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If a list of the main residents of Manistee is ever compiled, Stacy Thompson would likely be at the top of the list.

A sample of his various activities shows that he was a man of a bit of everything including: law, real estate, printing / publishing, politics, business and invention. In the early 1910s, Thompson patented the interchangeable garment rack. At the height of its popularity, the rack would become a commonly used item in countless homes.

Originally born in Pennsylvania in 1856, Thompson arrived in Manistee in April 1870. As a teenager, Thompson worked as a printer and quickly learned the printing and publishing trade. One of his first inventions was an automatic postage meter for the local newspaper, the Manistee Advocate.

By 1890 Thompson had entered the real estate business, dealing with urban and agricultural properties. A few years later he became involved in local politics and in 1907 was elected a member of the Michigan Legislature. 1912 was a busy year for Thompson as he not only became an Estates Judge, but he also patented an interchangeable clothes drying mechanism that would provide him with another business opportunity.

After working hard for a while, Thompson, along with his partner HK Randall, came up with an idea for a unique wooden interchangeable clothes rack that could be used for four purposes:

• A clothes dryer (with 150 linear feet of drying space);

• A hat and coat tree (with circular holes / pegs);

• A removable central table; and

• A box with a handle to store all the appendages used.

In September 1913, after some modifications were made to the original device and another patent was issued, Thompson and Randall decided to open a small factory in Manistee that would be able to produce the racks. The company, known as the Manistee Clothes Rack Company, was quickly established on the corner of Washington and Meacham Street (now St. Mary’s Parkway) in the former Manistee Emery wheel factory. An article published in the Manistee Daily News on October 25, 1913 provides a description of the factory as well as the prices of the device:

“The factory building is 30 feet by 60 feet and the company occupies two floors, which provides a considerable amount of space. A ten-horsepower Weber gasoline engine provides the motive power, and specially designed machines have been installed to produce their product.

“The different outfits are strong and durable and are well finished.

“Thanks to the well-appointed factory and the installation of special machines for its manufacture, management is able to market the valuable piece of furniture at a low price of $ 5 for the complete set, or $ 3. for the hair dryer, hat and coat tree combination.

A brochure describing the clothes rack included some quotes from local women who were happy with the new appliance. These quotes are as follows:

“-Mrs Jas. L. Henchy, wife of Sheriff Henchy, says:

“I am very satisfied with the combination clothes dryer etc. you have purchased. Once the device is in the family, the family will never want to part with it. It fits well, holds a large amount of laundry and takes up little space.

“- Mrs. James Murray, wife of the jeweler, says:

“I think your clothes rack is the best device ever to dry clothes indoors. They are worth many times their cost. The other features of the suit are all unique and usable. ‘”

Six months later, the factory was thriving both locally and nationally, as more than 400 racks had been built and some of them sold in five other states.

The company continued to manufacture clothes racks at the Washington Street site until 1918, when company executives decided to have the device manufactured by the American Woodenware Company on Sixth Avenue. An article published in the Manistee Daily News on December 31, 1918 provides a brief description of the change:

“The new rack, which is a simple and practical household utility, will be manufactured in Manistee by the American Woodenware Company, to be marketed at an extremely low price – $ 5. The American Woodenware Company is already producing it in large quantities, and the new company, having developed an extensive sales campaign, is now establishing agencies across the country.

In 1921, the Manistee Clothes Rack Company transformed into the Excelsior Clothes Rack Company, with Thompson continuing to oversee operations as the president of the company. The rack was made from the American Woodenware factory on Sixth Avenue until 1924, when operations were finally discontinued.

Thompson died in May 1944, at the age of 88. Upon his death, he is survived by: two sons, three daughters, 13 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and the discovery of an interchangeable wooden clothes rack which became a unique moment on the list of his many achievements.

Mark Fedder is the Executive Director of the Manistee County Historical Museum. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at 231-723-5531.

MORE FROM THE MUSEUM ARCHIVES

• Find out which factory Manistee said “No girl will be employed in the factory”

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