In 1843, Lewis Thompson founded a small business in Philadelphia to import Mahogany because it was hard to obtain supplies for the burgeoning furniture-manufacturing business, which was centered in Philadelphia. Mr. Thompson, who came to the United States from England at 20 years of age, began by importing Mahogany logs from Mexico and Brazil. Thompson’s practical knowledge of the correct methods of handling mahogany and other valuable cabinetry woods, gained from his native land, induced the young Thompson in the early 1840’s to put in the first Mahogany lumber and veneer plant in Philadelphia, located at 11th and Ridge Street.
Later, to cut shipping costs, the company built a sawmill on the Amazon, manufactured the logs into lumber in Brazil, then imported the lumber into Philadelphia. Subsequently, Thompson Mahogany Company expanded its veneer business with a mill in North Carolina.
Always innovative, Thompson Mahogany Company has changed its business strategy so that it has endured wars, depressions, foreign political coups and the ups and downs of the lumber industry. For nearly 170 years, the company has responded to changing times, weathering all economic conditions, including the Great Depression. TMC’s exceptional ability to innovate has contributed to the company’s staying power. During the 1930s, for example, TMC supplied the wood for newly popular “cathedral” style radios. Although importing about stopped during World War II, Thompson’s Mahogany stock found its way into PT boats and gliders to help the war effort. The United States Navy also became a customer, using Mahogany for ship propellers.
Other notable customers have included Steinway & Sons, C.F. Martin & Company and Marsellus Casket Company.
Lewis Thompson took a prominent part in the business and social affairs of his adopted city. He was president of the St. George Society, of the Spring Garden Institute and participated in the many spirited undertakings of his day. Upon his death, George W. Thompson, his son, succeeded him in the business. George was the sole owner of the business of Lewis Thompson & Company until his death in 1886. His son, Charles H. Thompson and grandson to Lewis Thompson, cut short his studies at medical school to step in as the head of a great lumber business with over 100 employees.
Charles Thompson brought fresh eyes to the business and steadily grew it. He believed in the value of timber. He also became president of the Great Smokey Mountain Land and Lumber Company, Tellico Lumber Company as well as Carbon Coal & Mining Company. He was a member of many clubs and associations. He married Hattie Adamson in 1891 and had a son, Charles H. Thompson, Jr., who later took over the business, followed by Robert Thompson.
Thompson Mahogany Company was a privately held business owned by the original Thompson family from its founding until 1976, when it was acquired from Robert Thompson by a public company. TMC was taken private again in 1985 when it was acquired by another Thompson – Donald Thompson – but one who is no relation to the original Thompson family.
Because it has long been a landmark of Philadelphia industry, Thompson Mahogany Company was featured March 5, 2001 in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Changing the Pace of History” article as one of Philadelphia’s historical businesses.
In 2009, Thompson Mahogany merged with East Teak Fine Hardwoods, Inc. As a division of East Teak, Thompson Mahogany Company continues its time-honored legacy.
Its years of service alone are sufficient to command attention in this country of quick changes and rapid growth.