New Albany, Miss., Sept. 14, 1948: The first spadeful of earth was turned here yesterday for a new factory and what could be a major new industry in Northeast Mississippi – a 55,000-square-foot factory named the Stratford Company that will make upholstered reclining chairs and employ 50 people to start.
Morris Futorian, 41, a successful manufacturer of custom-made furniture in Chicago, has come to New Albany with an entirely new furniture manufacturing plan. Some people call his idea “crazy.” Futorian shrugs and says “We’ll see.”
His “crazy” idea is this: After spending some time in Detroit, watching how automakers assembled their cars down an assembly line, Futorian feels furniture manufacturers can do the same thing – make furniture on an assembly line.
Skeptics understand that upholstered furniture can be made faster utilizing this assembly line method, but those same skeptics ask, “Where’s the market?” Right now, retail furniture stores are only buying a few pieces of upholstered furniture at a time. Futorian feels those same furniture retailers will buy dozens and dozens of pieces of upholstered furniture – even entire boxcar loads – if they understand how the furniture market is changing here in the U.S. after World War II. He thinks furniture retailers will buy all he can make.
A lot of citizens in New Albany have bought into Futorian’s futuristic furniture ideas. They have put up the money to build his new plant out on West Bankhead. But, Futorian insists it isn’t just his great deal on getting the plant, or the readily available hardwood in the area that brought him down to Mississippi from Illinois. He says it is also the people – the workers he will hire at Stratford.
Futorian sees a potential stable work force here. He says workers in this area are intelligent and hungry for jobs. As people traditionally involved in farming, Mississippians, he believes, have learned to be inventive in surviving off Mother Nature. Now, he says, they just have to transfer that inventiveness to the furniture-making process. Futorian feels the workers in Mississippi have a Christian work ethic and that makes them work hard and be loyal.
Life has not always been easy for Futorian. He and his parents came to the United States from Russia in 1923, when Morris was 15 years old. He did not speak a word of English when he arrived. His parents put him in kindergarten when they settled in Chicago, so he could learn English quickly and correctly. Morris studied hard, learned English, as well as his other subjects, and was placed all the way up to the 7th grade after just six short months of being in school.
Futorian got a job in Chicago’s furniture industry when he was still in high school, starting out in upholster repair. At age 27, though – during the Great Depression in 1934 – he bravely opened his first furniture manufacturing plant in Chicago. He built it up over the next 14 years to a 50,000-square-foot operation.
And now he has come to New Albany armed with new ideas, with a new work force, within a state that has never built mass-marketed furniture.
All that takes a clearly defined dream, strong determination and a passionate drive. Morris Futorian has all three. We wish him well.
Morris Futorian certainly had confidence he would be successful with his assembly line idea for making furniture, but it is doubtful that even he – in the beginning – thought he would unleash such a powerful economic force in this area 62 years ago.
He had many names over the decades, like “the Henry Ford of Furniture” or “The Father of the Furniture Industry in Mississippi,” and, perhaps, never stated but clearly known, he became “The Teacher” for many local furniture entrepreneurs who worked for him at one time.
Such furniture companies as Action Industries, Brookwood, PeopLoungers, Benchcraft and Barclay were all started by young men who learned to make furniture from Futorian.
At the furniture industry’s zenith in Northeast Mississippi in the late 1990s, there were some 200 furniture plants, employing more than 22,000 people, selling nearly one billion dollars worth of furniture a year. Now, that’s a legacy.
Futorian’s philosophy of work and life were the same: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But, according to some who knew him well, like all of us, Futorian often failed to live up to that Golden Rule.
As a consequence, his human imperfections often defined him more than his strengths. But no one can deny his economic contribution to Northeast Mississippi.
Futorian died in January 1994, in Highland Park, Ill., at age 86. He is, or should be, a definite part of all our Southern Memories.
Send your ideas by mail to: Southern Memories, c/o Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and phone number.
JUDD HAMBRICK / Special to the Daily Journal