Last updated on September 17th, 2019 at 08:59 am
The H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company was founded in 1886 and spent close to 100 years building furniture in Bennington, Vermont. The company began by building coat racks, pencil boxes, hat hangers, and more, but soon became well known for their furniture.
The business was sold to General Industries in 1964 by Hall W. Cushman, the third generation of the Cushman family to manage the business. In 1971 the facility was sold to Green Mountain Furniture Co, which subsequently went out of business in 1980.
Even though the H.T. Cushman company is no longer producing furniture, their impact on the legacy of furniture craftsmanship in Vermont is clear.
The History & Legacy of Cushman Furniture
Perhaps the most impressive feat accomplished by the Cushman company was its ability to reinvent itself.
“H.T. Cushman started business in 1886 making hat racks and novelties in a shop east of the old stone gristmill on Prospect Street. This burned in 1889, was built up at once where business continued until 1892 when it was moved to the stone mill on Water Street. From novelties they turned to making Mission furniture, then smoker stands. In 1933 the making of colonial furniture was started and this continued under the Cushman name until 1964 when the business was sold, thus completing a family business which lasted 78 years.”
– Burton Bromley, Foreman at the Cushman Company for over 50 years, in an essay published by the Bennington Museum
It began in 1886 manufacturing small “novelties,” then pivoted in the 1890’s towards home furnishings. By 1901 the company had developed a catalog of mission style furniture, which sold well for a decade or so.
With sales of mission furniture declining after 1910 or so, the company needed something new to bolster sales. In 1913, Will “W.H.C.” Cushman (son of Henry Theodore Cushman) designed the first “smoking stands.” These were incredibly popular for almost a decade before their practicality became outdated.
Facing declining sales of smokers and mission furniture, as well as the depths of the Great Depression, the H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company once again managed to reinvent itself. They were able to score a successful bid on dorm room furniture for some of the local colleges in Vermont, and that kept them alive during the late 1920’s.
In 1933, the company launched a collection of early American furniture inspired by the Colonial Revival movement of the late 1800’s. These new designs, produced by long-time employee Herman DeVrie, were branded as “Cushman Colonial Creations” and reinvigorated the company’s sales over the next 25 years. Cushman Colonial Creations featured turned wooden legs, solid hardwood construction, and traditional American craftsmanship.
The company was sold to General Industries in 1964 and then again to Green Mountain Furniture Co in 1971. Green Mountain Furniture Co went out of business in 1980, ending the 100+ year history of furniture making in the H.T. Cushman facility in Bennington, Vermont.
The furniture manufactured by Cushman is still highly valued and sought after today. There is a vibrant community of antique traders that specialize in buying and selling Cushman furniture. You can find antique Cushman furniture on Facebook or Craigslist.
Timeline of the Rise & Fall of Cushman Furniture
The company manufactured furniture with oak, maple, and birch and used a variety of wood finishes over time, including a proprietary lacquer & wax finish developed by Will Cushman. Here is a timeline of the history of Cushman Furniture.
- 1844: Henry Theodore “H.T.” Cushman born in Bennington, Vermont
- 1863: At the age of 19, H.T. Cushman enlists in the military for the Fourth Vermont Infantry and fights in the Civil War until late 1864
- 1864: Henry Cushman is disbanded from the Infantry and begins his entrepreneurial journey.
- Early 1870’s: Cushman begins making “novelties” in a small space adjacent to the public library.
- 1886: Henry Theodore Cushman founds the H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company.
- 1901: Cushman releases full line of mission style furniture
- 1913: William “W.C.H” Cushman designs a line of smoking stands that quickly take off in sales
- Late 1920’s: Cushman’s receives contract to build dorm room furniture for Bennington College
- 1933: “Cushman Colonial Creations,” inspired by early American furniture and the colonial revivalist movement is designed and launched by long-time employee Herman DeVries
- 1964: H.T. Cushman Manufacturing Company purchased by General Industries
- 1971: The Cushman factory equipment was purchased by Green Mountain Furniture Co.
- 1980: Green Mountain Furniture Co goes out of business.
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