Introduction: The American Dream


Moritz Karpen’s father had been a cabinet-maker as had his grandfather and his great grandfather before him. Their prestige as cabinet-makers in their little world corresponded to the prestige of the name Karpen in the great furniture world of today.  —Chicago Furniture Manufacturers Association. “The Story of Karpen.” Chicago: Chicago Furniture Manufacturers Association, August 26, 1930.

On August 26, 1930, two hundred seventy five “furniture men” gathered in the Congress Hotel, Chicago to honor S. Karpen & Bros. on its 50th Anniversary. Five of the original nine brothers attended the grand event. How proud Solomon, Oscar, Adolph, Mike, and Leo Karpen must have felt—for their story was the American Dream.

After assembling in the Gold Room where the guests were entertained by the Chicago Concert Co. and an elegant dinner was served. Until 11:00 o’clock, salesmen, dealers, and manufacturers entertained the group with stories of the early days of the furniture industry in Chicago and Karpen Bros. The eldest brother and the founder, Solomon Karpen, spoke about the beginning of the company and his “hopes for carrying on of furniture through the generations.”[1]

The brothers most likely put aside their very real concerns about the future of their company for this was 1930, to remember the meaningful their memories of their past. Surely they would have remembered their four brothers who did not live to enjoy this moment of success. Their lives were cut short by epidemics, a tragic accident, and disease. Their thoughts then might have wandered far from the festivities—

Leo, 60, might have re-lived the baseball game between the Karpen Family Team and the Lennon Family Team that became part of baseball lore.

Mike, 64, might have traveled back to his early trips to the west and his beloved summer home on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Adolph, 70, would have looked with pride on the expansion of the small upholstery workshop to a huge company with real estate and diversified companies.

Oscar, 71, might have mused about the early days when his artistic skills produced prize-winning furniture at the Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in 1893 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.

And Solomon, 72, would have recalled his early years thousands of miles away as a little boy in the Prussian town of Wongrowitz —where the story of S. Karpen & Bros. began.

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  1. The Furniture World, (04 September 1930), 49.