Friday, March 6, 2009

Once Upon a Mattress

Several times I have mentioned Simmons Island, which is visible from my side of the harbor. A large part of the island is a park, with a public beach. The island also is the location of a few private houses, the Coast Guard Station, two lighthouses, the water production facility and yacht club, as well as a small boat marina. It’s a reasonable walk for me on a nice day. Even when its not a nice day, I see it when I walk the dog every afternoon, or when I drive almost anywhere from my house.

In case you were wondering, the Simmons that the island is named after is the mattress guy. In 1870 Zalmon G. Simmons with his first factory in Kenosha. Simmons started off by producing wooden insulators and cheese boxes. A few years later, he started producing mattresses. Mr. Simmons was very influential on the way we sleep. First he mass produced mattresses, making them affordable. Then he introduced spiral coil springs, making the mattresses more comfortable. Simmons Manufacturing quickly grew to be the largest company of its kind and had factories and warehouses all over the country.

The Simmons family was influential on Kenosha, too. That’s why the island was named after Zalmon. This plaque stands under the flag pole near the old beach house, which also has an interesting history. I will wait to tell you more about the beach house in the summer. I am there even more in summer, as I am a frequent visitor to the beach.

1923 the Simmons Mattress Company headquarters was moved from Kenosha to New York City and then to Atlanta, Georgia in 1975, where the company still resides. In 1979, Gulf & Western acquired the company, shifting control to outside the family for the first time.

The story of the mattress company was repeated by other industries all over the Great Lakes in the 19th and 20th Century. The region had many advantages, not the least of which was transportation routes along on the lakes. The harbor outside my windows is a deep-water harbor, which can accommodate large cargo ships. The peninsula on which I live was once a tannery then belonged to American Motors. Historically, the industries of the Great Lakes were steel, paper, chemicals, cars, and other manufactured goods, like mattresses.

The downside of all of that industry was that so much pollution was poured into the lakes. When industries started to move south or overseas in the 1970’s that pollution declined. Unfortunately the number of jobs in the region did, too. I would like to spend some time thinking about the current economic situation and the effect of the stimulus package on this region’s economy, but those thoughts give me a headache. They make me think about my son who lives in Michigan, the unemployment capitol of the country, where he is one among many.

Perhaps I will just go lie down for a few minutes on my comfortable spring coil mattress. Oops, it’s not a Simmons mattress. Sorry, Zalmon.

4 comments:

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