The Jasper Corporation * Kimball Piano * From Music Room to the Office * Going Public: Kimball International * From Organs to High-Tech: Kimball Electronics * Moving Forward * Sharpening Kimball's Focus
The Jasper Corporation
Above, left to right, Kimball founders Arnold F. Habig, A.C. Sermersheim, Ray F. Schneider and Herb E. Thyen (1951).
Below, TV cabinets and various tables made by The Jasper Corporation, as displayed at a home furniture show (circa 1955).
The global corporation known today as Kimball International began as a small contract furniture manufacturing company called The Jasper Corporation. Founded in 1950 by Arnold F. Habig and located in the small, southern Indiana town of Jasper, the company began as a contract manufacturer of residential furniture and television cabinets.
In 1949, Mr. Habig led a small group of investors in the purchase of a struggling local company known as Midwest Manufacturing. In that year, the company had sales of a mere $152,163. Reorganized and renamed The Jasper Corporation, the company ended the year 1950 with sales of $748,000 and the promising potential for even stronger growth.
Anticipating the growth of a great new phenomenon called television, the company's founders led the young operation into the manufacturing of plywood and high-quality veneered television cabinets and hi-fi stereo phonograph cabinets. The new company was soon making products for a number of well-known American brands.
In 1952, the company made its first acquisition, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer, and Kimball began a process of self-funded growth and strategically adding and expanding production capabilities to broaden its scope. Throughout the 1950s, a number of steps were taken to strengthen a system of vertical integration, a key factor in Kimball's long-term success. Vertical integration meant the company was largely self-sufficient in every aspect of wood manufacturing, from raw materials to production to marketing and distribution.
Television cabinet production line at
The Jasper Corporation (1954).
However, with an eye to growing the company, Mr. Habig began looking for a product or company to acquire which could provide more production stability, increase diversity and create even more growth potential. To best utilize employees' skills, it was felt the end product must be made primarily of wood.
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In 1959, the W.W. Kimball Company, a century-old piano maker, was purchased from the last remaining Kimball family heir by Mr. Arnold F. Habig, becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Jasper Corporation.
Before delving into the significance of Kimball Piano to Kimball International, here are some interesting facts about the piano maker prior to being bought by The Jasper Corporation.
Above, people file into the Kimball Piano plant in West Baden, Indiana, during the company's grand opening (1961). Below, company executives Ron Thyen and John Habig pose with the 500,000th piano produced in West Baden (1978).
- William Wallace Kimball founded the W.W. Kimball Piano Company in 1857 in Chicago.
- The original W.W. Kimball piano factory was located at 26th and California Streets in Chicago. Destroyed by fire with the loss of many historical records, a new factory was later built in Melrose Park, Illinois.
- The Kimball piano factory was one of the largest manufacturing operations in the world, with rail lines running through the facility, dropping off raw materials and picking up finished pianos for shipment.
- Kimball was the world's largest piano manufacturer from the late 1800s until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Despite pursuing War Department contracts to manufacture needed items for the war effort during World War II, the company was never able to fully recover.
Prior to Mr. Habig purchasing the company in 1959, the piano company had slipped to seventh place in global rankings of piano makers. At the time it was purchased, W.W. Kimball Company was producing only 15-25 pianos per day in Melrose Park, Illinois.
Piano production was relocated to the small, southern Indiana town of West Baden, Indiana, where the company was rejuvenated and once again began to grow. Ten years after the purchase, Kimball was once again the world's largest piano company.
At its peak during the 1960s and 1970s, the company was manufacturing approximately 100,000 pianos and organs per year, remaining true to the piano company's original sales slogan, "Music For The Millions." Kimball produced 250 pianos and 150 electronic organs per day.
This success further fueled the growth of The Jasper Corporation into other markets. Based on the quality reputation associated with the Kimball name, the company developed other product lines: office furniture, home furniture and electronics.
As society changed and other means of electronic entertainment came on the scene, the market for pianos and organs began to shrink. Many piano companies went bankrupt. The global market for pianos shrank to a number less than what Kimball alone produced in a single year. In February 1996, the Board of Directors of Kimball International approved a resolution to cease piano manufacturing operations and align those resources into the company's contract furniture and cabinets group.
The last Kimball grand piano to be produced was autographed by every piano worker, as well as every executive, and remains on display in the Kimball International Corporate Showroom in Jasper, Indiana.
Because of their quality construction and craftsmanship, many fine Kimball pianos are still in use in homes and schools and found on the used instrument and collector piano markets.
Above, the company opened its first office furniture
manufacturing plant in
Borden, Indiana (1972).
Above, electronic organ production at
the Jasper plant (circa late-1970s).
Above, Kimball Electronics meets
the high-tech needs of a diverse
customer base in today's
Daily review of performance metrics and
open communications ensures everyone
is in sync with business performance.
From the music room to the office
In 1970, the Kimball name was synonymous with pianos and music. But that was about to change. At the beginning of the 1970s, the company decided to manufacture and market office furniture under the Kimball brand name. This strategic decision profoundly affected the company's future. Upon its introduction, Kimball Office quickly achieved success in the marketplace, building a reputation for fine craftsmanship, high-quality products and quick delivery. Kimball Office also implemented its own incentive trip program, patterned after the extremely successful dealer program in use for many years by Kimball Piano and Organ.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Kimball again expanded its influence in the office furniture market. National Office Furniture was formed to service the large mid-market segment. In 1985, Kimball Office introduced workplace systems to address the growing open-plan office furniture design standards.
Today, Kimball Office and National are recognized as leaders in the office furniture industry.
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Going Public: Kimball International
In July 1974, The Jasper Corporation, parent company of Kimball Piano, changed its name to Kimball International, in part because of the strength and reputation of the Kimball brand name. The company made its initial public offering (IPO) of 500,000 shares of common stock in September 1976, becoming a publicly-held company and trading on the NASDAQ Exchange under the ticker symbol KBALB.
From Organs to High-Tech: Kimball Electronics
In 1961, in conjunction with the relocation of Kimball piano production from Illinois to Indiana, the company formed Jasper Electronics Manufacturing Company to develop and produce Kimball organs for the home entertainment market.
Just as the company rode the wave of the television revolution in the 1950s, Kimball took advantage of a prime opportunity to develop a whole new set of customer relationships in the electronics technology revolution of the 1980s. Already firmly established in the market, Kimball diversified its contract electronics business. As electronic organ production phased out, Kimball took advantage of many of the processes already in place from organ production and created Kimball Electronics.
Today, Kimball Electronics’ capabilities in design, engineering and quality assurance meet the customer's critical needs in the medical, automotive, industrial and public safety technology markets.
The challenges of global competition, changing markets and a softened economy in the early 2000s were met head on by Kimball International, as the company adapted and kept moving forward. A company-wide restructuring and business consolidation was announced in 2001 to reduce excess capacity in manufacturing operations and improve performance results. Kimball exited the metal stamping, polyurethane plastics, contract store fixtures and dimension wood products portions of its business. In 2003, while remaining clearly focused on its strategic vision, Kimball announced and executed a careful plan to exit non-core markets and to divest several unprofitable business operations. The company ceased marketing of its Kimball branded residential furniture and exited the wood veneer slicing business.
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Sharpening Kimball's Focus
Adaptability has been a hallmark of Kimball International. It has also been a proven competitive advantage.
Historically, Kimball's furniture segment had operated in a decentralized organizational model that supported many diversified businesses in a variety of markets. In 2005, Kimball announced a business model change. The company realigned its furniture segment manufacturing and marketing into one streamlined and integrated organization, focused on serving customers in only the office furniture and hospitality markets. The new model focused on simplification and standardization of business processes, improving management alignment and reducing cost structures in support of a strategy to enable segment growth.
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Kimball International's Corporate Headquarters
is located in Jasper, Indiana.
By 2006, Kimball had clearly sharpened its focus on two market segments: commercial office furniture and contract electronics. After 56 years of continuous production, the company manufactured its last TV cabinet. This event brought the end of an era in Kimball's history by effectively ending the company's involvement in contract manufacturing of non-Kimball furniture products.
In its Electronic Manufacturing Services segment, Kimball further expanded its global footprint of operations in Europe and Asia to service its worldwide customers. While retaining its reputation as a leader in automotive electronics, Kimball actively diversified its business in the medical, automotive, industrial, and public safety market sectors.
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