JENSEN: Industry of the Past: Thompson Cabinet Company | News

Like all other aspects of our community, local industry has undergone transitions in response to changing economic factors beyond local control. One of these companies, Thompson Cabinet Company, provided products to support the printing industry; an industry that itself has undergone major changes over the past century. The Thompson Cabinet Company factory, now vacant and showing its age, is located on the shore of Lake Pere Marquette on the aptly named Lake Street in Ludington.

The Thompsons

The first member of the Thompson family to visit Ludington was probably Halvor Torstensen Thompson (1849-1922), a native of Norway and owner and captain of the schooner Mariner. It left the port of Manitowoc and made frequent stops at ports in western Michigan.

His son Theodor A. Thompson (1874-1930), generally referred to as TA Thompson in fashion, arrived in Ludington in 1910 to take up the post of general manager of Tubbs Manufacturing, a company operating in the type printing industry. He would later hold various management positions for the Stearns companies in Ludington. TA founded the Thompson Cabinet Company in 1925.

Edward John Thompson Sr. (1896-1987) took over management of the plant when his father TA died in 1930. While born in Wisconsin, Edward Thompson, Sr. lived most of his lived in Ludington and was very active in the community, including becoming mayor of the town in 1938. He married twice; first to Myrtle Bowen (1902-1977) then to Nellie Kristine Johnson (1917-2010). The Myrtle B. Thompson Hall at West Shore Community College is named for the first Mrs. Edward J. Thompson, Sr.


A series of factories were located on the site of the now vacant Thompson Cabinet Company building on Lake Street, two blocks west of Washington Avenue. Cartier, Chapman and Company operated out of a two-story building at this location, manufacturing wagons and sleighs into the first decade of the 20th century. Local historian James Cabot wrote in his informative book Ludington 1830-1930, “The factory then produced wooden lawn and porch furniture until 1919. It was occupied by the Monroe Body Company, makers of steel automobile bodies, from 1920 until it burned down on November 15. , 1922.

In 1925 the City of Ludington, now the owner of the burned building, leased the site to TA Thompson and his partner for 15 years when they formed the Thompson Cabinet Company. This partner was Ladimer G. Jebavy (1880-1964) who later sold his 50% stake in the company to Thompson, as reported in the October 28, 1928 edition of the Ludington Daily News.

Thompson used some of the remaining burnt-out structure and also made major renovations and additions to the factory. In 1930, Thompson offered to purchase the property from the city. After lengthy discussions among town officials, support from the local business community, and a vote by Ludington residents (the referendum passed with a vote of 663 in favour, 219 against), the sale was finalized.

Thompson Cabinet Company produced specialty wood and metal cabinets primarily for the printing industry. In 1933, his list of clients included publishers Christian Science Publishing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and American Color Plate Company; schools like Boy’s Industrial School in New York, Boy’s Technical School in Milwaukee, and Oswego State Normal School in New York; and government agencies like the United States Navy and Sing Sing Prison in New York State.

The expanded factory quickly became a fixture in Ludington. In 1936, the name “LUDINGTON” was painted on the roof of the building to guide planes to the city. The company became a major supplier to the military during World War II in the 1940s. The company continued to expand and modernize its facilities. The catalog of manufactured products soon reached 180 pages. Some of the products used patented components and techniques developed by Edward Thompson.

The company faced challenges; labor tensions increased in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s,

imported products greatly increased competitive pressures and, most importantly, the printing industry itself was changing.


When the Thompson Cabinet Company was established nearly a century ago, the printing industry was still using individual characters; a character on a piece of metal. The products produced in the Thompson factory have greatly facilitated the storage, sorting and placement of these types of printers.

In the latter part of the 20th century, however, first type lines (letter sections) and then printing plates began to be used. The demand for specialized cabinets to handle individual type parts has declined significantly, as has the demand for Thompson cabinets. With the rapid development of computer-aided printing in the last decades of the last century, the fate of Thompson Cabinet Company was effectively sealed. The company ceased operations at the end of the century. The factory is vacant today; a reminder of what was once one of Mason County’s main industries.

This article, like the others provided biweekly by the Mason County Historical Society, is based on materials donated to the Society’s archives. Because the Society is an organization controlled by many members of the community, and has been since 1937, these archives will continue to be available for future generations to explore these interesting stories. If you would like to contribute to this community effort, please contact us at 231-843-4808 or [email protected]

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