Ralph H. Widdicomb

Page 556-557 - Ralph H. Widdicomb, the vice-president and secretary of the John Widdicomb Company, one of the important furniture manufacturing corporations of Grand Rapids, is a scion of the third generation of the Widdicomb family in this city and of one whose name has stood for large achievement and influence in connection with the great furniture industry that has brought world-fame to Grand Rapids. In his business ability, his civic loyalty and all other relations of life, Ralph H. Widdicomb is well upholding the prestige of an honored family name, and he is essentially one of the representative men of affairs in his native city, his birth having occurred here January 26, 1873. He is a son of Harry E. and Maria (Hewitt) Widdicomb, and is a grandson of George Widdicomb, who was born and reared in Exeter, England, where the family name is still one of no minor prominence, through it contemporary representatives. George Widdicomb became a skilled workman at the trade of cabinet-maker, as he had served a thorough apprenticeship under the careful methods that marked this mechanic art in the period of his youth, in England. He learned to manufacture by hand the finest types of cabinet work, and his marked mechanical talent gave him facility in designing and inventing, especially along the line of furniture production. In 1845, in company with his wife and their four sons, George Widdicomb came to the United States and in 1856 he established his residence in Grand Rapids, which was then little more than a village, with lumbering operations and the mining of the gypsum that early gained a goodly measure of industrial fame to the future city, under the name of "Grand Rapids plaster." George Widdicomb opened a modest cabinet shop at the east end of Bridge street, and his business had assumed substantial proportions at the time when the Civil war was precipitated on the nation. All four of the sons, who had constituted the working force of the original Widdicomb factory, enlisted for service as soldiers of the Union, and this, coupled with the business depression that existed during the period of the war, brought financial and industrial disaster to the Widdicomb manufacturing enterprise, the honored founder of the business having died within a short time after the close of the war. William, John and Harry Widdicomb became associated after the war in establishing a small furniture manufacturing business, and these skilled mechanics labored earnestly to develop their business, though they met with many obstacles and discouragements in the earlier period. The enterprise gradually expanded in scope and importance, and in 1869, upon the admission of Theodore F. Richards to partnership, the firm name became Widdicomb Brothers & Richards. The high grade of products that has at all times been recognized in connection with the name of Widdicomb, proved fruitful in the upbuilding of a prosperous business, and in 1873, as a matter of commercial expediency, the Widdicomb Furniture Company was incorporated. This company had much to do with bringing Grand Rapids to the forefront in the manufacturing of furniture, and its operations were of extensive order at the time when it met serious financial reverses incidental to the panic of 1893. It was about this time that John Widdicomb withdrew from the company, and in 1897 he founded the John Widdicomb Company, which has grown to be one of the large and important furniture concerns of the city, and with which Ralph H. Widdicomb, of this review, has been closely associated during the greater part of his active business career, he being now vice-president and secretary of the company. Harry Widdicomb, father of Ralph H., was born at the old family home in Exeter, England, and came with his parents to Grand Rapids in 1856, the family having immigrated to the United States in 1845, and the original home in this country having been in the state of New York. Harry Widdicomb eventually returned to the old Empire state, as indicated by the fact that in 1870 his marriage to Miss E. Maria Hewitt was there solemnized, Mrs. Widdicomb having been born and reared in New York state and having come as a bride to Grand Rapids in 1870. Of the three children, the subject of this review is the only survivor, the first born, Elsie, having died when about seven years of age, and the youngest of the three having been Watts, who died at the age of about twenty-one years. After completing his studies in the Grand Rapids public schools, Ralph H. Widdicomb, in 1892, found employment in the factory of  the Widdicomb Furniture Company, where he was able to develop his natural talent in the designing of artistic furniture. He became a designer of remarkable originality and versatility, and his talent along this line has been of great value in developing the extensive business of the company of which he is now the secretary and vice-president, and with which in the capacity of chief designer, he became identified at the time of its organization, in 1897. He has held this duel office since the death of his uncle, John Widdicomb, who was the founder of the business, as previously noted in this context. Mr. Widdicomb is an enthusiast and expert in hunting and fishing, his predilection for outdoor sports having been fostered by his father, who likewise was an enthusiastic sportsman. Mr. Widdicomb is an active member of the Kent Country Club and the Highlands Golf Club, besides having membership in the Peninsular Club, an old and representative social and business organization in his home city. August 24, 1921, Mr. Widdicomb was untied in marriage to Mrs. Nelfa (Minogue) O’Brien, of Grand Rapids, she being a daughter of John Minogue of this city, and her two children by her former marriage being Bernadine and Kathleen, who have been given the Widdicomb surname.

Transcriber: Nancy Myers
Created: 29 January 2004