Haworth, Inc - Gerrard Wendell Haworth
by Dr. Janet Huchingson
Gerrard “G. W.” Wendell Haworth
G.W. Haworth (1911-2006) of Holland, Michigan, was the founder of one of the largest office furnishings companies in the world. He is a descendant of George Haworth the Immigrant through George’s son, James.
Gerrard Wendell Haworth
Elmer Cecil “Rex” Haworth and m. Clara Luella “Lulu” Jones
Moorman Clark Haworth and Clara Jane McConnell
Calvin Haworth and Rachael Haworth
Moorman Haworth and Elizabeth Murdock
John B. Haworth and Elizabeth Ballard
George Haworth and Susannah Dillon
James Haworth and Sarah Wood
George the Immigrant and Sarah Scarborough
G.W. was born on Oct. 9, 1911, 17 miles west of Allliance, Nebraska, to “Rex” Haworth (pronounced Hay-worth by the family) and wife Clara “Lulu” Jones. Both parents were from Ackworth, Iowa. When Rex was twenty-one, he was of legal age to qualify for homestead land through the Kincaid Act. He built a soddie, using poles for the roof that he had cut on his grandfather’s farm in Ackworth and shipped to Alliance. In 1907, the name Rex Haworth appears on the list of attendees at the Haworth Family Reunion, as does that of his mother. In 1910 Lulu, arrived in Alliance by train. They were married that day then rode in their buggy to the homestead. Their first child was G.W., and he was followed by three daughters. The family moved from Nebraska to Cheyenne Co. Colorado, where records in 1918 and 1920 indicate that Rex farmed. Then in 1926 the family moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where city directories and census records show Rex was a salesman and an auto-mechanic. The census for 1940 has not been found yet. Rex died in 1981, at the age of 96. He and his wife are buried in Crystal Springs Cemetery in Benton Township, Michigan.
G.W. attended high school high school in Benton Harbor and graduated from Western Michigan University. He took a job teaching industrial arts in Holland, Michigan, a position he held for eleven years. He married Dorcas Athelia Snyder, a young teacher in the Zeeland public schools. He received a masters in educational administration from the University of Michigan in 1940, but his dream was to have his own business, so in 1948, after banks would not lend him the money, he borrowed $10,000 of his parents’ life savings to expand a woodworking business he had started in his garage. He hoped to earn enough money to put his children – Joan, Julie, Lois, Mary, and Richard - through college. According to his daughter, Julie, “when he started his [own] business, he worked out of our garage, which was basically a ‘job shop’, which simply meant that he made anything anyone needed. An early job was to make moveable walls for an office area. That looked like a good idea to Dad, so he started down the road toward building office partitions and [then] furniture.”
This job may be the one referred to on the Haworth.com website: “1954 – A stranger strides into G.W.’s office, drops a set of drawings on his desk and asks, ‘Can you build these?’ The plans detail an innovative office partition system designed for the United Auto Workers headquarters in Detroit. G.W. agrees, wins the business, and the huge order catapults his company forward in both partitions and moveable wall products. He thinks, ‘I could build a business around this type of product’ and does.” The first business was named Modern Products. It was later changed to Haworth, Inc.
In 1976, G. W. remained active in the company but turned the operation of the business over to his son Richard, who introduced a complete line of office workplace products. After the death of his wife, he remarried in 1978 to Edna “Eddie” Dyke. By the late 1980s the company expanded its marketing through North America, Europe and Asia, in part by acquiring 25 foreign companies. Haworth Inc. reached $1 billion in annual revenue by 1994 and doubled that by 2000. That year the company bought some architectural interior companies, so it could go beyond furniture to complete interiors. Three years later Haworth purchased two other businesses, which further strengthened the company’s production of office and workplace solutions. The company’s size grew by 400%.
G.W. retired completely in 2005. He died in 2006 at the age of 95 and is buried in Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland, Michigan. Before his death he received the Western Michigan University Distinguished Alumni Award, an honorary doctorate from Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, the Entrepreneur of the year by the University of Michigan Business School, and was named Michigan Manufacturer of the year by the Michigan Manufacturers” Association. He and his son Richard were awarded Doctors of Human Letters by Hope College in 2013.
Over the years, G.W., the company, and his family have been contributors to: a scholarship fund for Haworth Inc. employees and families, the Western Michigan University’s school of business for new facilities, the Haworth Inn and Conference Center at Hope College in Holland, Western Theological Seminary, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland, and many other worthy causes.
Haworth Inc. is headed today by G.W.’s grandson, Matthew. It has 7,000 employees, 20 factories, a network of 600 dealers in 120 countries.
Contents of this biography came from Julia Falconer (daughter), Paul DeWitt (nephew), the Haworth, Inc. website, Wikipedia, Hope College, U.S. census records and city directories. The following links provide further information, photos, videos, and obituaries.
Haworth, Inc - Company History (link to attached page)
- this is part of a speech by G. W. Haworh
- describes the award to father and son and includes a photo of each
- an obituary website that includes a life story film
- the company’s Facebook page
- enter Gerrard Wendell Haworth in the archive search
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