Eleanor Roosevelt and her friends Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day created Val-Kill Industries in 1926. Located on the Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, New York, Val-Kill Industries was a direct response to changing demographics in the local community. At Val-Kill, the Roosevelts promoted cottage industry as a means to employ young men, supplement the income of farming families, and sustain a healthy balance between rural agriculture and urban industry.
Eleanor and Nancy were the most actively involved. Eleanor handled marketing, tirelessly promoting Val-Kill Industries in published articles, interviews, and appearances at department stores selling Val-Kill furniture. Nancy, a trained and skilled woodworker, designed most of the furniture and managed the shop.
At Val-Kill, skilled artisans produced high quality replicas and adaptations of early American furniture in response to the immensely popular Colonial Revival style. Frank Landolfa, Otto Berge and Arnold Berge were the principal craftsmen. In 1934, the business expanded to include the Val-Kill Forge, and a few years later, Val-Kill Looms. The forge produced a wide range of common pewter pieces based on both colonial and contemporary forms. Nelly Johannesen produced homespun woolen cloth under the Val-Kill name, but worked rather independently.
Val-Kill Industries continued in operation until 1937 when Eleanor and her friends dissolved the business partnership. The equipment from the furniture shop was given to Otto Berge, and the forge was given to Arnold Berge. Otto continued making finely crafted colonial-style furniture using the Val-Kill name until he retired in the 1970s.
The National Park Service has assembled a large and comprehensive collection of furniture and pewter, tools and archival material related to the history of Val-Kill Industries. The collection continues to grow on a selective basis. For more information on Val-Kill Industries, contact the park’s curator.
Did You Know?
Eleanor Roosevelt, along with Louis Howe, was instrumental in getting FDR back into politics after he contracted polio in 1921.