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When Coogans was Australia's biggest furniture maker

April 14, 2019

 In the 1920s Launceston was home to the largest furniture factory in Australia, a vast industrial complex that covered 10 acres at Invermay, established by businessman William Coogan.

 

W. Coogan & Co. also had factories at Hobart and Burnie making a wide range of furniture from Tasmanian timbers for the company’s showrooms in Launceston, Hobart, Burnie, Ulverstone and mail order sales.

 

At its height the business employed nearly 400 people in manufacturing and sales.

 

The company’s prominent place in the Launceston business community started to decline in the 1950s in the face of cheap mass produced furniture and came to a close in 1978 when their Brisbane Street shop was closed.

 

W. Coogan & Co continued to trade in Hobart after its other stores closed but the Coogan era will finally come to and end later this year with the closure of its last shop in Moonah.

 

William Coogan was 24 when he set up in business in Launceston in 1881 as an upholsterer and mattress maker in Charles Street.

 

Born in Melbourne, he was making furniture from an early age and his exhibit at the 1875 Auxiliary Artisans’ School of Works was reported in the Fitzroy Mercury.

 

“There is an easy chair, designed and manufactured by William Coogan, eighteen years of age, and residing in Carlton, the price of which article is ticketed at £4, and

will be cheap at the money.”

 

Passenger records show William Coogan making several trips to Launceston from 1878 before announcing the start of his business.

 

By 1883 he had added a range of locally made furniture and bedsteads to his showroom and upholstery workshop and in 1884 he moved to a new “furnishing warehouse” in Brisbane Street.

 

“MANUFACTURING the goods ourselves, and no expensive establishment to keep up we are enabled to sell CHEAPER than any other house in town. Houses furnished right throughout from TWENTY POUNDS and upwards. All kinds of FURNITURE made to order, re-upholstered, and repaired. Mattresses re-made equal to new. TIME PAYMENT ARRANGED.”

 

Members of his family joined the business and by 1886 W. Coogan & Co. was advertising itself as the “largest manufacturers and importers of furniture” in Tasmania.

 

The steady growth of W. Coogan & Co. saw the company establish separate furniture factories in Launceston but by 1900 manufacturing had moved to a large site in the wharf area of Invermay.

 

William Coogan served two terms as mayor of Launceston from 1916 before moving to live in Hobart in 1920. He died in 1940.

 

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 14 April 2019)

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