History of The Longaberger Company

In 1896, when the Longaberger family moved to Dresden, Ohio, the tiny village still enjoyed prosperity as a rural transportation and industrial hub in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There was a hotel on Main Street, three railroad stations, a woolen mill and a paper mill. In the not-too-distant past, a side-cut canal connected the community with the historic Ohio Canal, transforming the village into a bustling canal town.

In the early 1900s, baskets were as commonplace as paper bags and plastic containers are now. Ware Baskets, made at the Dresden Basket Factory, were used to carry pottery ware for the region's booming pottery industry.

In 1919, J.W. Longaberger (Dave's father) took a job with the Dresden Basket Factory. As a full-time apprentice he meticulously learned the basketmaking art by first crafting basket bottoms. Later he mastered the precise, tight weaving style that would become his trademark. J.W. grew to love the art of basket making.

While working at the basket factory, J.W. met Bonnie Jean Gist from the neighboring community of Trinway. Their courtship led to marriage in 1927. During the Great Depression, the Dresden Basket Factory closed. J.W. found work at the local paper mill, but continued making baskets after work and on weekends. In 1936, J.W. and Bonnie purchased the closed Dresden Basket Factory and the home on that property. J.W. then named his new business The Ohio Ware Basket Company, reflecting the importance of Ware Baskets and the pottery industry to his small side business.

The Longaberger family eventually grew to include 12 children - six boys and six girls. Bonnie worked full time at the woolen mill to help make ends meet and the older children helped their father by making basket bottoms, carefully arranging the upsplints for pottery Ware Baskets and even selling baskets to the neighbors.

In 1934, a fifth child was born to J.W. and Bonnie — Dave Longaberger. Early in life, Dave had three strikes against him. His family was economically disadvantaged, he stuttered so badly people had difficulty understanding him, and he had epilepsy in a time when the condition was not widely understood.

Dave's liabilities did not stand in the way of his ambition, however. As a youngster he worked in a grocery store, shoveled snow, delivered papers, mowed grass and hauled trash. He ran the projectors at the local movie house too. Because Dave was always making money from one job or another, his family called him the "25-cent millionaire".

At age 21, Dave finally graduated from high school. He began his career by driving a bread truck for several years for two different bakeries. From 1961-1962, Dave served in the U.S. Army.

In the early 1960s, his first daughter, Tami, was born, and Dave grew eager to take the many lessons he had learned over the years and put them to work for his own business and family. In 1963, when Harry's Dairy Bar in Dresden came up for sale, Dave and his wife bought it. The restaurant had two booths, two tables and eight stools. Later, Dave purchased the defunct A&P Grocery in town. He remodeled and expanded the building, and opened the Dresden IGA Foodliner. As always, Dave worked very hard during those years, and between both businesses he earned a solid living for his family, which now also included younger daughter Rachel.

In the early 1970s, Dave noticed that baskets were becoming very popular, and he also noticed that many department stores were beginning to sell imported baskets. Dave wondered if people would appreciate baskets like the fine handcrafted ones his father used to make. So he asked his father to make a dozen market baskets, and then took them to a nearby town. They sold immediately and the shop requested more! J.W. made several dozen more baskets. Sadly, however, J.W. died at the age of 71, just as the family trade was being renewed.

Dave opened J.W.'s Handwoven Baskets™ in 1976 in Dresden. Interest in these beautiful handmade baskets continued to grow, until Dave had to find a place in which to expand his small basket factory. He found a very unlikely building: the old woolen mill where his mother had worked, built in the 1890s. It had been vacant since 1955, and had broken windows, uneven floors and a sagging roof. The brick walls were all of the facility that remained solid and strong. In this dilapidated building, Dave envisioned a basket factory with hundreds of craftsmen and craftswomen weaving, tacking, talking and laughing. He had proven to himself through his previous business ventures that he had a knack for envisioning the unlikely, so he approached his new venture with great enthusiasm.

Dave became increasingly convinced that American consumers wanted the handmade craftsmanship and quality of Longaberger baskets. He tried different ways to sell baskets at malls, department stores and other retails outlets, with varying degrees of success. In 1978, Dave discovered that the most effective way to sell the company's baskets was not through retail outlets but through home shows, where an educated home consultant could show Longaberger baskets and share the history and explain the craftsmanship that each basket holds. The Longaberger Company's direct sales organization was born.

In 1984, Dave's daughter, Tami, joined the company full-time after her graduation from The Ohio State University. Tami worked in virtually every area of the company, and in 1994 Dave appointed her president. Working side by side until Dave's death in 1999, Tami learned her father's management principles first-hand. Clearly cut from the same visionary cloth as her father, she used her own extraordinary gifts to diversify the company into other home lifestyle areas, which now account for nearly half of the company's revenues.

Under Tami's leadership, customers have developed an amazing passion for baskets . The company has been featured for its cutting edge employee programs and outstanding corporate citizenship. Dave's younger daughter, Rachel, carries on the family's tradition of philanthropy by heading The Longaberger Foundation, which has donated millions to local charities and educational institutions since its inception in 1998.

Today, The Longaberger Company is America's premier maker of handcrafted baskets and offers other home and lifestyle products, including pottery, wrought iron, fabric accessories and specialty foods. The company is based in Newark, Ohio, and there are approximately 45,000 independent Home Consultants located in all U.S. states who sell Longaberger products directly to customers.