Leon (standing) with his father and brother in front of E.L. Bracket Lumber & Coal Company.
Whittier Wood Furniture is a family owned and operated business that, for the past 35 years, has handcrafted heritage-quality real wood furniture. But the connection to wood goes back much farther. For nearly 150 years our family has, in one way or another, worked with wood. And it’s this continued relationship combined with the Whittier legacy of honesty, integrity and passion that are evident in each and every piece of furniture we create and pass on to you.

In the beginning

The Whittier wood legacy begins nearly 150 years ago when, in 1867, Charles Whittier was hired by Uncle Ed Brackett to manage the newly formed E.L. Brackett Lumber and Coal Company. As the Farmington, Minnesota business grew, so did the Whittier family. Charles’s son Leon often accompanied him to the worksite, so when Leon graduated from high school, he followed his dad’s footsteps and went to work at Brackett’s. Soon thereafter, Leon was asked to manage the company’s lumberyard in Castle Rock, Minnesota.

Building success

Early on, Leon showed an entrepreneurial side. In 1921 he built a small space in one of the rear lumber sheds at Brackett Lumber in Castle Rock and started the Woodcraft Manufacturing Company. In that small enclosure he built hayracks, screen doors, footstools and even an outhouse for a local bank. Six years later Brackett’s was sold, so Leon moved back to Farmington where he found a warehouse large enough to accommodate his growing business. There, Leon built KD (knock-down or ready-to-assemble) Oak drawing tables for the Federal Art School. In 1932, the company expanded by also manufacturing wood cabinets and desks for Macy’s and other large department stores.

Great Lakes to Garden State

Woodcraft Manufacturing Company photograph printed in a 1941 Farmington newspaper.
Because most of his larger customers were based in the East, Leon opened a second Woodcraft Manufacturing Company in New Jersey in 1938 and turned the management of the Farmington, Minnesota plant over to Donald, his older brother. Soon afterward, Leon and his family moved east as well. By that time, sons Gordon and Bob were old enough to help out with the family business after school and on weekends. The boys soon realized that, along with being a great dad, Leon also was an incredible mentor. At the plant, Leon taught Gordon and Bob how to efficiently rip a piece of lumber as well as balance the books. More importantly, though, were the daily lessons on how to interact with others. In every instance, the sons saw their father treat people with respect, honor and dignity.

Duty calls

The US officially entered WWII December 8, 1941. Consequently, business, raw materials and able-bodied employees were scarce so the Woodcraft plants shut down for a few years. At that time, most young men went into the service, and the Whittier boys were no exception. Bob entered the Coast Guard and Gordon joined the Navy. Gordon wanted to become a pilot, but because he needed glasses to correct for 20/20 vision, he wasn’t able to travel that path. Instead, good grades in math and science opened doors to Purdue and Notre Dame where he learned how to teach electrical engineering to Navy cadets.

It was a good year

1945 was cause for celebration. WWII officially ended and Woodcraft resumed full scale operations. Also that year, Gordon married Ginger, his high school sweetheart. Like most newlyweds, they threw themselves into building their lives and family.

On the Oregon Trail

The first plant that Whittier Molding occupied.
In 1946 and ’47, Leon, Donald and Bob traveled west to purchase lumber. During these trips, they discovered Oregon was the best place to buy Ponderosa Pine, the main material used at their Woodcraft plants. Also on these trips the men fell in love with the friendly people and gorgeous wide-open spaces that defined the state. So in 1952 Gordon and Bob moved to Redmond, Oregon and opened Whittier Moldings, Inc. The company produced moldings for the two Woodcraft plants and, after establishing themselves, a growing number of other clients. In 1953 Leon sold the New Jersey plant and a couple of years later also moved to Redmond.

Planting Oregon roots

Gordon and Bob ran the Whittier Molding company as partners. During the day they operated machinery and at night balanced the books. One of their common goals was to rid the company of waste, whether it involved time, motion, materials or money. Gordon invented and patented several machines that improved ways to work with wood. One invention was an electronic lumber thickness gauge that tripled production at their plant while cutting costs by 90%. After it was patented, this particular gauge was widely accepted and used extensively in the softwood lumber business. The Whittiers were the first major producer of pine fingerjointed moldings. This tremendously improved the yield from the Knotty Pine lumber. Another way the Whittiers reduced waste was by recycling materials long before it became an accepted business practice. Not only were they ahead of their time by recycling, but they also believed in a progressive managerial style that influenced everything in the company. At the very heart of this system was the maxim, “Treat others as you would have them treat you.” They had faith that happy, satisfied workers helped create better product, better work conditions and better customer service.

Pine away

Bob, Leon, and Gordon Whittier.
In the late ’60s, the times—and lumber business—they were a-changing. Most of the pine mills in central Oregon had merged with the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company of Bend. Whittier Molding soon followed, and Gordon and Bob went to work for Brooks-Scanlon. But the Whittier brothers never were suit-and-tie corporate types, so after a while, both left to pursue other career interests outside of the pine business.

Eugene beckons

By the early ’70s, two of Gordon and Ginger’s six children had moved to Eugene, Oregon. Longing to live closer to their kids and grandkids, Gordon and Ginger relocated there as well. Being an entrepreneur and not satisfied to sit still for long, Gordon searched for an outlet for his boundless energy and passion for wood. He found it in a small but struggling manufacturing company that made furniture components out of American Alder hardwood. So in 1975, he purchased the business and Whittier Wood Products was born. Because he was a visionary and experienced lumberman, Gordon could see that Alder’s beauty, fine grain and ability to mimic more expensive woods made it an excellent material to use in fine furniture.

Early Whittier Wood Products

Gordon hired his son-in-law, Evert Slijper, and placed him in charge of sales. Due to a lot of hard work and a couple of opportune encounters, business blossomed from making chair components into a Ready-to-Assemble (RTA) and Ready-to-Finish (RTF) furniture manufacturing company. At first, unfinished solid wood furniture stores made up the bulk of Whittier’s customers. But over time, their clients included most of the nation’s major home improvement retailers and hardware stores.

The next generation

In 1980, Gordon’s son Scott joined the company. Just as his dad had helped out at the New Jersey plant, Scott pitched in where he was needed in Eugene. And through the years, Scott also learned the daily ins and outs of the business. In the early 1990s, Gordon turned the family business over to Scott and Evert. It was a good decision, because thereafter, Gordon was free to focus on his family and faith, two constants in his long, rich life. In 2005 he passed away peacefully, leaving a legacy of loving memories and enduring values.

Carrying the tradition forward

Whittier Wood Products, Eugene, Oregon.
Even though Gordon is no longer with us, his vision of offering real wood furniture to a wide audience is thriving. In 2007, Whittier Wood Products launched a fine furniture line under the Whittier Wood Furniture brand. Today, including the RTA/RTF collections, our company makes more than 500 models of furniture in two facilities. Company headquarters, production and a distribution center are located in Eugene, Oregon. An additional facility is located in Vietnam with state-of-the-art machinery, finishing equipment and five loading docks. Every operation is conducted in-house, giving us complete control over all phases of manufacturing and quality.

Promises kept

Whittier Wood has grown quite a bit since its humble beginnings in 1975 as an American Alder furniture component manufacturer. Even though over the years Whittier Wood has changed and evolved, one thing that has remained constant is the company’s commitment to producing high quality real wood furniture.

As the Whittier family heritage of integrity, quality, honesty and delivering on promises endures, Whittier Wood Furniture continues to grow, adapt and change to best serve its customers.