Recycling was just a part of good business at the Zwicker Family’s Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory

Advertisement for the Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory, December 1940, Oregon Magazine.  WHC 2008.038.0145b

Advertisement for the Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory, December 1940, Oregon Magazine. WHC 2008.038.0145b

Enthusiasm over recycling may seem like a modern notion born out of Environmentalism and recent history like the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or cartoon characters singing the frustratingly catchy tune “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse and close the loop.”  It sometimes catches me by surprise to find late 19th and early 20th century businesses based upon recycling and reusing old materials.  Such was the case when I came across an advertisement for the Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory.

I will be the first to admit that I got a very good chuckle out of the name.  It turns out, though, that there was such a thing as a fluff rug industry in Oregon.  It was predicated on recycling old carpets: cutting them into strips and using the strips as the warp with which to weave a “new” rug.  The rug would cost less than a rug made from brand new materials because at least half of the raw material would be brought in by the customer at no cost the producer.  The term “fluff” appears to have been derived from the loose ends of the weft material that were cut and left a shag like appearance.  Makers of these rugs advertised that they were incredibly sturdy and suggested using them in high traffic areas because of their durability.

The industry was lucrative enough to support at least 5 factories around the state during the 1920s.  In addition to the Salem company, there is newspaper evidence showing fluff rug factories in Portland,[1] Eugene[2], Medford[3], and Stayton.[4]  One 1921 advertisement for the Western Fluff Rug Co. admonished that you not throw your old carpet away: “no matter how bad it now looks, we can make it a BRAND NEW RUG – Cost is low too.”[5]

Another side line that seems to have gone hand-in-hand with the fluff rug business in Salem and elsewhere was mattress renovating.[6]  Unlike the foam-based mattresses of today, older models were often made by stuffing straw, horsehair, wool, or feathers into chambered fabric casings.  To counteract the compression over time, mattresses could be remade by adding additional materials.  Instead of buying a new mattress every few years, businesses like the Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory could extend the life of your old one through renovation.  They also offered services like steaming and cleaning.[7]

The history of the Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Factory is a bit more difficult to piece together.  One advertisement from about 1925 claims that it was established in 1891.[8]  However, the name Salem Fluff Rug Company does not appear in the business listings in the 1893 city directory, and up until 1911 the longtime proprietor of the firm, Otto Frederick Zwicker, is listed working in completely different fields.  It is possible that Zwicker purchased interest in an older company, but we have not found any documentation to confirm this.  The oldest mention of the business name Salem Fluff Rug Company was found in a 1918 Advertisement in the Salem Capital Journal which lists the business operating at 2075 Mill St and suggesting that customers “Save your old carpets and clothing have them made into rugs.” [9]

Otto Frederick Zwicker was born in Blue Point, Illinois in 1886/7 to German immigrant parents.[10]  The family made its way to Oregon and lived in the area off of 25th Street known as “Dutchtown” for the number of families of German descent living there.[11]   He worked as a spinner at the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill and as a driver at the Imperial Furniture Company before settling down as a carpet cleaner and upholsterer.[12]  Soon after his marriage to Rose Emilie Steinke, he moved his family and his business to Wilbur Street where he would work and live until his death in 1939.[13]

Pinning down the location of the business along Wilbur Street is a little tricky amidst a swirl of changing numbering systems.  Early advertisements describe it as on Wilber [sic] Street just west of the Southern Pacific Railroad lines.  This coupled with Sanborn Fire Insurance maps place a wooden structure, which consisted of a weave room, mattress room, clean room and office, just to the east of what is now the 13th Street Nursery.  The Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Company was taken over by Otto’s son Roy, and operated by him and his wife Eva Hastings Zwicker until 1972.[14]

Timeline of Otto Frederick Zwicker and the Salem Fluff Rug Mattress Co.

1905                       City Directory: Spinner, Thomas Kay Woolen Mill

1909/10                City Directory: Driver, Imperial Furniture Co.

1910                       US Census: Working in Furniture Store

1911                       Carpet Cleaner, home – 656 S. 25th St.

1913                       Carpet Cleaner, home — 1553 Wilbur Street.  First mention of wife Rose.

1915                       Carpet Cleaner, home – 1553 Wilbur St.

1917                       Draft Registration Card. Upholsterer Carpet Cleaner and Renovator, home 1559 Wilbur

1918                       Capital Journal Newspaper Ad.  Company located at 2075 Mill St.

1920                       US Census: Occupation Carpet Cleaning and Mending, home -1569 Wilbur St.

1922                       Capital Journal Newspaper Ad. 13 Feb 1922 pg 7. Company located 496 S. 19th St.

Capital Journal Newspaper Ad. 25 May 1922 pg 9. Co. located at 13 ½  and Wilbur St.

1929                       1929 Wallulah Ad – Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress Co. located 13th and Wilbur Streets

1930                       US Census: Occupation Manufacturer Mattress, rugs, home -1351 Wilbur St

1939                       Otto Frederick Zwicker dies.


Continuation of the company in City Directory Records

1940/41                Roy M. Zwicker listed as manager of Salem Fluff Rug and Mattress

1951                       Ditto

1959                       Ditto, located 1351 Wilbur St.

1964                       Roy M. and Eva Zwicker listed, 1351 Wilbur St.  Carpet Cleaners

1970                       Ditto

1972                       Listed

1973                       Not listed


Zwicker Family

Family patriarch George Zwicker appears in the Salem City directories as early as 1893.  He is listed as a laborer, residing south side of Leslie Street, 2 blocks east of 25th street.  The 1895 Marion County Census indicates the family were practicing Catholics and the father George was born in “Germany” and mother Clara was born in “Prussia.”

The 1910 U.S. Census lists shows Otto’s sister Clara and her husband and daughter living with Otto and Rose and their young son Glen.

Zwicker Family Tree



[1] Advertisement for the Western Fluff Rug Co.  Portland, Oregon.  Aurora Observer. 15 Dec 1921.  Page 17.

[2] Fluff Rug & Carpet Cleaning Co. Advertisement. The Springfield News. 23 Nov 1922, page 3.  Located at 1636 Jefferson St., Eugene.

[3] Medford Rag Rug Works Advertisement. The Evening Herald (Klamath Falls) 6 June 1921, pg 8.

[4] Stayton Fluff Rug Co. Advertisement.  Capital Journal. 1 May 1922, page 9

[5] Advertisement for the Western Fluff Rug Co.  Portland, Oregon.  Aurora Observer. 15 Dec 1921.  Page 17.

[6] See also: Advertisement for the Western Fluff Rug Co.  Portland, Oregon.  Aurora Observer. 15 Dec 1921.  Page 17.

[7] Cupid’s Book, a publication put out by the Marion County Courthouse to newlyweds filled with many advertisements from local businesses.  WHC 2017.004.0001.

[8] Cupid’s Book, a publication put out by the Marion County Courthouse to newlyweds filled with many advertisements from local businesses.  WHC 2017.004.0001.

[9] Advertisement.  Capital Journal. 20 April 1918, page 5

[10] His birthdate is a bit of a dilemma.  His gravestone in Belcrest Cemetery reads 12 Oct 1886.  However, his WWI Draft Registration card reads 12 Oct 1887.

[11] “Before I leave the subject of Yew Park School, I would like to include some comment about the make-up of the school population, coming from the southeast section of Salem.  The far corner, 25th Street, south of the railroad tracks, (originally just a spur, leading to the penitentiary; later a connector to the Woodburn-Albany line, joining at Geer) was known as Dutchtown.  Some German families lived there and Americans have had a way of substituting Dutch for German.  Family names were Bach, Tasto, Shedeck (fireman), Zwicker (long associated with carpets. The Zwicker Fluff Rug was a way of recycling old carpets).

[12] See city directory entries for Salem, Oregon 1905 (Spinner); 1909-1910 (Driver imperial Furniture); 1911-1913 (Carpet Cleaner).  Also 1917 WWI Draft Card.

[13] Oregon Death Index.  Gravestone.

[14] The company appears at 1351 Wilbur Street with Roy and Eva Zwicker proprietors in the 1972 Salem Directory, but not in the 1973 directory.

This article was originally published in the Statesman Journal on Sunday, February 2, 2017.  It is republished here with citations and additional reference information for research purposes.