Kirsch Drapery Hardware “at a hundred million windows” 1932

Sorting through boxes of Kirsch archives has been my quest for the past couple weeks.


The history of the Kirsch Company and the history of Sturgis were intertwined for 90 years. It has been well documented by Robert Hair so history buffs know about it. The memories live on in the hearts of Kirsch employees, so many local residents know about it. For the rest, listen up.

C.W. Kirsch can only be described as an entrepreneurial genius. He created the flat curtain rod and opened the company in 1907 in Three Rivers but soon moved it to Sturgis. We have some of those early ledgers thanks to the late Larry Franks.

All of his former failures regrouped into success and soon the business was booming. Looking over the archives I realized that C.W. wasn’t just an inventor. He was a promoter and proudly displayed Kirsch products. He was a good businessman who understood management, finances, sales, service and how to treat people – employees and customers alike.

In 1914, C.W. printed the first “Kirsch Sales Booster” magazine to help dealers sell Kirsch products. It was revolutionary in the home decorating market. The July 1914 edition flaunted Kirsch products, but it wasn’t just informative, it offered cash prizes. They could win $10 for submitting the best window display, $10 for the best advertisement and $5 for the best sales pitch. It was also funny with a corny photo of men who believed in the product and a page of jokes.

The magazine evolved over time into several publications. Talk about a blast from the past, the windows catalogs show styles through the decades illustrating how Kirsch set the trends in window décor. 

C.W. was also an optimist. He was trying to boost morale during the Great Depression and I found several cards he apparently distributed. One stanza on such a card reads:  “This country isn’t on the bum, There is no need for feeling glum, Let’s take ahold and make ‘er hum. Be optimistic!”

He wrote a better known poem, “What the World Needs.” It showed his philosophy in life and gained attention around the country. I found a list of publications it was in and on his 66th birthday, Sept. 1, 1933, Kirsch executives gave him a scrapbook of 300 favorable comments to “What the World Needs.”

A few days later, C.W. suffered from heart problems and died at their Klinger Lake home on Sept. 14, 1933. Can you imagine the devastation among his staff? The devastation in the community?

Kirsch Company, however, continued strong for years and one remaining record is years of a quarterly newsletter “The Kirsch Courier.” I randomly picked up a copy from fall of 1967. It covered every area of the business. Two pages honored those who worked at Kirsch 40, 35, 30, 25 years. One page highlighted the excitement about “our astonishing new Electrac.” Another celebrated the 35-year tradition of the windows publication. One page was all about Kirsch employees who were retiring and joining the “Retirees Club.” The next welcomed new employees and announced Glen Oaks Community College opening, at which some Kirsch employees are pursuing education. 

Page 8 was an interesting mix. The top of the page announced the 4-H Beef Kirsch purchased at the St. Joseph County Fair. The bottom of the page shows Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who was opening a curtain on a Kirsch traverse rod. Another page featured the hobby of an employee – James Ison, Kirsch display and art director. Two pages celebrated the Kirsch men’s and women’s bowling leagues. A little space was given to a new Kirsch warehouse branch in Omaha, Nebraska.

Then I picked up an August 1949 Kirsch Courier. It was only four pages and on one they addressed the parking problem at Kirsch. It summed up the situation saying, “Courtesy, rather than a series of rules, is the solution to our parking problem.”

A more serious problem, it said, was the before and after work traffic on Prospect Street. It was so heavy the city imposed a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. “If those of us at Kirsch cooperate by slowing down thru this area, maybe we can set an example for other traffic and remedy this dangerous situation.”

That’s just scratching the surface of the company. I could go on about the huge sales department and the programs from the annual sales convention. Another massive team made the products – the engineering and manufacturing departments. Each department was highlighted in nearly every issue of The Kirsch Courier. 

Kirsch Company scattered from Sturgis around the country and the world in the 90 years before it left town. We have stuff to prove it. We also have former employees who love to remember a great place to work.