Orgill Brothers & Co

         ...the oldest Memphis Firm

 

 


Founded in 1847, Orgill Brothers & Co is Memphis' oldest running business.  The hardware distributor was founded when the city wasn't yet 30 years old with a population of only 7,000.  Orgill sold hardware, cutlery, and guns - everything a pioneer town would need.   What's extremely unusual is that after 167 years the same family still "runs the store".  Today Orgill, Inc. is the nation's largest and fastest growing independently owned hardlines distributor operating five distribution centers across the country.  These centers distribute hardware, home improvement and building materials across the United States and to more than 60 countries throughout the world.   Annual revenues total more than one billion dollars.

 
 

Click on small photos to see an enlargement.


 
 
  

In the 1840's there was little American-made hardware.  It was necessary to import practically all the cutlery, saws, guns, and other articles from Europe.  This merchandise came by way of steamers to New Orleans and then up river to Memphis.  During this period, two brothers - Joseph and William Orgill came from Straffordshire, England to New York as representatives of the leading British manufacturers to act as importers.  They were associated with the New York company of Wiebusch & Hilger.  William became a pioneer traveling salesman and got to know the Mississippi Valley very well.  He was impressed with the possibilities of Memphis as a trading center.   Around the same time,  he purchased a hardware business in Virginia

    Straffordshire, England  
 

William moved his newly acquired hardware business to Memphis, where he joined in partnership with the firm of R. T. Lamb.  Together they had the largest hardware stock south of the Ohio River.  Thomas Holyoake and Henry Lownes soon became members of the firm - and upon the death of Lamb, the name changed to Holyoake, Lownes and Company.  The new firm erected a brick building on the corner of Front and Monroe streets.  It was considered one of the finest in the city.

 

Wiebusch & Hilger ad R. T. Lamb Holyoake, Lownes & Co pistol barrel The New Memphis Building
 
 
 
 

Edmuond Orgill, the younger brother of Joseph and William, followed his two brothers to New York City.  In 1855 he also came to Memphis, where he became a partner in the hardware firm.  The name of the firm changed to Lownes, Orgill and Company.  Edmund acquired a controlling interest in the firm and held it until his death in 1905, passing the control to his three sons (Frederick, William, and Joseph.  His eldest son Edmund , Jr, died in 1885).  In 1859  Mr. Lownes retired and the firm's name changed to Orgill Brothers & Company.

  Edmund Orgill Lownes, Orgill Co knife Case
 

The earliest available Memphis Directory is 1849 and "Lownes, Orgill & Co" is listed, verifying the early existence of Orgill in the city.  The next available Memphis Directory is 1855 and "Lownes, Orgill & Co is still listed.  In the 1865 Directory, the listing is now Orgill Brothers & Co. for the first time.   See the listings below.

 

1849 Directory

1855-56 Directory 1959 Directory 1865-66 Directory 1865-66 Directory 1903 Directory
 

The Orgill Brothers did advertise.  It's amazing that so many of their ads have survived from the early newspapers.  See the ads from 1855 to 1887 below:

 

1855 Ad 1866 Ad 1868 Ad 1869 Ad 1883 Ad 1887 Ad
 
 
 
 



Edmund, Jr. the eldest of Edmund's sons died in 1885.  By 1890 Edmund's other three sons were part of the family business.  The company was incorporated in 1898 with Edmund, Sr as President, Frederick as Vice President, Joseph as Treasurer, and William as Secretary.  Frederick became President upon the death of his father in 1905. 

Frederick William Joseph  
 
The Orgill Brothers & Company Retail Building on Front Street is prominent in postcards and photographs of the day.
 

       
 

In 1908, the company made the decision to confine its activities to the wholesale trade and sold its retail business to the DeSoto Hardware Company.  Frederick Orgill, Jr. is President of DeSoto Hardware Company, which took over Orgill's Front Street Retail Store.

  DeSoto at Orgill store DeSoto Hardware DeSoto Hardware
 
 
 
 
Orgill Brothers & Co memorabilia is very collectible today...
 
1895 Billhead 1898 Envelope 1904 Billhead
 

1923 Letter 1942 Envelope Orgill Implements Ogrill Building
 

Orgill Knife Orgill Knife Orgill Hatchet Label Orgill Hatchet
      

Orgill Toy Truck Vintage Card Tri-State Fair 1905 Ad
 

1900 Billhead

1900 Envelope 1949 Ad
 

1866 Ad

1947 Billhead

1981 Catalog

Vintage Bottle Opener

 

The Spur 1924

Pages 2 - 3

Pages 8 - 9

Pages 10 - 11

Pages 14 - 15

 
 

Back Cover

Parts

Parts

 

1924 Warehouse

 
 
 
   
 

Orgill Brothers & Company has survived wars, epidemics, the Depression and an endless series of competitive challenges and has always been able to adapt.  There were many articles about the company in national Hardware Magazines.

 

1919 article 1919-Page 2 1919-Page 3 1919-Page 4 1883 article Edmund Obit Frederick Obit
 
 
 
 





The Orgill name is legend in Memphis and has become a synonymous term for "hardware".  This building, at 505 Tennessee, was once an Orgill distribution center.  Their name is still visible on the building's walls.  That building has now been renovated for apartments and is named "The Lofts at South Bluffs.

The Lofts

 
     

       

505 Tennessee ... The Orgill Brothers distribution Center is now renovated into The Lofts at South Bluff

 
 

With 1800 employees, many of them in Memphis, and a fleet of 235 trucks, Orgill operates distribution centers in several U.S. cities. 

 

Various Orgill logos during the years...

 
 
 
 

Since 1899, the Rhodes and Sewanee College have battled for gridiron supremacy with the victorious team taking home the Edmund Orgill trophy.  Edmond Orgill is also the namesake of a golf course in Millington.  Orgill Brothers & Co sponsored a city baseball team which became city-champs in 1945.

 

Edmund Orgill Cup - 1954

Orgill Baseball Champs 1945

Edmund Orgill Golf Course

 
 
 
 

Edmund Orgill, Mayor of Memphis 1955-1959

In 1955 Edmund Orgill became the first mayor of Memphis elected without the backing of E. C. Crump in almost five decades.  During his administration (and afterwards), Orgill helped ease integration in Memphis.  He was key in convincing the Memphis business community to peacefully desegregate public places such as department stores, parks, libraries and eating establishments.    Edmund Orgill was the son of William and Georgia Orgill - born in 1899 and died in 1983

Edmund Orgill 1945 Edmund Orgill 1968  
 
 
 

The company, now called Orgill, Inc. is still majority-owned by the Orgill family.   Joe Orgill III, great-great-grandson of the original, sits on the board of directors and holds a deep respect for his ancestors. 

 

Joe Orgill III

    
 
 

        Orgill Brothers & Company

 

 



 
 

Credits

 

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The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

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