W. B. Brown Company

Bluffton Indiana's link to the Arts and Crafts Movement

Bluffton was the home of a world class manufacturer of Arts and Crafts Mission style furniture, electric lighting fixtures and store interiors from 1906 to 1923. The W.B.Brown Co., known locally as the "Chandelier Factory," moved from Huntington, Indiana to Bluffton in 1906 when the Bluffton Commercial Club and Merchants and Manufacturers Association were able to locate a larger factory building to accommodate the fast growing industry. Brown became a major supplier of wood and stained glass lighting fixtures marketed through distributors for sales nation-wide as well as abroad. Ceiling hung fixtures with oak and leaded stained glass shades featured wood chain links for suspension. Many different designs and sizes were available as pictured in their elaborate catalogs. The line included wall brackets and portable (table) lamps. Brown held a 1906 US patent for a method of easily assembling his fixtures with a wood union, permitting their

shipment in a knockdown fashion for assembly by the purchaser. This lowered the roduction labor time and enabled a lower shipping cost. Getting the product on the market faster and at lower cost positioned Brown as the major manufacturer of the oak and stained leaded glass fixtures.Brown's skilled glass artisans produced many stained glass windows. Two Wells County churches are known to have their windows. A contemporary newspaper account credits Brown as the designer of the many products his factory produced.

The Brown Company was a major Bluffton industrial employer with more than 100 employees. The lighting fixture business became so important after 1920 to prompt Brown to discontinue his store interior and most other Mission style furniture production. By 1923 the demand for Arts and Crafts style had declined when Brown closed out his inventory, selling the factory building and much of the equipment to a newly organized Settergren Piano Company that manufactured baby grand and spinet pianos until the 1960s.

Dr. Michael and Jill Clark, of Elmira, New York, who have published numerous articles and books on the Arts and Crafts movement in America, spent several days in Bluffton researching every aspect of the Brown Company, and its owner designer, W.B.Brown. Already they have written an article published in the November 2000 issue of Style 1900 magazine. They are continuing their research leading toward publication of a book about this company. They are anxious to contact any person who owns a Brown fixture, or who may have any bit of information about the company, its employees, etc. They may be contacted through the Wells County Historical Society web site, or at their Email address: jmyoung@servtech.com/

The Wells County Historical Museum has two of the Brown fixtures on display and their 1921 catalog.

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