Now that football season is underway, it seems like an appropriate time to pay homage to one of WNY’s greatest contributions to football watching—no, not Jim Kelly or Buffalo Wings—the BarcaLounger recliner! The story begins back in 1896 when a young bookkeeper for the Buffalo Brass and Iron Bedstead Company, Edward Barcalo, founded a business in Buffalo’s Black Rock neighborhood that eventually became the Barcalo Manufacturing Company. The company originally made a wide range of metal products including beds, cribs and outdoor furniture. After a 1914 acquisition, Barcalo began forging tools and other products and was soon supplying the Curtiss-Wright Company and Buffalo’s budding aviation industry. During World War I, the company provided the vast majority of all American aviation forgings.
By that time, Barcalo Manufacturing had moved to the corner of Louisiana & O’Connell in South Buffalo where it continued to diversify, producing mattresses, hammocks and adjustable pillows, among other things. Following WWI, the company began supplying Ford Motor Company and also sold its products through the Larkin Company’s mail order business. Barcalo Manufacturing was innovative in many ways. It had dozens of patents for everything from bedsprings to tools and may have been the first American business to allow its employees a coffee break! As for Edward Barcalo, he was now a well-established businessman. He built an impressive Georgian Revival house that still stands at 371 Depew Avenue, served as president of the Associated Manufacturers of New York State and would play an important role in selling US government war bonds during World War II. There the story might have ended, except that Barcalo acquired a license to produce a “scientifically articulated” motion chair patented by Dr. Anton Lorenz.
In the post-WWII boom, sales of the “BarcaLounger” reclining chair took off, growing 100% or more year-over-year as the company introduced new styles, shapes, coverings and colors to meet the exploding demand. Although there had been other recliners on the market, notably La-Z-Boy, the BarcaLounger’s built-in footrest gave it an advantage. In 1947, Barcalo Manufacturing had combined with Chandler Industries, a maker of upholstered furniture, that coincidentally occupied Barcalo’s original manufacturing site on Chandler Street in Black Rock. That facility would apparently handle much, if not all, BarcaLounger production.
By the early 1950s, Barcalo Manufacturing had grown from its original six employees to approximately 550, including 150 employees at Chandler Street. But by that time Edward Barcalo, the moving force behind the business for over half a century, was over 80 and only honorary chairman of the board. When he died in 1963 at age 93, Barcalo Manufacturing disappeared quickly. The tool division was sold that year to Crescent Niagara which had been created to purchase the famous Crescent Tool Company in Jamestown. Then in January 1965, the rest of the company, including the BarcaLounger line, was sold to Mohasco Industries and relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Mohasco’s successor ultimately went bankrupt after a flood and for a time BarcaLoungers were no longer made. But the brand is back, even if the product is now manufactured in China. In Buffalo, Barcalo’s house on Depew Street and the manufacturing headquarters on Louisiana Street still stand, but the Company’s real legacy can be found to this day in front of the television set in homes across America.
Our thanks to multiple sources, especially:
– WNY Heritage Press (including photo source)