Monmouth entrepreneur built early furniture empire
MONMOUTH, Ill. — Anyone within driving distance of Kewanee, Illinois, is familiar with Good’s Furniture, which through clever marketing has established itself as one of the premier furniture stores in the Midwest, despite its small-town location.
A century ago, a Monmouth man had a dream of establishing a similar furniture empire, and built a successful chain of stores, not only in Monmouth, but also in Galesburg, Abingdon, Kirkwood and Kewanee.
Millard G. “Glenn” Ogle was that visionary entrepreneur. Born in Keithsburg, Illinois, in 1879, he hustled his way to success through a tireless series of business acquisitions, which eventually led him to Chicago and the ownership of what he billed as the largest wholesale furniture business in the city.
When Ogle was born, his father was 40 and his mother was only 19 — circumstances which apparently led to their divorcing. Ogle’s mother then married a St. Louis man and Ogle grew up in that city. At age 18, Ogle returned to western Illinois and took a job as a compositor for Monmouth’s Evening Gazette newspaper. That led to a succession of different jobs — working for newspapers in Media and Abingdon, as night operator for the Iowa Central Railroad and as a shipping clerk for Maple City Soap Works.
In 1901, Ogle married Daisy Selkirk, the daughter of a Scottish immigrant who worked as a coal miner in Monmouth. The following year, Ogle’s entrepreneurial instincts first emerged when he opened a billiards parlor in Media. Still working as a night operator for the Iowa Central, in 1903 he took a job as a shipping agent for the Santa Fe Railroad at the Nemo junction, just east of Monmouth. That led to a 1904 promotion as a shipping agent at Farmington, Illinois.
In 1905, Ogle was back again as an agent for the Iowa Central — this time in Hampton, Iowa. Soon, however, a bad decision would end his promising railroad career. He was arrested for larceny, pleading guilty to having a total of 15 tons of Iowa Central coal delivered to his home. On the very same day as his arrest, his daughter, Grace, was born.
Needing to repair his life in a hurry, Ogle returned to Monmouth and purchased a second-hand store at 520 South Main. Within a year, he traded that store for three promising properties in Galesburg and went to work as a clerk for the White Furniture store in Monmouth, while selling real estate on the side. Within a few months, he accepted a clerk position with Union House furniture in Kewanee.
Ogle must have been saving his money, for in 1908 he partnered with his wife and George L. Earp in incorporating the M.G. Ogle Co-operative House Furnishing Company. Cooperatives were much in vogue at the time, and the company made a public offering of 5,000 shares at $10 per share. Stockholders in Ogle’s company could purchase furniture and appliances for just 10 percent above factory cost.
The initial store was located at 528 South Third St., but in 1909 it moved to a building at 310 East First Ave. Meanwhile, a spacious three-story store was being erected by E.A. Lord at 120 East Archer Ave. to house the successful agriculture implement firm of William McKinley. When McKinley’s firm fell on financial hard times in 1911, Ogle saw an opportunity. McKinley moved his stock to Ogle’s First Avenue building, while Ogle negotiated a 10-year lease on the fine new store on East Archer.
As the Monmouth store grew, Ogle remained active in local real estate, purchasing and renting Monmouth homes. Ogle himself lived at three different Monmouth addresses: 833 East Third Ave., 602 East Broadway and 214 North Second St. In 1913, he opened his first branch store in Kirkwood and in 1914 he made several improvements to the Monmouth store. Finally, he had the means to develop his Galesburg properties and in 1915 he opened the first of two stores in that city. He hired sales managers for Monmouth and the surrounding area, which allowed him to move his family to Galesburg. Eventually, he would add stores in Kewanee and Abingdon.
Always looking for new business ventures, in 1917 Ogle leased 22,000 square feet of warehouse in Monmouth at 201 North Main St. This he opened up as a public storage facility, while also using it to store overflow merchandise. The following year, he opened his second store in Galesburg, and when the massive Maple City Manufacturing building was destroyed by fire in 1918, he purchased the land on which it stood, hoping to eventually develop it.
Ogle was always on the forefront of technology, which led him in 1919 to open Monmouth’s first phonograph store, securing a dealership from the Brunswick Company. That store operated for a few years at 106 East First Ave. He then started the Ogle Transfer Co., which did local and cross-country hauling, and operated a warehouse at 500 South Third St.
In the early 1920s, Ogle consolidated some of his businesses — perhaps with the goal of raising capital to establish a larger enterprise. His Kirkwood and Abingdon stores were closed, and when the lease on his main Monmouth store expired in 1921, the building (which today houses Vickroy’s Furniture) was converted to the Woods & Elliott grocery. Ogle continued to sell furniture in Monmouth, but from an upstairs room — possibly over the original Woolworth store at 59 Public Square.
In January 1925, Ogle was holding a closing-out sale at his main Galesburg store at 284 East Simmons when it was destroyed by fire, causing a loss of $50,000.
In 1926, Ogle made his next big move — to Chicago, where he opened what he advertised as “Chicago’s largest furniture wholesale house,” with a “million dollar stock.” He sold new and used furniture from stores on Kedzie and Cottage Grove Avenues, while also dealing in real estate.
Ogle died in 1943 at the age of 64. His wife, Daisy, continued to live in their Chicago home until her death 1958. Their daughter, Grace Murphy, worked as a brokerage secretary in nearby Oak Park. Years later, Grace returned to Monmouth and lived at 303 East Broadway, until her death in 1981. She and her parents are buried in Monmouth Cemetery.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian at Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 35 years.