Storied collections in Ward County: Kochs factory history recalled in barber chair

Submitted Photo A 1909 wooden barber chair is a new arrival at the Ward County Historical Society’s Pioneer Village.

One of the new arrivals at the Pioneer Village, run by the Ward County Historical Society, located between Minot and Burlington along Highway 2 & 52, is a 1909 wooden (oak) barber chair.

Made at the Theo A. Kochs factory in Chicago, Illinois, it was one of nine models built. This particular barber chair, that is in great condition, was donated to us by the Gar Wiedrich family, Rolla, N.D. It now becomes a valued historical artifact located in our Barber Shop building.

At the 1893 World’s Fair, a Chicagoan by the name of A. B. Moler launched the modern age of hair styling with the first barber college. The trade then, through The Moler Manual of Barbering, would be responsible for standardizing much of the industry, including licensing.

Long before the launch of hair styling standards at the World’s Fair, though, but after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Theo A Kochs built his bustling River North factory, the Koch Co., and produced or warehoused just about every imaginable piece of barberalia. Kochs played an important role in advancing both the functional and aesthetic quality of American barbershops and beauty parlors. No longer was the tradition of having a gambling hall vibe of the typical Civil War-era haircutters. Kochs’ goal wasn’t just to pamper the customer, but to create a cohesive style within the barber shop, one more akin to a wealthy gentleman’s club.

The quality of Kochs barber chairs, like the one we will now display, was what ultimately kept the Kochs name relevant for over 70 years. The Kochs calling card from the very beginning was its line of patented, reclining barbers chairs. The chair was the centerpiece of any hair salon. Gone would be the rigid and straight chairs of the past. The new barber chairs of

America would recline back. Why? For shaving, the customer is in the most favorable position when swung so far into the horizontal that both cheeks and the underside of the chin present almost vertical surfaces. To combine two activities, shaving and haircutting, the chair became movable and adjustable.

Our barber chair was in design transition at the time. By 1903, the hydraulic age was in full effect and many models of the Kochs chair went from having legs in favor of a pedestal base design. The chair our visitors will admire has the legs of old and the hydraulics of new in that era. With one lever located on the right side, the chair can rotate, adjust up and down and

recline. By 1909 the Kochs Co. had more pedestal design models than leg models. Another profession, I might add, that used these hydraulic patented chairs was dentistry.

I close with a timeline to this popular barber chair manufacturer:

Prior to 1871 – Theo A Kochs was a pharmacist but lost his business to the Great Chicago Fire.

1871 – Theo A Kochs changed his business model and entered manufacturing barber equipment.

1883 – The Kochs Co. growth forced building of a new headquarters to create factory space.

1885 – A fifth floor to the factory was added because of more growth.

1887 – An adjoining lot was acquired and an addition added to the original factory.

1890 – Factory was again enlarged, making a total floor space of almost two acres.

1900 – 250 men employed in the manufacture of barbers’ chairs and other barber items.

1920s – Kochs Co. was one of three top names in barber supplies globally.

1924 – Theo A Kochs dies at the age of 74. His estate, valued in today’s dollars, was $11 million.

1930 – Robert T. Kochs, Theo’s son and company president, dies at the age of 53.

1931 – Walter Juede, former company secretary, heads company and pushes Art Deco styles.

1940 – Theo A. Kochs Co. files for bankruptcy and its outfitted five-story factory is auctioned.

Our visitor season starts May 17, and we look forward to showing off the Kochs barber chair.

Wednesday through Saturday, our hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.


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