Business History Review

Articles

From Factory to Family: The Creation of a Corporate Culture in the Larkin Company of Buffalo, New York

Howard R. Stangera1

a1 HOWARD R. STRANGER is assistant professor of labor relations and human resources at the State University of New York College at Buffalo.

Abstract

The Larkin Company of Buffalo, New York, was established in the 1870s as a small soap producer and grew to become a large mail-order house. Larkin's success could be attributed to a unique sales strategy created by Elbert Hubbard, called “The Larkin Idea,” which had as its motto, “From Factory-to-Family: Save All Cost Which Adds No Value.” The company sold its products exclusively through the mail to women in cooperative buying clubs. Employing a variety of marketing, advertising, and employee welfare practices, the Larkin Company built a unified corporate family of “Larkinites“—employees, customers, and executives. Larkin executives also hired architect Frank Lloyd Wright to construct a modern office complex, which became the physical representation of Larkin's culture. But changes in marketing, the departure and deaths of key executives, a seemingly anachronistic corporate culture, and poor business decisions combined to undermine the company in the mid-1920s, and by 1940 the company was virtually dead.

Howard R. Stanger is assistant professor of labor relations and human resources at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. He received his Ph.D. in labor and human resources from the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University. He has published articles on the history of the Columbus Typographical Union and on collective bargaining trends in the U.S. daily newspaper industry from 1975 to 1998.