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From Corsets to Philanthropy: The Warren Featherbone Company

Edward K. Warren was a product of Three Oaks, Michigan—a tiny town near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Warren had been known to juggle many roles in his lifetime including inventor, entrepreneur, conservationist, and community leader. One of his most notable accomplishments was the establishment of The Warren Featherbone Company in 1883. While running a dry goods store in Three Oaks, he began hearing customers complain about the high price and low durability of whalebone.  After years of research and navigating the patent process, Warren began to manufacture a new product called Featherbone, which was used primarily as a stay material for women’s corsets.

Warren discovered on his buying trips to feather duster factories in Chicago that large quantities of pointer feathers were discarded by manufacturers as unsuitable for feather dusters. He found that this inexpensive raw material was a perfect substitute for whalebone. When his product was patented in 1883, he began building machinery and opened a small factory in Three Oaks, Michigan. His business prospered after he proved to dressmakers and dry-goods dealers that featherbone was superior to whalebone.

Due to changing fashion styles, Warren continued to offer new products and promotions that included bustles, bust extenders, featherbone-stiffened fabrics, and collar and belt foundations. To further promote his products, featherbone parlors were opened in major cities where fashion shows were offered to demonstrate the uses of his products to customers. It was not long after the turn of the century that fashions no longer required featherbone. Warren anticipated this change and made plans to switch his manufacturing facilities to making other millinery items such as ribbon, elastic, and braid.

The Warren Featherbone Company continued on for more than 125 years with various ventures including manufacturing, banking, agriculture, and investments. It was able to continue its operations through major changes in society, industry, and technology.

Today the Warren Featherbone Company is involved in two major growth areas in this country—healthcare and education.  It developed the Featherbone Center and Lanier Tech's Manufacturing Development Center that is located in the former Warren Featherbone Company building in Gainesville, Georgia. This facility, originally built in 1956, operated as an infant wear manufacturing business until August 2005. The Featherbone Center was organized in 2005 by the Warren Featherbone Company along with other local investors. This center was developed for the community as what the organization calls a "communiversity" to help provide cross-generational learning through an alliance of educational institutions.

Philanthropy was important to Warren and in 1917 he acted on his vision to help create a better world for future generations by establishing the Warren Featherbone Foundation. The foundation seeks to expand on his vision by establishing new methods for everyday people to engage in philanthropy. Many have benefited from the foundation's donation of properties for parklands and wilderness areas in the State of Michigan, known as Warren Dunes State Park and Warren Woods. After Warren’s passing, the foundation became inactive for many years. It was reestablished in Gainesville, Georgia in 1993 through the North Georgia Community Foundation by his great-grandson, Charles E. “Gus” Whalen Jr.

Finding aid to the Warren Family Papers (00007)

Finding aid to the Chamberlain Family Papers (00002)

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