Henderson County, Kentucky Personalities

Jacob Alles

Rolltop Desk Was Fruit of Hendersonian's Labor

During the 59 years Jacob ALLES ran Alles Brothers Furniture Store on First Street, his customers knew him as a jovial dark-eyed man with a never-ending repertoire of stories.

What many of them didn't know was that he was the inventor or a piece of furniture that's been a favorite in homes since the last century.

Bewhiskered Jacob ALLES, who bragged at 96 that his mustache was the very same one he had grown as a young man, invented the rolltop desk.

"Dad said it was the best thing he ever invented," said Herman Alles, president of the store his father founded. "It was the ONLY thing he invented.

His one burst of creativity never brought him a cent.

"The patent was never in Dad's name," Herman ALLES said. "It was in the name of the manufacturing company that he and his brother John started in 1877, when Dad was 16 years old.

"He later told me that the idea for the desk came to him when he was on the road taking orders for furniture." ALLES said. "He said he was thinking about something different the company could make, and that was what he hit on. He was about 20 years old at the time."

Jacob ALLES, who "kept going" at the local store until shortly before his death in 1955, wasn't thinking about making a fortune when he designed the famous desk, his son says.

"It's hard to imagine it in this hectic day when everyone's always in a hurry and things aren't really built to last anymore, but in that era, people cared about doing things well and taking their time. All Dad ever wanted was the sheer satisfaction of knowing he had done something worthwhile."

Even if his father had gotten a percentage from the sale of each rolltop desk in the years following its invention, he probably wouldn't have made a bundle, ALLES says.

"Back then, you could by a chair for 25 cents and a bed for $1.50. the desk couldn't have cost much more than that. I think a patent runs out in 20 years, so by the time prices were up, it would have expired."

Jacob ALLES was practically born into the furniture business. "The family began a furniture store in 1860 in Jasper, Indiana" ALLES said. A picture of that first store shows a large sign on the side of the frame building that said, "Furniture, mattresses, coffins and caskets."

He stayed in the manufacturing business he had begun with his brother until 1890, when he decided there wasn't enough business to support both of them. He then moved to Mount Vernon, Indiana with another brother to begin a furniture store. That store, ALLES says, is still owned by his cousins.

"Dad came to Henderson in 1896 and started his own store down the street where the bar is now," ALLES said. "He bought the building that presently houses the main store in 1916. For years and years, he opened up at six in the morning and closed at nine at night."

He did business with a smile and paid federal taxes with a frown.

"When the federal tax laws came in, Dad just couldn't understand them" ALLES laughed. "He didn't mind paying property taxes, but he couldn't figure out why in the world anyone should have to pay money to the federal government."

Jacob would be pleased if he were around today.

"His rolltop desks are enjoying a new wave of popularity," his son said. "We have a time keeping enough of them stocked."

Reprinted with permission.
The Gleaner, Henderson, Kentucky
By Judy Jenkins, Staff Writer


Transcribed by Netta Mullin for HCH&GS