Edward Ballman

Edward Ballman was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1858. He was the son of a once prosperous merchant who had fallen on hard times as a result of a bad loan made to a friend. His father died before Edward left Indiana.

In 1878, Ballman left Indianapolis for Fort Smith. His primary assets were a good public school education and some skill as a wood turner. He traveled south with a group of experienced wood workers lead by William Ott. These men were to work in Ott, Meier & Co.'s Fort Smith Furniture Factory (aka the Fort Smith Furniture Manufacturing Company) which was being put into operation by Ott and his partners, Fred Meier, Charles Kade and F. Schaidt. Ott had owned a furniture factory in Indiana and had supplied the machinery for the new factory from his old one.

The Fort Smith Furniture Factory did not prosper under Ott, Meier & Co., and it was sold to Alex H. Reynolds circa 1880. Ballman had worked at the factory during the period it was owned by Ott, Meier & Co., but it is unclear whether he continued at the factory after Reynolds bought it. What is clear is about a year after the factory's purchase by Reynolds, it again changed hands, and the buyers were Jacob C. Huff, Fred Meier and Edward Ballman.

In 1885, the factory was moved from the brick building, which had housed it since it's opening, to a new site located on the Arkansas River just north of town. The reason the factory was moved was that the original building's lease was up and a permanent location was needed for the factory.

Just a few months after the factory was relocated, one of the partners, Jacob C. Huff, drowned while trying to cross the Arkansas River in a leaky boat. To keep the firm in business, Ballman & Meier were forced to purchase Huff's substantial interest in the firm from his estate in Indiana. This left the remaining partners greatly in debt, but the firm prospered and was able to meet its obligations.

About 1891, Fred Meier, a man 17 years older than Ballman, was compelled by ill health to retire from active business. He sold his interest to Edward Ballman. Ballman had been the principal partner and the company's name had been changed to E. Ballman & Co. in the mid-1880s.

In 1894, E. Ballman & Co. joined together with the Cummings Brothers Furniture Co. to form the Ballman-Cummings Furniture Co. Ed Ballman became the president of the new firm and owned half the corporation's issued stock.

Ballman was a major shaper of the furniture manufacturing industry in Fort Smith. And after the establishment of Ballman-Cumming, he devoted much of his efforts toward the development of Fort Smith as a center of a diverse, vigorous furniture industry. He founded or co-founded several companies, among them: the Fort Smith Folding Bed and Table Co. (1902), the Fort Smith Couch and Bedding Co. (1904), the Border Queen Kitchen Cabinet Co. (1906), the Fort Smith Metal Products Co. (1917), and the Fort Smith Manufacturers Co. (1921). Each of these companies specialized in a different line of furniture. The Fort Smith Manufacturers Co. was created to market the various lines in a cooperative manner.

In 1891, Ed Ballman married Louise Weigand, daughter of George Weigand, in Fort Smith. Their union was blessed with two children, daughters, Marie (Mrs. Howard C. Pratt) and Ed Louise. Ed Ballman died on July 13, 1923, age 64.

Source: Johnson III, Bernard, "Fort Smtih Furniture Manufacturers of the Late 19th Century," an unpublished typescript from the archives of the Fort Smith Museum of History.