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The History of Coppes - by Bill Warner
The Coppes company that produced the Coppes Napanee Kitchenettes and the Napanee Line of furniture is over 135 years old, dating back to 1876. The Coppes company had it’s beginning when two young brothers, Frank and John Coppes, were asked to join with their brother-in-law John C. Mellinger in a small sawmill business. ( John C. was married to Lucinda Coppes, John & Franks’ older sister ). John C. Mellinger’s former partner had left the business and Mellinger was looking for new partners. The Mellinger-Coppes partnership did very well and by 1880 they expanded by purchasing a box factory and planing mill that had belonged to Joseph Strohm. John Coppes would later marry Strohm’s daughter, Malinda. The Mellinger / Coppes sawmill was located on East Market Street at the present location of the Methodist Church, “ the mill standing where the M. E. Parsonage now is”. (History of Elkhart County, 1905).
By the end of 1881 the two Coppes brothers had bought out John Mellinger and Samuel Coppes joined the company. Samuel was Frank and John’s older brother. Samuel’s son Harold E. Coppes also began working in the company. The three brothers seemed to have been equal partners in the business which was known as Coppes Bros. Sawmill. Harold Coppes worked as bookkeeper and cashier. It is speculation, but possibly the purchase of John Mellinger’s portion of the partnership was due to an influx of funds from Samuel and Harold.
By 1883 the box factory was moved from South of the rail road tracks ( now the Nappanee Milling location on South Main St. ) to newly constructed buildings on the site of the present Coppes Factory. The 1883 building was the first of many buildings to be constructed at that site. The COPPES BROS. BOX FACTORY AND PLANING MILL painted sign has been restored on the East Market Street side of the building. The box factory had contracts to produce wooden shipping boxes for starch from two mfg. in Elkhart. Coppes Bros. had two “Jumbo” size train cars produced to haul the empty boxes from their own rail siding to the factories in Elkhart. By 1900 a new bandsaw mill was constructed on the Coppes property near the rear of the present factory.
In 1890 Daniel Zook, a local lawyer became a partner and the company name became Coppes Brothers and Zook. Daniel Zook was married to Elizabeth Coppes Yarian, Samuel, John and Franks niece. The Coppes’ business interests grew out of their early sawmill involvement. First they purchased a box factory and planing mill (1880), a natural extension of the sawmill/lumber business, then upgraded the business with new buildings and shipping methods most likely because they thought they could supply the raw lumber and also make and sell the product at less cost and more profit for the company.
Samuel Coppes and his son Harold E. Coppes left Coppes Bros. by 1891. On May 1st, 1891 they purchased and began operating The Farmers and Traders Bank in the 1st block of South Main St. Also that same year The Coppes Hotel in the 1st block of East Market St. “was constructed under the inspiration of Banker S. D. Coppes and a number of citizens...”. (Industrial Nappanee 1905)
The Nappanee Furniture Company was an existing company in close approximation to the Coppes Bros. sawmill. A business relationship did likely exist. Maybe it was from the sale of lumber or financial backing, but the relationship is unclear. In 1896 Frank Coppes was listed as president of the company. Soon ( by 1902 ) the wooden starch box business was dwindling and the Coppes Bros. were expanding into furniture manufacturing with the purchase of or the consolidation with the Nappanee Furniture Company. The Nappanee Furniture Company, established in 1883, was producing a line of library & extension tables. Some tables were extremely decorated with hand carving and some were plainer items using quarter sawed oak or ash which was popular at the time. Their 1896-7 catalog illustrated two varieties of early style kitchen tables/cabinets which will prove to be important later on.
Albert Mutschler and his brother Charles had been with the Nappanee Furniture Co. from about 1891, Albert was listed as Secretary. With the 1902 purchase of the Nappanee Furniture Co. Albert Mutschler and his brother Charles Mutschler joined the growing company as full partners (Charles Mutschler was married to Della Coppes, Samuel’s daughter and John and Frank’s niece). On April 29, 1902 the company was incorporated as Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Company, Inc. The company had been involved in saw milling, lumber sales, making boxes and a planing mill, and now added furniture manufacturing. To allow more focus on the furniture making the retail lumber sales, box factory & planing mill businesses were sold. Also The Nappanee Milling Company a flour grinding and grain mill was started ( 1896 ) under the control of Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. By 1905 the “flour mill was capable of producing 250 barrels of quality flour a day, ready for shipment by rail to any location in the country”. (Industrial Nappanee 1905)
The Board of Directors in 1905 were Frank Coppes, president; John D. Coppes, vice president; Daniel Zook, secretary; Albert Mutschler, treasure; two other members being H. E. Zook ( Daniel’s son ) and Chas. Mutschler. (Industrial Nappanee 1905)
The death of Daniel Zook in 1913 brought major changes to the company. The partnership with the Mutschler Brothers dissolved. All these men were related so it was likely a cordial split. Albert and Charles Mutschler started the Mutschler Brothers Kitchen Factory in direct friendly competition with Coppes. The Mutschler Bros. Co. set up their factory in the former Coppes factory “A”, where extension and library tables had been manufactured, the building that had originally been the Nappanee Furniture Co. in Nappanee. The Mutschler Brothers business was successful and family owned until it was sold in 1969.
After the partnership was dissolved the name Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. was changed to Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. ( February 25, 1914 ) to honor their beloved brother in law Daniel Zook. Also, about 1914 the company “made the decision to specialize solely in kitchen cabinets”. “Their new product line was called the Napanee Dutch Kitchenets. Nappanee was spelled with one “p” because at the time the proper name of the city could not be used in a trademarked name, so the brothers purposely misspelled Nappanee so they could include it in their name.”
After the 1913 split with the Mutschler Bros. the Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. still had control of the sawmill and Factory “B’ where chamber suits, sideboards and chiffoniers had been made, also factory “C” where kitchen cabinets were made. The Mutschler Brothers controlled Factory “A” where the line of tables were produced in the original buildings of the Nappanee Furniture Company.
A major building boon soon began at Coppes Bros, & Zook Co. with several more factory buildings quickly going up and what we would now call major retooling for the increasingly important and popular Napanee Dutch Kitchenets line. The volume of production for the Napanee cabinets is staggering. In 1917 the Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. had wholesale wearhouses in seven cities around the country, Harrisburg, PA; Minneapolis, Minn; Springfield, Mass; San Antonio, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Kansas City, MO; and McKeesport, PA. One “shipping” ledger from the mid 1920s still in the Coppes collection lists the items and the amounts that were sent ( mailed or shipped ) out each day. It lists common items, such as “replacement hinges” or advertising literature sent to a customer. Then the next line could be 90 kitchen cabinets sent to a dealer in Denver or anywhere else in the US. The next day or week it would be repeated with 100 or 200 more kitchen cabinets shipped out. The company stressed how convenient and cost effective it would be for a dealer to order enough Kitchenets to fill a whole train car. The largest single order on record was shipped on Sept. 28th, 1924 and consisted of 1105 kitchen cabinets in a variety of styles, plus 60 kitchen tables at $44,218.15
The time period between 1920 and 1925 was the highwater mark for the production of the Coppes Napanee Kitchenets. The “Hoosier” kitchen cabinet was very popular, not only with Coppes, but with several companies in the state of Indiana. Books suggest that as many as 40 different companies were making the “Hoosier” cabinet at the peak of its populiarity. Some of the competition had very similar appearing cabinets and it is difficult to determine the correct mfg. without the proper metal tag. Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. and Coppes Bros. & Zook used their trademarked metal name tag with the Dutch Girl in the center. The Dutch Girl was featured in advertising during this time period.
The following kitchen cabinet competitors are listed in the book Indiana Cabinets by L-W Books
(a) The “Boone” or “Hoosier” cabinet made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of Albany, IN .
(b) The “Kitchen Maid” cabinet made by Wasmuth-Endicott Co. of Andrews, IN.
(c) The “McDougall” by the G.P. McDougall & Son, Indianapolis, IN.
(d) The “Sellers” cabinet by G.I. Sellers & Sons Company, Kokomo, IN.
A little known and largely forgotten phase of the Coppes history is the kitchen cabinets designed for new construction as built in place cabinets. Records of this phase of the business have photos of several large multistory apartment buildings in major cities such as Chicago or Cincinnati with each apartment unit having a Coppes Dutch Kitchenet installed by the builder. A 1927 Coppes Bros. & Zook catalog illustrates cabinets that were “ Specially designed units systems for all types of buildings”. These Napanee Dutch Kitchenet units were a combination of several cabinets — a center “Hoosier” style cabinet and a variety of smaller cabinets next to it used as ”filler” cabinets until an entire wall was filled with Coppes cabinets to make a 1927 style modern kitchen. An interesting feature with this style of Cabinets was the use of built-in refrigerators (an ice box) and built-in ovens or stoves. Of the hundreds or thousands of apartment units originally furnished with Coppes Dutch Kitchenets, how many are still there?
While this style Napanee Dutch Kitchenet cabinets had more of the appearance of the original “Hoosier” cabinets, it is a logical step to the development of the modern style of kitchen cabinet with base cabinets and wall mount cabinets - standard size units that were lined up in the quantity and arrangement that the modern housewife wanted, then one counter top covering all the cabinets to make a large work surface.
To recap the Coppes Napanee history;
a. - Began with saw mill in 1876.
b. - Purchased box factory and planing mill in 1880.
c.- Began constructing own factory buildings in 1883 - box factory & planing mill were moved.
d.- Began the Nappanee (flour) Milling Co. in 1886 on the old box factory location, by the railroad.
e.- Around 1890 Samuel Coppes leaves the company, and Daniel Zook joins. Albert Mutschler is at the Nappanee Furniture Company.
f.- Around 1897 the Nappanee Furniture Co. is asking for public support in the way of capital. The Coppes Bros. invest in the company. Frank Coppes is President of the company.
g.- In 1902 Coppes joins with Nappanee Furniture and the Mutschler Bros. to form The Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co.
h.- The company is operating a sawmill, flour mill, and a furniture company, 1902.
i. - The company begins to make Kitchen Cabinets of the new Hoosier Style 1905-10.
j.- Daniel Zook dies in 1913, the partnership dissolves. Renamed Coppes Bros & Zook Co.
k.- The Coppes Bros. decides to concentrate on Napanee Dutch Kitchen Cabinets in 1914.
l. - The Napanee Dutch Kitchenet line of cabinets is very successful, 1910.
m.- By 1927 the company is producing built-in style cabinets.
n. - The depression slows down the company but it survives intact, 1929.
o. - 1930s & 1940s style of kitchens change to the built-in units, that we know today.
p. - After WW II Coppes becomes a world leader in the kitchen cabinet industry.
q. - By the mid 1960s there are no more of the Coppes family that wants to run the factory and it is sold.
r. - Coppes Inc. continues making kitchen cabinets until competition and poor management force the demise of the company.
s. - Bankruptcy in 1990s
t. - Coppes Trademark and some machinery sold to new management, which is still making kitchen cabinets in 2011.