When John Caswell and Winfred Runyan established the Caswell-Runyan Company in May 1907, they had no idea that their cedar chest business would grow to 1,500 employees, have a role in both world wars, and eventually gain a presence in most American homes, pool halls, and bars through the production of radio and television cabinets and jukeboxes by the time the company dissolved in 1956.
This 1920s pencil, which was made from the same Tennessee cedar as the company's other items, is the same bold turquoise with gold print as the labels affixed to their products, with a stately old font proclaiming "Caswell-Runyan Treasure Chests." It was during that era that business was booming and the company had grown to over 700 employees at the Huntington, Indiana factory. Imagine cups full of these pencils sharpened and placed around the office and production floor used to take orders and complete fulfillment forms, mark where to make cuts on the wood, and jot notes about important details that couldn’t afford to be swept away with the sawdust and wood scraps.
When Caswell and Runyan started the company, they had around 40 employees and no advertising budget. It was word of mouth that carried the news of these heirloom quality pieces far and wide and the company they started to build cedar chests, shirtwaist boxes, and shoeboxes grew. By 1911 (only four years after production started) they built a new facility - double in size. The increased capacity would be fully used during World War I. CR supplied ammo boxes and medical cases for the Navy and after the war refitted the machinery to produce peacetime offerings. After World War I, CR began building radio cabinets and expanded to furniture items and before long were selling floor lamps, telephone stands, and sewing cabinets.
In 1929, CR was acquired by Utah Radio Company which was based out of, you guessed it, Chicago. Although the company was now under new ownership the factory remained in Huntigton and continued to produce the cedar chests and an expanding line of furniture and radio cabinets.
CR stepped up once again to serve the military during WWII by refitting the factory machinery to build cluster bombs and most likely ammo boxes and medical cases again. In 1945, Detrola purchased Utah Radio, which included CR and its 1,500 employees at two factories. Although CR had been acquired again, they continued to produce their standard offerings and a few new items - cabinets for record players, jukeboxes, and televisions. Being owned by Detrola had its perks since CR was now producing the cabinets for the electronics made and sold by General Electric, Magnavox, RCA, Admiral, Crosley and others, their craftsmanship appeared in an growing number of American homes and businesses.
The Huntington factory closed in 1956, the contents were auctioned off, and the building was destroyed by a fire in 1962. Although Caswell-Runyan was acquired multiple times and refitted the factory twice to aid in war efforts they never stopped making the piece that started it all - cedar chests. Chances are you don't have one of these turquose Caswell-Runyan pencils, but we'd bet your mother or grandmother has one of their hope chests in the attic, made of the same cedar and built for the ages.