In 1896, when the Longaberger family moved to Dresden, Ohio, the tiny village was a rural transportation and industrial hub in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There was a hotel on Main Street, three railroad stations, a woolen mill and a paper mill. A small canal connected the community with the historic Ohio Canal, transforming the village into a bustling town.
In the early 1900s, baskets were as commonplace as paper bags and plastic containers are now. Ware baskets, made at the Dresden Basket Factory, were used to carry pottery ware for the region’s booming pottery industry.
In 1919, a young man named J.W. Longaberger took a job with the Dresden Basket Factory. As a full-time apprentice, he meticulously learned the basket making art by first crafting basket bottoms. Later, he mastered the precise, tight weaving style that would become his trademark. J.W. grew to love the art of basket making.
In 1934, a fifth child was born to J.W. and his wife Bonnie — Dave Longaberger. Early in life, Dave had three strikes against him. His family was economically disadvantaged, he stuttered so badly people had difficulty understanding him, and he had epilepsy in a time when the condition was not widely understood.
Dave’s liabilities did not stand in the way of his ambition, however. As a youngster he worked in a grocery store, shoveled snow, delivered newspapers, mowed grass and hauled trash. He ran the projectors at the local movie house too. Because Dave was always making money from one job or another, his family called him the “25-cent millionaire.”
At age 21, Dave finally graduated from high school. He began his career by driving a bread truck for several years for two different bakeries. From 1961-1962, Dave served in the U.S. Army.
In the early 1960s, his first daughter, Tami, was born. Dave was eager to take the many lessons he had learned over the years and put them to work to create his own business to support his family. In 1963, when Harry’s Dairy Bar in Dresden came up for sale, Dave and his wife bought it. The restaurant had two booths, two tables and eight stools.
Later, Dave bought the defunct A&P grocery store in town. He remodeled and expanded the building, and opened the Dresden IGA Foodliner. As always, Dave worked very hard during those years. Between both businesses, he earned a solid living for his family.
In the early 1970s, Dave noticed that baskets were becoming very popular. He also noticed that many department stores were beginning to sell imported baskets. Dave wondered if people would appreciate locally-made baskets like the fine handcrafted ones his father used to make. So, he asked his father to make a dozen market baskets, and then took them to a nearby town. They sold immediately and the shop requested more!
J.W. made several dozen more baskets. Sadly, however, J.W. died at the age of 71, just as the family trade was ramping up.
Dave opened J.W.’s Handwoven Baskets in 1976 in Dresden. Interest in these beautiful handmade baskets continued to grow. Eventually, Dave had to find a place to expand his small basket factory. He found a very unlikely building: the old woolen mill where his mother had worked, built in the 1890s. It had been vacant since 1955, and had broken windows, uneven floors and a sagging roof. But the brick walls were solid and strong.
In this humble building, Dave envisioned a basket factory with hundreds of craftsmen and craftswomen weaving, tacking, talking and laughing. He knew from his previous business ventures that he had a knack for envisioning the unlikely. So he attacked his new venture with enthusiasm.
Dave became increasingly convinced that American consumers wanted the handmade craftsmanship and quality of Longaberger baskets. He tried different ways to sell baskets at malls, department stores and other retail outlets, with varying degrees of success. In 1978, Dave discovered that the most effective way to sell the company’s baskets was not through retail outlets but through home shows, where an educated home consultant could show Longaberger baskets, share the history and explain the craftsmanship that each basket holds.
With that discovery, the Longaberger Company’s direct sales organization was born.
Over the years, customers have developed an amazing passion for Longaberger baskets. The family’s tradition of philanthropy is continued each year through The Longaberger Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to local charities and educational institutions since its inception in 1998. The company’s Horizon of Hope initiative has raised more than $18 million over the past 15 years for breast cancer research.
Today, The Longaberger Company remains America’s premier maker of handcrafted baskets and offers other home and lifestyle products, including pottery, wrought iron and fabric accessories. The company is based in Newark, Ohio, and there are thousands of independent Home Consultants located in all U.S. states who sell Longaberger products directly to customers.
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