Korn, Williams contributed greatly to Sumter's growth

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The Sumter Daily Item published a 50th anniversary section in 1944 that promoted "the development and growth of Sumter that contributed toward making this community a progressive and congenial place to live and do business."

One of the areas that attracted a great deal of national attention was in industrial diversification. In 1944 it was noted that "Sumter featured more than 40 different industries, including manufactured lumber, furniture, textiles, cooperage (barrel making), steel fabrication, school and office furniture, caskets, paints, trucks and trailers, machinery and mill supplies, fertilizers, flour, meal and feeds, building materials and chenille bedspreads." There was a wide variety of raw materials available in the area, splendid shipping facilities, ample and cheap electric power and a large labor supply. Two major industrial employers of this era were Williams Furniture Co. and Korn Industries.

Williams Furniture, headed by North Carolina native O.L. Williams, was a prosperous company that served the nation. From a small beginning 15 years before the Item's anniversary publication, it had grown to be one of the four largest producers of bedroom furniture in the United States. Williams Furniture was dedicated to meeting specific goals, including the challenges of the future.

By 1944, the company completed $2.5 million in war contracts and expanded its facilities to accommodate more than 1,000 employees. The physical plant measured more than 650,000 square feet of floor space for production and storage. The warehouse was the most expansive in Sumter with capacity to house 300 rail cars of finished furniture. The dry kiln had the capacity to handle 500,000 feet of lumber, and to expedite the production of furniture products the company operated a saw mill and its own veneer plant.

The production of furniture required Williams Co. to consume vast quantities of a variety of raw materials. The most important commodity utilized was lumber, as Williams consumed 20 million board feet yearly comprising 18 million feet of gum veneer and 2 million feet of mahogany and walnut veneer. The plant used 190,000 gallons of finishing materials in addition to $25,000 of sandpaper, $18,000 of Hide glue, $30,000 of Urea Resin glue, 800 barrels of wheat flour, 300,000 square feet of plate glass mirrors, 100,000 pounds of nails and 6 million wood screws.

The second major furniture manufacturing company discussed was Korn Industries. The name encompasses three major business interests (1) Sumter Hardwood Co. (Timber Lands, Saw Mills, Lumber Distribution), (2) Sumter Wood Products Co. (Wood Workers, Furniture Parts) and (3) Sumter Cabinet Co. (Cabinet Makers, Bedroom Suites). In 1944 Korn Industries stated that "90 percent of its buildings and equipment were completely rebuilt and modernized within a five-year period.

A hundred percent of the plant's operation was powered by electricity, and the building featured a conveyor system that was more than a mile long. Korn Industries' assembly and finishing departments were called the most up to date and efficient in the entire industry. The industrial concept had a saw mill and lumber division that ensured a dependable supply of raw materials to produce high-grade furniture.

An article appearing in the Sumter Daily Item in May of 1950 presented a historical overview of Korn Industries: "In 1920, the founder of this institution came to Sumter from Cincinnati, Ohio, bought a tract of land within the city limits and constructed a modern band-mill to saw hardwood logs into lumber. This initial plant was known as the Sumter Hardwood Co., and soon a considerable amount of surplus labor found work at 'The Hardwood.' The original office and supervisory staff were brought from Cincinnati.

"For a period of 30 years the company has operated continuously without a lapse, even during hard times. From the beginning, better than average wages were paid to its employees. During 1930, additional property was purchased for expansion until presently 50 acres of land are covered with buildings and improvements. The company has refused at all times to accept land or money as a gift from local or outside sources. The capital stock is owned wholly by original stockholders and employees.

"The woodworking factories built in 1930 were known as Sumter Wood Products Co., designed to produce furniture parts and wood specialties that were sold to assemblers throughout the country. Later Sumter Cabinet Co. was established to manufacture fine bedroom furniture. Today its merchandise is handled by the best retail stores throughout the United States. Within a period of four years, two disastrous fires destroyed the greater portion of the company's woodworking plants. On both occasions, it was a question whether to rebuild. An organization too valuable to abandon had been built up, so that upon the ashes of the original wood buildings arose new buildings of permanent construction, equipped with every modern facility.

"During the past year, a new office building was completed which admittedly is the most convenient, comfortable and up to date in this part of the South. Visitors are invited to inspect these improvements and see how far Sumter is advancing industrially. The executive staff is headed by Chester F. Korn, president, and Matthew F. Korn, vice president - both of whom have built homes in the Sumter community and take an active interest in the social and business life of the city."

Reach Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 494-1294.