Give Now

Moment of Indiana History

The Wooton Desk

No tasteful office of the late 19th century would be without one. After winning five dollars for design at the State Fair, the Wooton Desk Company was founded.

The tastefully appointed office of the late nineteenth century would not be without one. An elaborate fall-front desk manufactured in Indianapolis made its way across the globe in the 1870s and 1880s–even, it is said, into the domicile of Queen Victoria. After winning a five-dollar prize for his design for a school house desk at the Indiana State Fair in 1868, inventor William S. Wooton founded the Wooton Desk Company in 1870. Wooton’s Patent Cabinet Office Secretary was patented in 1874. Wooton employed the latest wood-working machinery and mass production techniques to produce his so-called “King of Desks” in quantities to be shipped around the world. The heavily ornamented walnut desks typical of the Eastlake style were also representative of their era in function. Turning a key in the lock on the front of the cabinet secretary opened it like a butterfly, to reveal a warren of nooks and crannies on each wing and behind the hinged desk surface, which would be raised to the horizontal plane for use. The many pigeonholes and drawers of the desk’s design represented a solution for organizing the increasingly voluminous paperwork of the era. At the end of the work day, the Wooton desk could be easily returned to its closed and locked position for order and privacy.

Although the self-contained office was available in models from ordinary to superior, it was always considered a luxury item. John D. Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer, J. P. Morgan, and their ilk were all customers. Though its production continued through the 1890s, the Wooton desk became something of a white elephant, with the advent of the filing cabinet. William Wooton left the furniture business for the church in 1884, and died in 1907 at the age of 72. Wooton desks are now considered one of the hallmarks of Victorian décor, and command bids of 25,000 dollars or more at auction.

For more information:

  • Alton Lang

    My great great grandmother was William S. Wooton’s sister Lavinia. She was a Quaker preacher, postmistress, and midwife. She came to Alabama (from Richmond – Marion Indiana area) , as did William for a period, she lived out her life here and is buried at Smyrna church in Lawrence Co., Al. I am planning a quite gathering at her grave on Nov. 8, 2011 – 100th anniversary of her death. I have never had any contact with others of the Wooton family in the northern U.S. .. would welcome any contact. Thank you very much – Alton Lang – Huntsville, Al.

  • drsamrick

     Hi – I am an admirer of Wooton desks and am negotiating the purchase of one. I am having difficulty finding a reference to just how many were produced. I was told at one time there were only a few hundred made, but several references indicate that at one time they were producing as many as 150 per month. Would you know, from your family history, how many were actually produced. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/ISM_Erin Erin Anderson

    Contact David Buchanan at the Indiana State Museum. He’s the curator of decorative objects and furniture. He can probably tell you how many. His email is dbuchanan@indianamuseum.org.

  • Brad Manzenberger

    Hi Cousin! Their brother Joel is my third great grandfather.

  • frydzia

    I have one for sale at my home in Chicago…

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Moment of Indiana History:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Moment of Indiana History

Search Moment of Indiana History

WFIU is on Twitter