Anna Sutherland Bissell

See GR/Businesses/Bissell

Anna Sutherland Bissell was, on her death in 1934 acclaimed as "a successful business woman in an era where business was almost wholly a masculine field." In addition to her significant achievements in business, Anna Bissell was involved actively in any project which attracted her interest and which she thought was important to the Grand Rapids community.

Her early journey toward her productive business and civic life began in DuPere, Wisconsin, where her family had settled after leaving Nova Scotia. She completed all the formal education available to her and became a teacher at the age of sixteen. At the age of nineteen, she married Melville R. Bissell and they settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan. From the beginning she was a joint partner in their crockery and china business. By 1871, looking for better business opportunities, they moved to Grand Rapids.

Melville invented the carpet sweeper in 1876 and Anna became a salesperson traveling from town to town selling the carpet sweepers for the price of $1.50. When in Philadelphia, she persuaded John Wanamaker to place the Bissell sweeper in his department stores. She was the one who organized the details of making, assembling and delivering orders for the sweepers.

When a fire struck the first manufacturing plant in 1884 she sought loans from local banks to keep going. On her handshake and good name she secured funding that enabled production to begin again within 20 days of the fire.

After Melvin Bissellís untimely death in 1889, Anna became chief executive officer of the corporation. During her long tenure as president, 1889-1919, and chair of the board, 1919-1934, she was known for her familiarity with all aspects of the business. She introduced progressive labor relations policies which include workmenís compensation insurance and pension plans, long before these practices were widespread. Her reputation for fairness and personal concern for individuals in her business cause a lasting loyalty in her employees.

Establishing new guidelines on trademarks and patents, she moved the company into the international market. By 1899 she had created the largest corporation in the world of its kind.

Anna was the mother of five children who cared for them as well as concerned herself with civic responsibilities. During her early years of widowhood, she coped with her grief by helping others less fortunate. One of these involvements was the Bissell House, a place for recreation and training programs for Grand Rapids youth and immigrant women.

She served on the board of the Blodgett Home for Children (now known as D. A. Blodgett Services for Children). She was involved in hospital work through the Union Benevolent Assn, the fledgling hospital, forerunner to the Blodgett Memorial Medical Center. Anna served on the board of Clark Memorial Home and also as the only member of the National Hardware Menís Assn.

At the time of Anna Sutherland Bissellís death, newspapers spoke of her as "a business executive without peer, a respected and beloved philanthropist, and a true matriarch in her family."

Transcriber: ES
Created: 22 Mar 2007