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CZ&M Era Employee Photos Surface

Hello and welcome to Bill’s History Corner. Today we are discussing three photographs that were shared with us at Coppes Commons. We were allowed to make copies of the originals during the visit. That is great, it’s how we increase our library of information!

Bill and Stacy

The first photo shows a group of workmen posing beside what I think is building “C” at the Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Companies factory in approx. 1903-08. Building “C” was the location where the C, Z & M Co. began producing the kitchen cabinets that made them famous. Building “C” was a one-story, corrugated metal clad building at the rear of the complex near the sawmill. Unlike the other company buildings that were built of brick, “C” may have been thought of, in the beginning of the partnership with the Mutschler Brothers, as a temporary building. Before the partnership, the Nappanee Furniture Company, managed by the Mutschler Brothers, were making kitchen cabinets and had beautiful illustrations in their catalogs, along with other furniture.  The Coppes Brothers and Dan Zook (at that time) had no experience building furniture. Their business experience was buying timber and operating a Sawmill, a Flour Mill, and a Box Factory.

Factory C

Stacy Huff, who owns the pictures, said her Great Grandfather was in the center holding his hat. All the men are holding their hats! Stacy’s great-grandfather, Thomas A. Rensberger, is the eighth man from the right. Does anyone have ideas or guesses as to anyone else in these pictures?

On Nov. 22th, 1912 Daniel Zook died. His death led to the friendly dissolution of the partnership with the Mutschler Brothers. Albert and Charles Mutschler returned to the original buildings of the Nappanee Furniture Co. and continued to produce furniture, eventually becoming a world leader in modern kitchen and school furniture production. Frank & John Coppes, along with Daniel’s son Harold, began producing the Napanee line of kitchen cabinets that would make them world famous.

The 2nd and 3rd pictures also have Mr. Rensberger in them, but the location is at the old original brick building of the Nappanee Furniture Company. I would be interested if any reader can tell me how I know the location is not at the Coppes buildings along Market Street.  The picture with only men in the group has 97 men in the picture. That is a huge number for just one of the buildings. I’m going out on a limb and suggest that this is all the men from each of the buildings: some from the Saw Mill, some from the buildings A, B, C, and some from the old Nappanee Furniture Co. buildings. Realizing that all the men worked for the same company, the Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. from 1902 thru 1912.

The final picture of company employees has 21 ladies in the picture. This is unusual for the time and in Nappanee. This is the only (so far) picture that we have with factory ladies. (We do have a picture of lady office workers).  What were their jobs at this time? Again, I’m going out on a limb and suggest they had jobs as furniture finishers; applying stain and clear finish to the tables and other cabinets produced in the factory. It may have been early in the day, as all their clothing seem to be very clean (aprons?).  If you enlarge the picture and look at their shoes you can see stains on their shoes, but not on clothing.

CMZ workers with women

Comments on any of “Bill’s History Corner” articles welcome.  Anything you want to add is welcome!

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Early Employee Photo Mystery Continues. . .

We used this employee photo when we were highlighting the history of the “NAP” bicycle, which was made in Nappanee.

Early Employees of Coppes Sawmill

However, I had forgotten about this picture below!

Coppes Employees with Two Bikes

As we were explaining the NAP bicycle story I got to thinking, “What else do we know about this picture?” The answer to that question is, “not much.” Besides, this will give me a chance to ramble on about something. Thanks for looking and reading. Thanks, also to the Nappanee Center for this copy of the original picture from their collection.

We know the location: in front of the Coppes Bros. Planning mill & Box factory. This building was erected in 1884 by the Coppes Brothers Company (Sam, John & Frank) to increase the output of the Box factory that they had been operating on South Main St. at the location of the flour mill. Before John & Frank joined John Mellinger at the sawmill, (1876) John Coppes at 16-17 years of age had the steady job of hauling wagon loads of wooden boxes to Elkhart from the former Strohm Box Co. The Strohm Box Co., later purchased by a Mr. Spencer, is the company that the Mellinger & Coppes Bros. Co. would purchase in 1879, (4/10/1879, Nappanee news) and move (1884) to the East Market St. location.  John Coppes would marry Mr. Strohm’s daughter, Melinda, in 1878.

That’s about all we know for sure about this picture. That got me to studying the photo with a magnifying glass and wondering what we could make educated guesses about.  The people in the picture are obviously workers at the Coppes Bros Company. The box factory, the sawmill and the retail lumber business were operated close to this location, so these men may be workers from all the different Coppes Bros. shops. This is a very typical photo of the era where the employees gather in front of their workplace for a group picture.

As far as the date the picture was taken, here is what I think: If you have other suggestions I would be happy to hear from you. Because we were discussing the “NAP” bicycle in a different history segement, the two bicycles in the photo are fresh in my mind and are a strong, and maybe the only hint, as to the date. In my opinion, there were few young boys in Nappanee with families that could afford to have a “NAP” bike. I’m guessing that the two boys are the sons of John Coppes, Marvin & Ivan. Marvin was born on Aug. 22, 1881, and Ivan was born on Nov. 21, 1883. I was a young boy once, and I have asked several people their thoughts as to the age of the boy in front holding the Bicycle.  Our consensus is about 10-11 years old. As I said, Marvin was born in 1881 (if in fact this is Marvin), that would make the picture dated about 1891-92. As I stated, that is an educated guess.

Let us look at the other people in the picture. The first question is what are the children doing there? I’m thinking one of the younger boys that are standing could be an actual employee of the company. Look at the young man (third from left, in first standing row) proudly standing with the “MEN”. Jobs that were mundane, such as sweeping up, picking up trash, helping carry smaller items were jobs for young boys, also with smaller salaries. The reason for the other youngsters in the picture is any ones’ guess. Were they sons of the workmen, that brought their father’s lunch to them and stayed for the picture? Were they neighborhood children that hung around the factory because that was more interesting than anything else they could do. If the Coppes children could be in the picture, why not sons of the workmen?

On a similar note, we have, in the Coppes paper Collection, employment applications from the 1920s-30. In these applications are boys as young as 12-13 years old looking for permeant employment. Several were hardship cases where the child was the oldest male in the family and needed to become a breadwinner for his family.

Check out the two men standing on the right side of this photo – better dressed than most of the other men. Could these two men be John & Frank Coppes?  If the man on the right is Frank, he would be 32 years old, and John Coppes would be 34 years at the time of this picture. I don’t know if it is John and Frank standing there, but I would sure like it to be them. But that brings up another question: Where is Daniel Zook?  In 1890 Sam Coppes left the company and Dan Zook joined with John & Frank to make the company name Coppes Bros. & Zook Company.

Check out the well-dressed man at the left end, could this be the “Mr. Spencer, has been retained as superintendent of the factory” after the purchase by the Coppes Bros.

Also notice that everyone with the exception of Ivan has a hat on their head or in their hands, and only two pairs of glasses in the whole bunch.

What was the graffiti on the brick? Looks like the letters  “HU”, someone has tried to rub it away.

Does anyone notice the difference in the brick building from then to as it is today?

Click HERE to see a list of Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. employees from an 1892-3 Coppes Bros. & Zook ledger.  At this time (1891-94) the company was operating the flour mill, the sawmill, the retail lumber store, wholesale lumber sales, the shipping box mfg. co. and custom lumber milling (windows & doors, etc.). This ledger has lists of employees for the pay period every week. The number of employees differs from one pay period to the next. Only in a few examples does the ledger tell us the job that the employee had. For example, one Jno. H. Felty’s name was usually followed by “nailing boxes”.  In most cases, the names are listed under “LABOR”. Other reoccurring jobs were hauling boxes to Elkhart and sawing trees.

As always, if you have more information on the men pictured or listed here, we would appreciate hearing your stories! Please leave us a comment, or email me at bill@coppescommons.com.

 

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Ride “The Nap”

Nappanee News Keller bicycle AdToday we are looking at a portion of the Nappanee News from May 12, 1897 that I found in a box of paper goods from an auction. Someone had cut the paper up already, so don’t blame that on me. There are a couple interesting advertisements here. First is the Keller Cycle Mfg. Co. from Nappanee. BUY OUR WHEEL is the title of the ad. At this time the term “wheel” was the common word for Bicycle, either a high wheeler or a two-wheel model. A cut of a lady riding the “NAP” bicycle illustrates that it is easy for everyone to ride, and how much good fun riding will be.  In smaller print the extra lines are “ Snoaring is sheet music – Ride THE NAP and you – will have sweet music”. Interpret that however you want.

The picture below, from the Nappanee Heritage Center collection, is of the workman in front of the Coppes Planning mill and box factory taken around 1890. In front of the group of men is a boy, likely a Coppes youngster, standing next to a Bicycle that looks like a NAP Bicycle. On closer inspection there are actually two bicycles in the picture (one behind the other) one of the workmen appears to be holding the rear bicycle upright. Is the youngster standing there the owner of the bicycle?

Early Coppes Employees with children and bicycle

This youngster had to be a member of the Coppes family, as the workmen would not have let just any city boy crowd into their picture. John Coppes’s eldest son, Marvin, was born in 1881, and Irvin was born in 1883. Frank Coppes’s eldest son Harold was born in 1885, and Claude was born in 1889. So, who do you think he is? Also notice that there are a few children sitting for the picture. Were these children of the workmen or were they actual employees of the factory? The youngster with the Bicycle is dressed so much better than the other children.  I’m just full of questions! Do you think the two gentlemen standing on the right end could be John and Frank Coppes? And who is the well dressed man on the left end?

The other advertisements are for Henry Best Meat Market and the Farmers & Traders Bank. This was the bank owned by Samuel Coppes and Sons. Read more about the story of the Coppes factories on our History Page.

If you have any information or clues on the people pictured or the topics we’ve covered here, we’d love to hear from you! Just leave a comment on this post, or send an email to bill@coppescommons.com.