William Volker and Company Records (KC0059)
William Volker, son of Frederick and Dorthea (Busche) Volker, was born near Hanover, Germany on April 1, 1859. He immigrated with his family to Chicago, Illinois in 1871. During the next eleven years William Volker attended public school, studied accounting and bookkeeping, worked as a store clerk and became a trusted employee of a moulding and picture frame company in Chicago. When his employer died suddenly, young William Volker became an adviser to the estate of Charles Brachvogel and managed the business for the family. Volker soon decided it was time for him to begin his own business. He visited Kansas City, Missouri and saw the beginnings of a bustling city beginning to build and expand, a city without a retail moulding and custom frame store.
Volker entered into a partnership with a Mr. Hansmann and Albert Saukup, both from the Brachvogel Company. William Volker & Company opened for business in July 1882 at 6th and Delaware in Kansas City, Missouri. When production costs proved far greater than anticipated, Volker shifted the company from retail to wholesale. By 1885, when the partnership ended, the company was on a sound financial footing. In 1889 Volker instituted profit sharing, then an unheard of innovation. By 1891 the net worth of the William Volker Company was $60,000, up from the initial total investment of $7,000. The company continued to thrive and in 1900 Volker opened a branch office in Denver, Colorado. In 1906 two new offices were added, one in Houston and the other in San Francisco. Other branch offices followed.
Kansas City proved to be very profitable for William Volker and he, in turn, was good to the citizens of Kansas City. In 1907 Volker helped establish the Kansas City Transportation and Steamship Company and he also donated a tuberculosis pavilion for the Kansas City General Hospital. Volker was president of the first Board of Pardons and Paroles for three years using as his motto, “no job, no parole.” He worked with Terry Brigham of the Helping Hand Institute to provide employment for the impoverished and was a strong supporter of the Provident Association. Volker conceived and wrote the plans for the first municipal department of public welfare which passed city council on April 4, 1910. He then served as its first president. While William Volker had been quietly and unobtrusively giving aid to the needy and footing many of the bills for the public projects he helped to institute through committee membership, he still felt he could do more. On August 29, 1917, William Volker established the William Volker Charitable Fund and served as its president to insure the proper dispersal of funds to those in need.
The William Volker Company continued to thrive and Mr. Volker remained active in the company until his retirement on January 3, 1938. At that time Harold W. Luhnow, Volker’s nephew, became company president. Luhnow, with Volker’s moral and financial support was active in breaking the hold of the Pendergast Machine on Kansas City. Mr. Volker continued to assist with business matters and used his office to administer the Volker Charitable Fund.
Mr. Volker retired from the presidency of the William Volker Charitable Fund in 1944. William Volker died on November 4, 1947. He was survived by his wife of thirty-six years, Rose Roebke Volker and many nephews and nieces.
During his lifetime, Volker had been a strong advocate of education and served on the school board. He was also one of the principal benefactors of the University of Kansas City, now the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The campus located at 51st and Rockhill Road is named the William Volker Campus in his honor. Volker’s biography Mr. Anonymous: The Story of William Volker, by Herbert C. Cornuelle was published in 1951.
These records contain a limited amount of correspondence of William Volker, Company records pertaining to sales, accounts, employee policies, and photographs of employees. Also included are requests for financial assistance from the William Volker Fund and notes concerning the applicants made by Mr. Volker during the years 1938-1947. Cancelled checks issued on the Volker Fund for February and March 1937 are also included. The records further contain information on the Kansas City Blind Manufacturing Company, the William Rockhill Nelson Trust, and the dedication of the Volker Memorial in 1958. The records include 62 volumes of catalogues from the William Volker Company and the Armstrong Floor Covering Company for whom Volker Company was a Kansas City distributor. These volumes cover the years 1894-1957, for the Volker Company, and 1916-1964 for the Armstrong Company. ca.1893-1964.
87 folders, 11 cubic feet (including 62 volumes).
See also The William Volker and Company by David Boutros.
© State Historical Society of Missouri
Monday, February 07, 2011
State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center-Kansas City
(816) 235-1543 WHMCKC@umkc.edu