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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bobby Wesley Bush, Sr., June 19, 2000. Interview I-0086. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment of a furniture manufacturing conglomerate

Bush outlines how the foundation for Hickory Springs Manufacturing Company was laid in the 1930s and 1940s via the business ventures of Parks Underwood and his father. While in his twenties, Parks Underdown began to work as a seller in his father's company, Lenoir Pad and Paper. From there, Underdown became a partner in Spaughs Paper Company and in the early 1940s he moved into the furniture business. Initially beginning with spring plant that was especially successful during World War II, Underdown's business acumen and entrepreunership had allowed him to begin expanding his business rapidly in the mid-1940s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bobby Wesley Bush, Sr., June 19, 2000. Interview I-0086. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KATHLEEN KEARNS:
How was it that Parks' father came to start this company then? Was American Excelsior just not serving the need well enough?
BOB BUSH:
Well, Lenoir was a big furniture area, made a lot of furniture, and of course these pads have to come in from wherever, American or whoever had the closest plant. Well, they're all air, so the transportation costs were high compared to the product. And so I guess Mr. Underdown just saw a niche and decided he would go into it. I don't know how it all happened.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
And wood was available here.
BOB BUSH:
Plenty of pine, and that's what they were made from.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
So if you had your raw material and you had your market right here, that made a lot of sense.
BOB BUSH:
That's right, and less transportation.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
So Parks, around twenty-six years old more or less, started working for Lenoir Pad and Paper. Do you know what came next in his career? Did he keep on with that? I have a little bit of information about that.
BOB BUSH:
Yes. Parks was a salesman for Lenoir Pad and Paper from that point on. So he was always a salesman for Lenoir Pad. You keep that in the back of your mind.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
The rest of his life?
BOB BUSH:
Yes. Eventually moving through though, he became vice president and then he bought out all the kinfolks and this, that, and the other. But that was just step by step by step over a long period of years. Parks realized that being salesman for them was not going to satisfy his financial need, economic needs, or his mental needs. So Parks started scouting around and he went to work with-at least one facet I know of-a man named Spaugh, Bill Spaugh, S-P-A-U-G-H. And I guess he was a salesman for Spaugh Paper Company. That was the name of it at that time. Anyway, he worked with them for a while. And then in the `40s, like '42 or so, '43, somewhere in there during the war, Parks broke away from Bill. Bill had problems and Parks took over Spaugh Paper Company.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
About what time?
BOB BUSH:
But not Bill Spaugh Paper Company, though. There were two of them, and one was his son and the other one was Parks's. So I'd say 1942 would be my guess, or '43 on that. And after Parks had gotten involved in that, a guy named Bob Todd and Parks were Spaugh Paper Company. And then as it moved on down the road, about '45, '46, somewhere along in there, Parks got into the furniture business. And the spring business in 1944. Parks and Anne Lewis were equal partners in the spring business. And they made springs for furniture. And the shortage during the war, of course, there was a situation where if you had springs you could make furniture and sell it. So they decided to get into furniture. Or Parks did. I'm sure Parks is the one who made the decision. So Parks would go through, and as he saw someone in a factory that looked pretty good to him but seemed to be discontented, he would say, "Hey, why don't you come and we'll start a factory and you can have half-ownership and I'll put up all the money and everything and you put in the expertise and so forth and we'll have us a good program." And he did that with, I don't know, nine or ten different ones. He had several furniture factories at one time.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
These were making finished products? Was this bedding or was this upholstered pieces?
BOB BUSH:
No, it was primarily upholstered pieces. But the reason they started a spring plant, and I'm glad you mentioned that, was to make Marshall units so you could make mattresses.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
And the Marshall units go into the mattresses? They're the units that fit in?
BOB BUSH:
Right. And so then it branched over into the furniture game, and the furniture factories and so forth. So Parks had his hands full there. One of the ways that you could make money, and I don't know if Parks thought it up or not, but you had O.P.A. in those days, Official Price Authority or Administration. You could only make a twenty-five percent markup, so if your cost was a dollar, you had to sell it for no more than a dollar and a quarter. But you could sell it to me and I could sell it to Joe and Joe could sell it to Harry and Harry could sell it to Lou. So what you did, you had these sales companies until you got to the point that that was all the market would bear. And you know, you'd find out how far it would go. So you could make some very good money in those days by having your different corporations set up to handle the papers. And it was totally legal. Of course, excess profits tax were in and everything else. It was a tough time, regardless of how you look at it. But the furniture factories did extremely well for several years, I mean really very well.