Dear Vance: My grandfather once told me that when he was a young man, he worked for a company called Haas in Memphis. Where were they located, and what did they do? — K.F., Memphis.
Dear K.F.: Such a simple question turned into a rather complicated quest. It turns out that the Haas family owned two different companies in Memphis, which competed with each other, and neither firm actually carried the Haas name, so it’s just as confusing as all get-out.
Let’s begin with the older of the two companies. While prowling through the photo files of the Memphis and Shelby County Room, I came across this old billboard for Haas Rest Products, and they obviously manufactured Fairy and Sterling brands of mattresses. But when I turned to the city directories, I was stumped because I found no listing for the Haas company itself. But notice the “fine print” on the billboard, which says these mattresses were actually produced by the “U.S. Bedding Co.” and that’s the official name of the company.
So who was Haas? Well, it turns out a firm called Southern Spring Bed Company was founded in Atlanta way back in 1909 by a fellow named Louis Haas, who opened a branch operation, called U.S. Bedding, in Memphis in 1909. His son, Jacob, moved here to run the firm, located at the corner of Tennessee Street and Huling, which would have been down the block from our magazine’s palatial downtown offices. Two brothers soon joined him: Louis as vice president, and Edgar as secretary, so it was obviously a family operation. Old city directories show the firm produced bedsprings, mattresses, cots, pillows, and something called “metallic couches,” and I’ve been scratching my bony head trying to figure out what those were.
The company moved around town a bit in the early days, but by 1925 it opened a 140,000-square-foot factory at 1047 Florida Street, a few blocks south of Crump Boulevard. For a while, U.S. Bedding used the Statue of Liberty in its advertisements, with the slogan “Lights the Way,” but as you can see, by the time the billboards went up, they had dropped that symbol. The photo of the billboard, by the way, looks like it was taken in the 1930s, when trolleys still rumbled down Madison Avenue.
In 1946, the company was doing so well that it added a 70,000-square-foot annex to the plant on Florida, and somewhere along the way Jacob Haas also became an officer of the Memphis Sanitary Products Company, which produced janitorial supplies, such as floor polish and disinfectants. I only bring this up, K.F., to let you know that if your grandfather worked for Haas, there’s just no telling what he actually did.
Here’s a remarkable detail: Jacob Haas was born in 1882 on Christmas Day, and he died in 1946 on Christmas Eve. Louis Haas took over as president, and U.S. Bedding became a branch office of the Sealy Mattress Company, but that affiliation lasted only a few years, because then something happened that surely caused some awkward holiday gatherings for the Haas family. It seems Edgar Haas left the company to start his own mattress firm, called Slumber Products, operating out of a warehouse on South Parkway. He did so well that in 1953, he bought out his brothers and turned the Florida Street factory into a warehouse for his own firm. Actually, just part of the factory. Over the years the sprawling complex on Florida housed an interesting series of tenants: a twine and rope company, trucking offices, real estate agency, warehouse for American President lines, storage for the Southern Parma Pizza Company, and even the Whitehaven Manufacturing Company, which seems odd to me since it was obviously nowhere near Whitehaven.
By 1958, Slumber Products was doing so well that it relocated into the long-dormant Ford Motor Company plant in South Memphis, just west of Riverside Drive. Newspapers noted that “Memphis felt heavily the loss of the Ford assembly plant” and called this news “the right move for Slumber.” The mattress firm prospered there for years, and sometime in the 1970s even moved into newer and larger facilities on Air Trans Road in an industrial park close to Lamar and Perkins. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, Sealy moved its manufacturing operations out of Memphis, and the company closed. Today, the old Ford plant is mighty quiet, the Air Trans site is home to a trucking firm, and though the old 1946 annex is still standing, U.S. Bedding’s main factory site on Florida is a vacant lot.
Dear Vance: I came across this old photo of the Hyde Park School, but could find no mention of it in the phone books. Can you help? — T.H., Memphis.
Dear T.H.: That’s because you were probably looking in recent phone books. Luckily, I have stacks of them around the Mansion, propping up wobbly tables and stuffed into holes gnawed in the parlor by raccoons, so I pulled out a city directory from 1954, and there it was: Hyde Park Elementary School, 1281 Tunica.
The photo shows a lovely, all-American school building, complete with American flag, glassed-in cupola, and even a nice weather vane. But this is the “new” Hyde Park School. The school, built for African-American children in those segregated times, originally opened in the early 1900s on Lyon Street, in the Hyde Park neighborhood in North Memphis. I can’t give an exact date, because that location was apparently considered outside the city limits and so the city directories don’t have a listing for it before 1920. I can tell you, however, that Elinor (sometimes spelled Eleanor) Rice was the first principal, if you were wondering about that. Mary Murphy took over as principal in 1926, and by 1934 the new principal was James L. Buckner, who had come from the old Kortrecht School downtown.
In 1939, the Board of Education raised funds to build a brand-new school, the handsome red-brick building shown here. William Lynk was the principal, a position he held until his death until 1948.
By the way, if you think teaching is hard, I’d say being the principal of a Memphis school — even an elementary school — must be even more stressful. Just out of curiosity, I pulled up Lynk’s death certificate, and discovered that he and his predecessors at Hyde Park had succumbed to the same thing: heart attacks.
Hyde Park School served the children of that community until the early 1970s, when busing closed many of the smaller neighborhood schools in Memphis. In the late 1970s, the building was still standing, looking a bit rundown, I’m sorry to say, but serving as the Four Chelsea C’s Neighborhood Service Center. Yes, that was the name. Sometime in the 1980s, the old school was torn down. The site on Tunica is now a vacant lot.