Stephen C Dunn, Son of William Edward Dunn

Stephen C Dunn: From Factory Worker to Company Owner

William Edward Dunn (WED) and his first wife had a daughter, Ella. After being widowed, he married Josephine Barbara Lauer and they had eight more children. Their eldest son was Stephen C Dunn, and this page is about him; it's a success story from this generation.

First, Stephen's Obituary

Chicago Heights Star

"Death Claims Stephen Dunn; Funeral Today

Funeral services will be held today for Stephen Dunn, well known Steger businessman, who died at his home, 3418 Halsted street, Steger, Saturday afternoon following a lengthy illness. He was 48 years old.

Mr. Dunn had been taken to his home about a month ago from St. James hospital, where he had been for two months. Previous to that he underwent treatment at a Chicago hospital. Many friends and business associates in Chicago Heights and Steger were grieved to learn of his death.

A former superintendent of the Steger Piano company during its operation, Mr. Dunn for the past six years was a partner with Vincent Trabucco in the Steger Furniture factory. Mr. Dunn was born in St. Genevieve, Mo., and had lived in Steger for the past twenty-five years.

Survivors are the wife, Mrs. Louise [Seiter] Dunn, and four children, Leonard, Jennie, Aurelia and Stephen, all of Steger.

Friends will pay final respects at funeral services at ten o’clock this mornlng in St. Liborius church, Steger. The Rev. M. P. Weidner, pastor, will officiate. Interment will be made in St. James cemetery, Strassburg."


From the
1900 census:
The family lived in Chicago, Illinois.
The household was made up as follows:
William Dunn, 38, R.R. track foreman
Josephine Dunn, 29
Ella Dunn, 15, nurse girl
Stephen Dunn, 7
John Dunn, 5
Rosa Dunn, 4
Julia Dunn, 3
Eugene Dunn, 1


From the
1910 census:
The family now lived in Crete, Illinois. Ella would have been 25 by this time, had married, become Ella Dawson, and was no longer in the household. Rosa and Julia had died of scarlet fever, and three more sons had been born. WED had died in 1908 and the household looked like this:
Josephine Dunn,
Stephen C Dunn, 17, occupation appears to be "stock keeper", but could be book keeper; worked at the piano factory.
John H Dunn, 15, custom finisher, worked at the piano factory.
Eugene M Dunn, 11
Edward T Dunn, 9
Francis A Dunn, 6
Helen M Dunn, 2


From Stephen's WWI Draft Registration:
Date: June 5, 1917
Name: Stephen C Dunn
Age: 26
Address: Steger, Illinois
Date of birth: 16 December, 1892
Occupation: (illegible)
Employer: Steger & Sons [piano factory]
Exempt from the draft: Yes, had wife and child


From the
1920 census:
By this time Stephen had married and his young family now lived in Crete. Here's his household at that time:
Stephen Dunn, 27, foreman, piano factory
Louise Dunn, 33
Leonard Dunn, 3


From the 1930 census:
His family had now moved to Steger and the household looked like this:
Stephen Dunn, 38, superintendent, radio factory
Louise Dunn, 42
Leonard Dunn, 13
Genevieve Dunn, 7
Aurelia Dunn, 6
Stephen Dunn, 3


About the Steger & Sons Piano Manufacturing Company
Several members of Stephen's generation of our family worked for the Steger Piano Company, and an Internet search turned up some interesting information about it. The company was formed in the days before radios became household items, an era when pianos were a primary source of household entertainment. This excerpt of an article about the company touches on that issue:

"[John] Steger worked at a series of different jobs and lived in various households where he noticed that the most prominent piece of household furniture was a piano. In the booming post-Civil War United States, the piano was not merely a musical instrument but a status symbol, sole purveyor of entertainment to thousands of homes. Built by a master craftsman and his apprentices, the ornate piece of decorative furniture was expensive. Thus, although in great demand, only the wealthy could afford them. Steger's dream was to make the piano affordable for everyone through mass production."

Mr. Steger - who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1871- was highly successful in this piano manufacturing endeavor, and became a multi-millionaire. When he died his estate was valued at $3 milliion dollars. In 1916! Adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of more than $59 million in 2008 dollars. In building his success he recruited German craftsmen, developed assembly-line manufacturing of pianos and designed special railcars for shipping them. By 1920, the village of Steger was the "piano capital of the world," producing more than 100 pianos a day.

Another article says this about the company:

"Steger died in 1916 at the height of his prominence and popularity and at the pinnacle of his company's prosperity. He was spared from experiencing consumer whim-switching from the piano to the newfangled contraption, the radio. No longer the most sought after household item, demand for the mass-produced piano dwindled away. Sales plummeted, and ten years later, Steger's grand dream suffered the marketplace's deathblow. Steger and Sons Piano Manufacturing Company declared bankruptcy in 1926."


About the Steger Furniture Manufacturing Company
As the popularity of radios effectively killed the mass market for pianos, radios began to dominate the home entertainmet market. The resulting demand for radio cabinets led to the formation of what became known as the Steger Furniture Company. Here's an excerpt from an article about that:

"After Steger's death in 1916, the factories continued until closing in 1926. Having depended on one major manufacturer, the village was particularly vulnerable during the Great Depression. However, the remarkable collection of buildings continued to be a key employment center. In 1930 a macaroni factory started in one of the old buildings, and several years later local craftsmen joined together to manufacture radio cabinets in another. At its height of activity, their Steger Furniture Company employed close to 700

After seeing that article I ran across a website containing a lot of Steger history and photos, and there I found this article:

"Old Steger Piano Factory Home to Steger Furniture and Others

By Emil Zeman

In 1932 a business that was later to be known as Steger Furniture Company had its modest beginning in the old Steger Cafeteria building located on the southwest corner of 33rd place and Chicago Road. With just a handful of workers this business began to produce wooden cabinets for table model radios.

In late 1933 a group of four men, Vince Trabucco, James Sperti, Steve Dunn and Frank Schaefer (the first three individuals were Steger residents) acquired the Steger Piano Company property that had been vacant for several years. These four men founded Steger Furniture Company and developed it into a prosperous enterprise.

In 1934 the cabinet shop was moved from the cafeteria site to the new location. The new site was the three-story structure on East 34th St. located just west of the old C & E I railrosd tracks that had been a part of the Steger Piano factory.

In 1935 this same company started production of console-type radio cabinets began (sic) in another part of this huge complex. Later, cabinets for Hi-Fi units, record players and TVs were part of the production line. In peak years as many as 700 workers were employed by Steger Furniture, producing well over 100,000 large cabinets plus many thousands of small cabinets in the 34th Street plant."

The dates in the above article coincide with Stephen's 1938 obituary, for it says he and his partner had owned the business for six years. So, it was 1932 when Stephen and his partners started the Steger Furniture Company. This would have been during the height of the Great Depression, which began in 1929.

It would have been a huge challenge to start a business during that period. However, their ability to grow their new business to the point of employing hundreds of workers suggests that they saw the business of making wooden cabinets as the wave of the future as the country moved into the age of electronics. Why would they have made radios with wooden cabinets? According to the research I've done, plastic didn't come into its own until after World War II.

The result of their vision - and timing - was a high level of success. We have a snapshot - made into a postcard - of Stephen and his wife Louise, along with his brother John and his wife Ruth - both successful businessmen - who, in the midst of the Great Depression were prosperous enough to afford an Alaskan cruise on a pleasure ship. The ship was the S.S. Dellwood and on John's page of this blog you will find some interesting things we've learned about that ship.

As to the company itself, in 1945 Steger Furniture Company was acquired by the publicly-held Sparton Corporation to manufacture cabinets for the radio and radio-phonographs that had become the mainstay of the Sparton product line.

Last updated 5/18/09

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