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Cleveland Cabinet Company, Theodor Kundtz, Theo. Kundtz Co., Theodor Kundtz Co. div. of White Sewing Machine Corp.)
Cleveland Cabinet Company, 1875-1879; Theodor Kundtz, 1879-1915; Theo. Kundtz Co., 1915-1917; Theodor Kundtz Co., (div. of White Sewing Machine Corp.); 1917-1940s, Cleveland, Ohio
Associated Firms
White Sewing Machine Co., White Motor Co.

Although Theodor Kundtz was not the first person to construct sewing machine cabinets, cases and table for Cleveland’s White Sewing Machine Company, his firm was the best-known – eventually becoming so important to the success of the White Company that they purchased his business when he retired in 1915. Kundtz biographer, Christopher J. Eiben, surmising:

“Fashioning sewing machines into functional art was Theodor Kundtz’ contribution to the industry and the cornerstone of his business success.”

Although the name is unknown in today’s old car community, Kundtz had a second line of work - providing coachwork to Cleveland’s early automobile and truck manufacturers. That sideline became so popular that at the onset of World War I, Kundtz employed as many as 1,200 worked in his dedicated auto body factory.

Kundtz supplied the bulk of the White Motor Company’s factory coachwork from 1902-1920 and also supplied bodies to Murray, Peerless, Stearns, Winton and Worthington. Although they did not specialize in custom work the Murray-chassised Kundtz Cubist Touring car was one of the main attractions at the 1918 New York Auto Salon.

Theodor Josephus ‘Tori’ Kundtz was born on July 1, 1852 in Unter-Metzenseifen, Austria-Hungary (now Medzev, Slovakia) to Josephus (a roof framer) and Theresa (Kesselbauer) Kundtz. Theresa, a Lutheran, was not a native of Metzenseifen and is said to have been born in Bratislava (current capital of Slovakia).

Josephus died of tuberculosis in 1866 (aged 44), at which time 14-year-old Theodor took over his father’s woodworking and cabinetry business. Kundtz siblings included a younger brother Emike, and four sisters; Anna, Julia, Theresia and Mary.

At the age of 21 he decided to seek his fortune amongst the growing Hungarian community in Cleveland, Ohio. Thedor travelled to the Havre where he booked passage on a steamer headed to the United States, arriving on April 20, 1873, and within a few short weeks, his final destination, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

He found employment with Whitworth & Hawkins, a manufacturer of sewing machine tables and cases owned by John Whitworth and Edgar E. Hawkins and located at 9 Frankfort and 31 St. Clair. A similarly named firm engaged in the same line of work (sewing machine cover and case mfg.) was Whitworth & Stewart (William Whitworth and John N. Stewart) whose plant was located at Carter cor. Scranton Ave.

Hawkins withdrew from business the business shortly thereafter and he was replaced by Sheldon Sickles, the firm’s listing in the 1874 Cleveland Directory being:

“Whitworth & Sickles (J. Whitworth and S. Sickles) mnfrs. of sewing machine cabinet work, office 28 St. Clair.”

Whitworth & Sickles withdrew from business in 1875 and the firm’s assets were acquired by four former employees (G. Gebhard; T. Kundtz; C. Simon and E. Genee) who reorganized it as the Cleveland Cabinet Company. Kundtz’ later used ‘Established 1875’ on his letterhead, which refers to the creation of Cleveland Cabinet Co., not the Theodor Kundtz Co. Cleveland Cabinet’s listing in the 1876 Cleveland Directory follows:

“Cleveland Cabinet Co. (G. Gebhard; T. Kundtz; C. Simon and E. Genee), mnfrs. sewing machine cabinet work, 29 and 31 St. Clair.”

On January 30, 1879 the Cleveland Cabinet Works’ St. Clair St. manufactory was destroyed by fire:

“Fire At Cleveland

“Cleveland, Jan. 30.—A fire this morning destroyed a brick building owned by Wm. Hempy and occupied by Fred Hempy, a planing mill, the Cleveland Cabinet Manufacturing Company, and a paper box factory. The Hempy's loss on the building, stock and machinery is $8,000; no insurance. The losses on the other buildings make the total loss about $20,000.

“The Cleveland Cabinet Company lose $9,000 on stock and machinery; insurance, $3,000.

“On the way to the fire, an engineer on one of the engines was thrown from his seat and badly injured. Four firemen were more or less injured by falling walls.”

Kundtz took his share of the insurance and set up his own business at 122 Elm Street. Prior to 1879 a number of firms supplied White with cases, cabinets and tables, but according to Kundtz biographer, Christopher J. Eiben:

“by 1879, Kundtz’ small factory had supplied all of White’s cabinetry”.

One history of the firm states that in 1876 Thomas White, founder of Cleveland’s White Sewing Machine Co., presented a sewing machine to Kundtz’ wife Agnes in appreciation for her service as laundress to the White family. Theodor constructed a cabinet to house the machine for his wife, and a lifelong business partnership resulted.

Theodor married Agnes Ballasch (born May 18, 1853 in Unter-Metzenseifen, Austria-Hungary to George and Anna Maria [Mullner] Ballasch) on 8 Oct 1874 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Although the couple enjoyed several years of wedded bliss, it soon became apparent that Agnes was incapable of producing offspring, which produced a rift in the marriage as Theodor was determined to have children. Theodore selected his wife’s niece as a more suitable mate and shortly after she graduated from finishing school in 1884, he divorced Agnes and married her niece, Maria T. Ballasch (born on November 21, 1867 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio to Matthias and Anna [Stroempl] Ballasch).

To the blessed union were born ten children: Joseph Peter (b.1887-d.1889); Theodore S. (aka Theodor Kuntz jr. – b.1889-d.1964); Merie Cacelia (m. Tubman, b.1896-d.1981); William Joseph (b.1898-d.1965); Ewald Edmond (b.1901-d.1992); Joseph Erno (b.1902-d.1930 in a plane crash); Irene Mignon (m. Weizer, b.1904-d.1996); Angela Theodora (m. Hueffed, b.1906-d.2000); Leopold Raymond (b.1907-d.1973); and Dorothy Marguer (m. O'Neill, b.1910-d.1998)Kundtz.

As White Sewing Machine Co.’s business improved so did Kundtz’s and in 1880 he brought most of his immediate family to Cleveland from Unter-Metzenseifen.

The 1882 Cleveland directory lists him under Sewing Mach. Cabinet Ware:

“Kundtz, Theodor, 122 Elm St.”

He moved to larger facilities one block away in 1883, his entry in the 1884 Cleveland directory under Sewing Machine Cabinets lists two distinct manufactories:

“Kundtz, Theodor; 31 and 101 W. Center.”

During the next decade sales of sewing machines increased exponentially as did Kuntz business which by 1894 encompassed three separate factories, all within 1 block of one other. His Listing in the 1894 Cleveland directory under Sewing Machine Cabinets stating:

“Kuntz, Theodor; W. Center, Washington and Winslow Sts.”

Kundtz employed Hungarian immigrants almost exclusively, many of which were from his home town. As Cleveland’s best-known Metzenseifer resident, Kundtz served a central role in Cleveland’s Metzenseifer and Hungarian community. In 1890 he spearheaded the construction of Clark Ave.’s Hungaria Hall and helped found the Hungarian Savings and Loan Association, which was an outgrowth of his serving as the unofficial Metzenseifer mortgage co.

He was known as ‘Fota’ (father) Kundtz among Cleveland’s Hungarian immigrants, and he and his wife were godparents to numerous children. A White sewing machine would often be presented as a wedding gift if ‘Fota Kundtz’ was amongst the invited.

As his business expanded Kundtz introduced additional product lines, which included bicycle and carriage wheels and institutional furniture, the latter being much sought-after by regional communities constructing new schools and churches.

The firm’s church furniture factory was located on Hird Street (now Hird Ave.) in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood. The firm, popularly known as 'Kundtz Craftsmen', was a reorganization of the Faulhaber Church Furniture Co. which was founded by George Faulhaber, a fellow parishioner of Kundtz’ at the St. Rose Catholic Church.

By 1910 the new lines had become just as important as their sewing machine cabinetry, as evidenced by their listing in the 1910 Cleveland Directory:

“Theodor Kundtz, manufacturer of Church Furniture and School Desks; Washington Av. cor. Elm, N.W., Cleveland, Ohio.”

One of Kundtz factories specialized in the production of wooden automobile parts and accessories, their listing in the 1910 Motor Cycle Motor Boat & Automobile Trade Directory:

“KUNDTZ — automobile wooden dashes, automobile tops & steering wheel rims, Theodore Kundtz, Cleveland. Ohio.”

In fact Kundt’s first automobile bodies had been constructed almost one decade earlier, the first mention of the firm’s coachwork appeared in an article highlighting the construction of the prototype Worthington Mfg. Co. cycle car. Although series production is doubted, according to the June 14, 1902 issue of The Automobile, Kundtz constructed the body for the initial run of prototypes:

“Vehicle to sell at a reasonable figure.

“The company will buy as much of its material as possible from parts makers. Contracts have been placed with Theodore Kundtz for bodies and with the Century Cycle Parts Co. for as many sets of running gear as necessary.”

Although it’s unknown if Kundtz constructed the coachwork found on the earliest White Steamers, he supplied the firm with wood and cast-iron components, and eventually complete automobile bodies, first of wood, then later on sheathed in metal.

The July 1, 1913 issue of Power Wagon included a 2-page article, ‘A Special Power Wagon for Rough Logging Works,’ describing Kundtz’ use of White trucks in their logging operations at Brecksville, Ohio.

By that time Kundtz had installed sheet metal stamping equipment and was supplying all of White’s factory coachwork. White offered a taxicab in its Model GA automobile and GB ¾ -ton light truck chassis and a number of Manhattan taxicab operators owned large fleets of White taxicabs.

Up to February, 1915, Theodor Kundtz conducted his business, extensive as it was, as sole proprietor. On April 1st of that year the Theodor Kundtz Company was incorporated, the ‘Recent Incorporations’ column of the April 1, 1915 issue of St. Louis Lumberman reporting:

“Xenia, O. - The Green County Lumber Co., capital stock $10,000. Incorporators; Peter Kundtz Jr., Martin Kundtz, J.R. Payne, C.W. Murphy and Joseph Murphy.

“Cleveland, O. - Theodore Kundtz Co., capital stock $2,000,000 - to manufacture furniture, cabinets, auto bodies and other articles of wood. Incorporators; Bela Kennedy, Frank Friedle, Nick Winkle, Joseph J. Gedeon, Theodore Kundtz, and Theodore Kundtz Jr.”

The April 1915 issue of the Accessory and Garage Journal included a similar notice although many of the surnames were spelled differently:

“Theodore Kundtz Company, Cleveland, O.: $2,000,000; to manufactured automobile bodies; Theodore Kuntz, Theodore Kundtz Jr., N. Windell; J.J. Gedgeon, Frank Fridle, Bela Kormandy, B.S. Edgerly.”

In 1898 Kundtz commenced constructing his Lakewood dream home which is seen in color to the right. Modeled after the beautiful castles he remembered seeing as a child the Kundtz Mansion was constructed over a four-year period and boasted hand-painted ceilings, stained glass windows, exquisite statues, hand-carved furniture, elaborate fireplaces and even a bowling alley.

About the same time that Kundtz moved into his Lakewood mansion relations between Kundtz and the Metzenseifer community soured. Kundtz was involved in a number of businesses and spent much of his time away from the factory. Non-Metsenseifer managers had been brought in when the firm incoproate and by the end of the year the Metzenseifershad had enough and went out on strike, theOctober 28, 1915 issue of the Elyria Evening Telegram reporting:

“Factory Workers Strike.

“Cleveland, Oct 28 -Practically all of the 1,800 men employed at the Theodor Kundtz plant, Winslow and Elm sts., went on strike Wednesday afternoon, tying up the entire factory. The plant is a cabinet works and has been making many bodies for war automobile trucks for the allies. The workers asked for a 10-hour day and raise in pay.”

The stirke continued with the November 4, 1915 issue of the Automobile reporting 3,000 employuees were now out of work:

“Strike in Kundtz Body Plant

“Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 1 — A strike by 3000 employees of the big woodworking plant of Theodore Kundtz, maker of automobile bodies and parts is said to endanger thousands of dollars' worth of orders for war trucks in Cleveland automobile factories.

“Labor leaders declare the Kundtz plant makes bodies for practically every big automobile factory in Cleveland operating largely on war orders.”

The November 6, 1915 issue of the Boston Daily Globe reported that some of the strikers had turned to dynamiting the Kundtz Works:

“Dynamite Near Plant.

“CLEVELAND, O, Nov. 5 — A teamster for the Forest City Foundry Company reported today that he had found near the plant of that concern 19 sticks of dynamite with a fuse attached which had been lighted and gone out. The dynamite was only a short distance from several buildings of the plant of the Theodor Kundtz Company, which has been manufacturing bodies for automobiles for war orders and where a strike is in progress.”

One month into the strike Kundtz management brought in strike breakers  and the Associated Press reported on a November 26, 1915 skirmish:

Cleveland, Nov. 26 (AP) – Two strike breakers were injured and seven strikers arrested here today in an attack by the latter on the former who were on their way to work at the Theodor Kundtz automobile body plant, where astrike of Hungarian workmen has been in progress several weeks.

“The strike breakers to the number of 50 were on a motor truck when they were set upon by strikers. Clubs, bricks and stones were hurled, but not shots were fired.”

Three weeks later the same news agency annoucned the end of the strike:

“Big Strike Settled

“Cleveland O. Dec 5 (AP) – The strike of 1,800 workmen, chiefly Hungarians, at the ware order auto body plant of the Theodor Kundtz, in progress several weeks, was settled Saturday.”

After the 1914 resignation of Rollin White to found the Cleveland Tractor Co. (Cletrac) the remaining White brothers hired the French designer Leon Rubay to head their automotive operations, which had been spun off as the White Motor Company. Although Kundtz continued to construct White standard coachwork , Rubay established a third party firm - the Rubay Company - to construct bespoke custom bodies for White and other regional chassis in 1916.

The Kundtz Works were awarded a number of contracts for the construction of truck bodies for use by the US allies in the European theater, the first was announced in the August 1917 issue of the Hub:

“Orders for no less than 24,050 bodies for motor trucks have been placed by the government. The International Harvester Co., Chicago, will build more than a third of the bodies, its contract being for 10,000. The next largest contract is with the Grand Rapids School Equipment Co. of Michigan for 6,400. The other awards follow: London Auto Supply Co., Chicago 1,900; Mulholland & Co., Dunkirk, NY, 500; Hercules Buggy Co., Evansville, Ind., 400; Theodor Kundtz Co., Cleveland, 500; G.W. Stratton Co., Defiance, O., 1,000; Eagle Wagon Works, Albany, NY, 1,200; the Continental Car Co., Louisville, Ky 2,000.”

The September-December 1917 issue of the Standard Corporation Service, Daily Revised, announced the acquisition of the Kundtz works by its oldest and largest customer:

“Month of September, 1917:

“WHITE SEWING MACHINE CO.; Theo. Kundtz Co. Acquired. —

“'Finance,' Cleveland, 0„ Sept. 15, 1917, stated that this company had acquired what is reported to be a controlling interest in the Theo. Kundtz Co., manufacturers of sewing machine cabinets, automobile and truck bodies, automobile wheels, and church and school furniture.

“'Theo. Kundtz will continue as Pres., with W. W. Chase, Sec'y of the White Co., as Vice Pres. A. S. Rodgers, and Chas. Colgrove, of the White Co., have been made Kundtz Co. directors.'”

In fact it was the recently White Sewing Machine Corporation that acquired the firm. The Corporation served as the holding company for the firm's numerous enterprises which at that time included the White Sewing Machine Company, the Theodor Kundtz Company, and the Domestic Sewing Machine Company. The White Motor Co. was still operated as a separate entity alough it shared many shareholders and officers with the White Sewing Machine Corporation.

By the time of White’s acquisition of the Kuntz Works its five manufactories occupied thirty acres of land in Lakewood, the northernmost suburb of Cleveland that inhabited the southern shore of Lake Erie.

Although they did not specialize in custom work the Murray-chassised Kundtz Cubist Touring Car was one of the main attractions at the 1918 New York Auto Salon. It was wrongly attributed to the Rubay Co. in the January 1918 issue of the Hub, which published the following retraction in its March 1918 issue:

“MURRAY ROADSTER, Body by Theodor Kundtz Co., Cleveland, Mounted on Murray chassis.

“Shown at New York Salon. The cubist car body mounted on Murray chassis shown on page 17 in the January issue of The Hub was built by the Theodor Kundtz Co., as well as the body of the White touring car shown on the same page and credited to Rubay Co.”

In addition to bodies constructed for US Allies, Kundtz was a known body supplier for the Model B Liberty trucks, the March 21, 1918 edition of The Automobile (Automotive Industries) reporting that they were awarded a contract for 550 Truck Bodies, Type A.

An ad featuring the Cubist coachwork appeared in the trades during 1918, the following transcription is taken from a representative advertisement found in the October 1918 Automobile Trade Directory:

“Kundtz Bodies For Motor Trucks & Automobiles

“Kundtz Cubist Body mounted on Murray chassis on display in Astor Hotel at recent show.

“Let us estimate on your body work - we build bodies in any quantity to standard specifications or to individual custom design.

“We have produced fine passenger bodies for Winton - White - Peerless - Stearns - Murray and a great variety of truck bodies for many of the largest users of motor trucks in America.

“Working with wood has been our business since 1875. Our plants now contain 775,554 square feet - our lumber yards over 35 acres and hold 600,000 feet of lumber. We hold in reserve two million feet of logs. We also have facilities for casting small parts in aluminum, brass and bronze and for shaping sheet metal. Every process of body building is done under our own roof where we employ 1,600 men.

“We also specialize in the manufacture of Steering Wheels, Passenger and Truck Car Wheels – and all other wood parts used in motor vehicle construction.

“The Theodor Kundtz Company, Cleveland, Ohio”

Elroy McKendree Avery’s ‘ Cleveland And Its Environs, The Heart of New Connecticut’, pub in 1918, provides the following detailed account of Kundtz’ operations at the time:

“One of the remarkable features about the Theodor Kundtz Company is that it is a complete and self-sufficient organization so far as any business can be said to be that. As already stated, a complete sawmill plant is maintained, and it is probably the only woodworking concern in the state which handles the entire process from the wood in the logs to the finished output. The company even owns some extensive hardwood forests, while it maintains a force of expert log buyers and all the hardwood in the log is brought to the company's mills at Lakewood and there put through the first process in milling. The company also makes its own varnish. It was the pioneer in "laminated" woodwork, that is, in substituting "built up" for the solid wood and demonstrating the unlimited possibilities this process opens in increasing the efficiency of all kinds of woodwork, in cabinets for sewing machines as well as the most elaborate church furniture.

“What is known as plant No. 1, on Washington, Center, Elm and Winslow streets, was completed in 1887 and is entirely given over to the manufacture of sewing machine woodwork. Plant No. 2, nearby, makes school desks and church furniture. Mr. Kundtz began making school desks about ten years ago at the request of 'a member of the board of education of Cleveland, who desired a home industry to furnish the needs of the Cleveland public schools. That led him naturally into the manufacture of church furniture, and he took over a plant of that nature, the Faulhaber Church Furniture Company. Still another plant, No. 3, manufactures automobile bodies. In 1914 plant No. 5 was completed, being a combined office and factory building.

“Mr. Kundtz has not only built up a big institution from a material point of view, but has carefully looked after the human side of manufacture. He has kept the plants safeguarded against fire and with all the modern safety devices. The company maintains a volunteer fire department and has a complete welfare department, the services of which are available to the employees not only during office hours, but also extends to the home and furnishes protection against all forms of exploitation.”

Kundtz continued to supply the White Motor Company with passenger car bodies into 1920 when the firm withdrew from the passenger car business. Throughout the 1920s Kundtz’ Body Works supplied White with truck cabs and bodies, although the operations were greatly curtailed when White started subcontracting their bodywork to various third parties which included Cleveland-based Bender Body, Brown Body and Kuhlman Kar. Theodor Kundtz jr. owned shares in a number of the firms and served as secretary of Bender Body for a number of years.

A short strike closed down the Kuntz Works in early April of 1919, the Associated Press reporting:

“Plants Close, Blame Help

“Cleveland, O. April 11 (AP) – Five plants, constituting the entire works of the Theodor Kundtz company, manufacturers of automobile bodies, were closed today throwing 1,200 men and women out of employment, due, company officials say, to agitation among the workers for a wage advance of 10 cents an hour and a six-hour day.”

When White Motor Company embarked upon the manufacture of motor coaches in the mid-Twenties, the work was farmed out to specialist builders such as Brown Body, Kulhman Car, and Bender Body Co. - the latter firm having a direct connection to the Kundtz family as Theodore Kundtz, Jr. served as treasurer of Bender for a number of years.By that time much of the former Kundtz Body Works had been repurposed for sewing machine manufacture. White remaining in  the former Kundtz factories until 1949 when the entire operation moved into a modern factory located 5 miles away at 11770 Berea Rd.

With more than fifty years of business success, Theodor Kundtz retired at the age of seventy-two to his Lakewood estate which was located at 13826 Lake Avenue, passing away on September 14, 1937 at the age of 85.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for








Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Elroy McKendree Avery – Cleveland And Its Environs, The Heart of New Connecticut, Vol III, Biography, pub. 1918.

William R. Coates - A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, pub. 1924

Christopher J. Eiben - Tori in Amerika, pub. 1994

Benesch Art Pub, Co. - Men Of Ohio in Nineteen Hundred, pub. 1901

Susan M. Papp - Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland, pub 1981

Duncan B. Gardiner - The Antl and Schuerger Families of Metzenseifen, pub. 1989

Dan Ruminski, Alan Dutka - Cleveland in the Gilded Age: A Stroll Down Millionaires' Row, pub. 2012

September to December 1917 - Standard Corporation Service, Daily Revised, pub. 1918:

Kundtz Collection at the Lakewood Historical Society, 14710 Lake Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio

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