In 1886, Albert F. Karges, a first-generation German immigrant, invested $600 and began making moderately priced bedroom furniture of solid oak and walnut. At that time, the river port town of Evansville, Indiana was one of the largest hardwood furniture manufacturing centers in the world. The Karges Furniture Company is the sole survivor. Now, more than a hundred years later, Karges remains one of only a few family-owned and operated furniture manufacturers in America; hence the epithet, “The Last Great American Furniture Company.”
The Company prospered through the turn of the century, and Albert’s son Edwin F. Karges, Sr. joined the family business after World War I. He had a keen interest in European designs and traveled extensively in an effort to learn more about the old-world styles. Soon the Karges line took on a more classic look and began separating itself from its competitors as he began to develop his own ideas. Mr. “K”, active in the company for over 60 years, left elegant, timeless designs, that are still best sellers after 30 years.
After World War II Edwin’s son, Edwin F. Karges, Jr., joined the business. He was graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Wood Technology, and his knowledge and skill in wood finishing provided the groundwork for developing the Karges finishing process. “Eddie”, as he was known in the plant, was involved in all aspects of the business and will be ever regarded as the expert in matters relating to the unique Karges finish.
In April of 2006 Ed Jr. passed away, leaving Karges personnel greatly saddened by the passing of this wonderfully kind and beloved man. Fortunately, however, he was a great teacher and saw to it that all were well-trained and equipped to carry on his dream for the Company. During the past 30 years, all four of Eddie’s children have been involved in the business. Joan Karges Rogier, now President, worked alongside her father for nearly 30 years, representing the fourth generation of leadership. Joan brings to the Company a true understanding and appreciation of the strengths and experiences bequeathed by her predecessors as well as a sincere concern for the workers. She understands why Karges survived and why it remains strong today. Joan would tell you, “The only way to make the very best furniture in the world is the slow, careful, hands-on way.” This quality philosophy trickles down to the work bench or desk of each employee.
Joan’s daughter Gretchen is the 5th generation of this amazing story, the child willing and able to work hard and take up the challenge of making furniture in the tried and true method of her progenitors. One might even say the American way. Gretchen has worked along side Ed, Joan, and an army of talented people who know and understand the goal: to make the best furniture possible. Gretchen and her husband Martin, Karges’ safety director, maintenance guru and overall “facilities engineer,” have done everything required in a small family business. Everything from spearheading a media campaign to repairing damaged windows from a spring storm.
Karges’ story is not unique in American history, but it is indeed remarkable. We credit our achievements to our dedicated artists, committed craftsmen, outstanding personnel and of course to our loyal customers. This year, 2011, Karges Furniture observes a huge milestone in our history as we rejoice in the extremely rare disctinction of being a 125-year-old, still-family-owned, American furniture manufacturing company. Bravo!!