A Brief History

Of

Leopold Desk Company

Established in

Burlington, Iowa

 

The company was incorporated in 1886 as the Northwestern Furniture Company. The name was changed to The Rand & Leopold Desk Company. And finally the name evolved to Leopold Company. During this period, the officers of the company remained the same: C. W. Rand, President, Carl A. Leopold, Secretary, Treasurer and Manager. The product of the company was originally book cases and side boards. In the prime of the company, the products were office desks with a capacity of 30,000 desks per year. Desks were shipped to all parts of the world. As a note, the largest percentage of the foreign business was to South Africa.

   
 

Comments from John Roth

In researching this company, I feel that this company created very high quality desks and associated office furniture. I have a early 1900 roll top and two 1950s executive desks and can see the craftsmanship.

As a young man in high school, (1958), my high school wood shop class had a tour of the Leopold production plant. I will always remember the large presses that pressed the desk tops and legs to make very solid surfaces. Desk top stock was pressed from 2 inch sheets down to 1 inch, while legs were pressed from 3 inch sheets to 2 inch stock. The results from this process is called densified wood. If you have a desk, you will agree that the desks have a hard surface and are very heavy.

In reading a 1957 news clip from the local Burlington paper, I can see the issues Leopold was facing. The native oak and maple, used in their products, were purchased from local farmers. The wood was machined to board lumber and sent to Herkimer, NY for processing, I think they provided a special drying process. Then the wood was returned to Burlington for the manufacturing of desks. This had to be expensive.

The other issue was the labor needed to manufacture the desks. Skilled cabinetmaker craftsmen were used to make the desks. With the long history of the company, many of the original craftsmen were retiring and the wages were not large enough to attract new apprentices so the company was facing a serious labor wage problem. Desk prices had to go up or the company was going to lose money.

Continued reading from the 1957 news clip, at that time, Leopold employed around 200 people and annually manufactured 30,000 desks that yielded about $ 30M in sales. That would be about 125 desks per day. These numbers are from a reported meeting of Leopold executives at the Lions club meeting honoring local industries. If you use these numbers, a desk cost $ 1,000. These desks would be the executive desk as shown in the photo above.

The company lost it original manufacturing site to the construction of highway 34 in the early 1970s.

Due to mounting losses, the Joyce company closed Leopold on March 3rd, 1990, a tragic loss to hand-crafted desks. Today, technology driven, automated manufacturing, laminated based plastic desks are what you can expect. Hold on to your Leopold desks and a piece of Burlington, Iowa history!

Examples of Desk Prices

 

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