Group along with other well-known furniture brands like Henredon, Drexel
Heritage, Broyhill and Thomasville.