William J. Kennedy

Pages 324-326 - William J. Kennedy. When the potato famine swept Ireland, Andrew D. Kennedy, who was born there, left his native country to come to the United States. In New York state he found employment on the construction gangs building the Erie canal and in that work earned enough money to take him to this ultimate destination, a farm near Hastings, Barry county, Michigan. On this farm was born William J. Kennedy, his son, destined to be the head of one of the largest manufacturing enterprises of Grand Rapids. In 1889 William Kennedy set out for Grand Rapids, taking with him a fine team of horses. The animals he sold upon his arrival in Grand Rapids, and with this meager capital in hand he cast about for a likely investment. His education had carried him through two years at the University of Michigan, which he left after the death of his mother in 1884. His mental training therefore, was of the best and well calculated to take him to the heights which he later attained. He had the distinction of playing with the first football team that played outside the state of Michigan, which was the third year that they had a team. He learned when he began to search for a business in which to invest his money that Hubbard of the firm of Driggs and Hubbard, bed spring and mattress manufacturers, was willing to sell his interests in the company. To a competitor in the same business went young Kennedy to ask whether or not there was any prospect of making a success of the business. He received the reply that if he wished to starve to death he should enter that business. Such an answer aroused his fighting Irish blood, and he immediately returned to the little shop at Bridge (now Michigan) and Mount Vernon streets, where the necessary papers for the sale of Hubbardís interests to Kennedy were drawn up. The new partners, A. T. Driggs and William J. Kennedy, immediately changed the name to that of the Hot Blast Feather Company. From the establishment of the partnership and the injection of new blood into a stagnating firm, the business of the company began to revive and soon larger quarters were needed to accommodate the plant. The old Brush building then became the home of the company, but when still further expansion necessitated another change the partners bought the building in the rear of the Voight Mills in 1900. The company continued a partnership until 1903, when Mr. Kennedy bought out his partner, A. T. Diggs, and in December of that year incorporated the enterprise. The first officers of the corporation were: Lorenzo D. Field, president; William J. Kennedy, secretary-treasurer and general manager. Of the twelve men who made up the original organization, Tony Fox, Charles Verstay, Henry Stelwagon, and Theodore Fellmer, are still associated with the company. In 1905 the offices and the spring department of the plant were moved to a building at the corner of Pearl and Front streets. The products of the company at that time were mattresses, bed springs, and pillows. The territory forming a market for the companyís output was the entire state of Michigan and as the state grew the volume of trade expanded accordingly. In 1913 the name of the firm was changed to that of the Grand Rapids Bedding Company, and new officers were installed, William J. Kennedy becoming president; Aubrey T. Kennedy, vice-president; George Hollister, secretary, and Tony Fox, treasurer. The constant increase in the volume of the business required still another enlargement of quarters, and in 1914 the five-story brick building still owned by the company and located at 52-64 Summer street was purchased and occupied at once. Mr. Kennedy retired from the active management of the company, of which he had been the head for so many years in 1919, and took the position of chairman of the board of directors, his son Aubrey T., taking the presidency. Mr. Kennedy, the founder of the company, died December 17, 1922, bringing to a close one of the most interesting business careers carried to a rich fulfillment in Grand Rapids. His name as a business man was unimpeachable among his associates, and his achievement in building up the business that he did, stands as one of the prominent phases of the industrial development of Grand Rapids. Aubrey T. Kennedy, who is so ably filling the position left vacant by his father, was born in 1892 in Grand Rapids, where he attended the public and the Central high schools. When he had completed three years at the Michigan Agricultural college, he returned to Grand Rapids to enter his fatherís business. His business career was interrupted by the outbreak of the World war. Mr. Kennedy enlisted in the engineers corps but was transferred to the infantry as second lieutenant, soon afterward being promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. After his discharge from the army, he returned to Grand Rapids, where he resumed his duties with the company of which he soon became president. Like his father before him, he is regarded as one of the able young business executives of Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids Bedding Company now employs 115 men, and with the trade constantly growing, the officers of the company expect the size of the plant to be increased during the coming years. Mr. Kennedy married Amelia Martini, a native of Grand Rapids, a woman of great personal charm and beauty of character.

Transcriber: Nancy Myers
Created: 12 March 2003