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  • Writer's pictureCheyenne Antell

Lesser-known Creations of the Lullabye Furniture Company

John Joseph Bukolt Sr. was born on January 20, 1869 in Northeim; a small town in Manitowoc county. John Bukolt would become one of the most well-known names in Portage County with his involvement in local politics and manufacturing, but the popularity of his biggest factory and its self-rocking cradle would overshadow many of the other inventions that John Bukolt worked on in Stevens Point. 

Automatic Cradle Mfg. Co Ad, Stevens Point Journal, August 19, 1925.

In September of 1897 the first version of the Lullabye Factory opened in Stevens Point, named The Automatic Cradle Company (sometimes referred to as the Automatic Cradle Manufacturing Company). John Bukolt is listed as a master mechanic at this site which manufactured a variety of designs of automatic cradles, altars, church furniture, farm wagons, and “novelties of wood and metal”. One of these novelties is described as a “boy’s coaster”, which would later become known as a Flivver. In news articles from the late 1800s and onwards into the 1900s the cradles are the forefront item. They are the economic push for the factory which continued to expand regularly. In 1898 the building was expanded specifically for additional cradle manufacturing, with a two-story addition added onto the side of the existing plant on North 3rd Street. By 1904 demand was high and again the company needed to expand, this time to a new 3-story building on North 3rd Street. This building was outfitted with new machinery which allowed the plant to expand their designs for the automatic cradle and create up to 50 cradles a day. But again the demand outpaced the factory, and in 1909 another addition was finished. This time the expansion doubled the current factory space; another 3-story structure added against the current building. In 1917 a minor company formed and separated itself; the Bukolt Manufacturing Company had been operating quietly out of the Automatic Cradle Company building until demand grew high enough for their products. The Automatic Cradle Company changed their name in 1929 to the Lullabye Furniture Company, finally moving to the logo and name that is most well known in our area. 

Advertisement for Highway Tire Protectors and Lullabye Cradles, Stevens Point Journal, May 1, 1918.

Behind all of the cradle manufacturing was a passion for tinkering, building, and refining. John J. Bukolt created many products that were overshadowed by the cradle’s popularity. His Bukolt Manufacturing Company gained fame in its own right by producing carriage and automobile wheel protectors named “Highway Tire Protectors”. These tire protectors are similar to the chains that modern motorists add to vehicles during the winter months; easily being added or removed based on where the vehicle would be traveling that day. Before these tire protectors became popular, John Bukolt experimented with an automatic cow milker, which he named the “Western Milking Machine”, manufactured by the “Western Milking Machine Company” around 1910. This company was never officially incorporated and was likely made in the Automatic Cradle Company factory, just like the tire protectors were made later. This cow milking machine would be placed under the cow to squeeze milk into a waiting bucket by using alternating sets of pressure. While some cows were too finicky to accept the machine’s presence, Bukolt affirmed that for farmers who could figure it out, it proved worthwhile and saved time. Before considering farming appliances and tools, in 1905 John Bukolt finalized his design for an automatic washing machine that used similar components as the automatic cradle he had debuted less than a decade prior. The washing machine was admittedly too similar to competitor’s models to stand out at the time and never caught on. Looking at these contraptions in sequence; the cradle, the washing machine, the milking machine, and the tire protectors, we can see that John Bukolt attempted to break into multiple industries, but only the cradle gained the notoriety it needed to push sales and fund a company. Because of the popularity of the cradle, it makes sense that the factory was solely focused on children’s furniture sets by the 1930s. The Lullabye Furniture Company expanded beyond cradles to offer full bedroom sets for infants, toddlers, and young children. The cradles were still the main draw for advertisements and catalog sales, but advertisements now showed full rooms of dressers, step stools, end tables, and wall decorations. Current collectors who keep their eyes open at estate sales and auctions may find lesser-known items from the Lullabye Furniture Company hidden in plain sight. 

Ice skaters in front of the Lullabye Furniture Company, Circa 1940, Stevens Point Journal Photo Collection.

In the Portage County Historical Society collections there are a variety of wall decorations from the Lullabye Furniture Company. These wall decorations are made of cast plaster and painted wood, and have decoration styles that match the furniture they were sold with. For families that could not justify the price of Lullabye furniture, wall decorations were a more affordable option. 

John Bukolt did not know how popular his Lullabye Company would become when he died in 1929, just after the company changed names. He certainly could not have guessed that his factory would still be manufacturing repair parts for cradles into the mid 1960s, or that his cradles would be sold second, third, and fourth hand to new parents for generations. 

See photos below for examples of the wall decorations in the Portage County Historical Society collections. For local researchers who want to visit the site of the Lullabye Factory, the main building was renovated in 1992 into the Pioneer Park Place located at 1020 First Street, Stevens Point. For collectors who have items from John Bukolt’s various companies, we would love to see your photos and hear your stories!


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