Friday, February 21, 1997
Henry Boyd built furniture to last

Tristate history is filled with African-American achievement, but much of it is not known by the public. Today, in recognition of Black History Month, The Enquirer offers the second of a four-part, weekly series that highlights the lives and contributions of some significant local African-Americans. Today we profile inventor Granville T. Woods.

Next week: Ambassadors George Washington Williams and Jesse Locker.

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Henry Boyd was a man ahead of his time who created a timeless legacy.

During the 1840s and 1850s - more than a century before the integrated workplace was law - he employed whites and blacks in his Cincinnati factory.

One of the remaining Boyd canopy beds is on display at the Golden Lamb Inn, Lebanon. The state historic preservation office has designated it one of Ohio's 100 most important antiques.

As popular as Mr. Boyd's beds are today, he was that unpopular with some people during his heyday.

His second Cincinnati factory, at Broadway and Eighth Street, was burned three times by whites. They were either jealous of his success or didn't approve of his progressive hiring practice.

He rebuilt twice. The Quakers helped. But after the third fire - in 1862 - he was forced to shut down because he couldn't get insurance.

Mr. Boyd was born a slave in 1802 in Kentucky. His owner hired him out as a cabinetmaker, and he was able to buy his freedom at 18.

Upon his arrival in Cincinnati, he couldn't find work in his trade. Instead he worked for 10 years as a longshoreman and house builder. He saved his money to open his first furniture shop on New Street in 1836.

Mr. Boyd came to prominence at a time when Cincinnati's bustling furniture industry was in transition. Most furniture had previously been made by hand in craft shops by artisans. But as shop owners began competing on a regional level, the industry moved toward mass-produced furniture. In 1842, he moved to the second factory. It was a four-building complex where Mr. Boyd employed 50 - a mix of black, white and immigrant workers.

Mr. Boyd developed a patented process to make the Boyd Bedstead. It had rounded side rails that screwed into the bedposts. The technique for mortising various parts of beds made them popular with hotels throughout the South and Southwest. They were easy to take apart and clean. Antiques experts consider them ''a superior bed.''

''Boyd is important'' to the history of American furniture-making, ''because he was so successful,'' writes Jane Hageman of Hyde Park in The Furniture Makers of Cincinnati 1790 to 1849 (Merten Printing, 1976).

Mr. Boyd retired in 1863 but continued to live on New Street until his death in April 1886.

In 1994, the Boyd Bedstead was part of an exhibition at Chicago's Du Sable Museum of African-American History.

Our House: Early African-American Furniture Makers also included furniture made by Thomas Day of Milton, N.C., C. Lee of New Orleans and William Coons of Warren County, Mo.

Mr. Boyd's work is authenticated by the stamp bearing his name and city that he put on bedposts made after 1843.

The Golden Lamb's is believed to be the only Boyd Bedstead still on public display in the Tristate.

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