Universal Statuary Corporation

We are grateful to Cal for his 2003 recollections of Universal Statuary.

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“Universal Statuary of Chicago was started by the Lucchesi family originally producing traditional Italian type designs out of plaster. In the late 50’s they started producing out of more durable polymer type materials. I believe they started the company around 1940. They produced a lot of decorative accessories for their own distribution as well as on contract. They also produced large items for store displays, etc. Applebees restaurants have a life size Indian. Lucchesi sold the company in the early 1980’s. They always copyrighted their designs. I sold for the company for about 20 years.”

“My association began while still in high school in 1957 while helping a member of my church set up, sell and tear down trade shows for the gift industry.  I was associated with Universal on and off until about 1982, the last conversation was right after the company was sold.  The harlequin themed products had pretty much seen their day by the time I got involved.   Universal was started in the 30's primarily making inexpensive items, pig banks, baby laughing/crying plaques etc.  There (were) evidently quite a few Italian immigrant families in business around the Chicago area at the time.  Most of Universal’s business was done by "jobbers" that would bring their own trucks and load up.  Universal was not in the marketing end, only production.  Later they had some areas of the country that were controlled by manufacturer’s representatives (Universal shipped and invoiced reps on commission) on an exclusive geographical area.   At the time I began my association the ornate Italian wall plaques, early American/colonial wall plaques and statues were the strong products in the line.  There were always whims and humorous items that did well also.  Universal always did a lot of contract work for Sears, Wards and advertising people for unique displays and promotions.  They started fooling around with resins and other plastics in the late 50's calling the material "fiberclad infrangible" and guaranteeing it would not break or chip.   Jack and Leo Luecchesi were the brothers running the place, I think by this time their mother and father were gone.  Jack ran the business end and Leo figured out how to produce it.  I believe Jack's wife was from Guatemala and he made a concerted effort to bring as many immigrants from that part of the world as possible and give them a start, he also sponsored a lot of Italian immigrants.   Most of the artists were employed by Universal and created only for them.  Most were immigrants brought here just to do for Universal.  I don't think any of them really had a name outside of Universal.  There was "Boni" who did several of the 50's-60's items including "Roman Grape Girls" figurines, "Last Supper" wall plaque and others.  Many of the things he did sold for 20-30 years.  The only other artist I remember by name was "Kendrix"(sp?) that did a lot of western and Indian items in the 70's.   Leo is now dead and Jack would be in his 80's at this point.”

“When I was sixteen (1957) there was a couple that moved to my home town in central Missouri from Texas in order to sell Universal Statuary in the state of Missouri only.  There was a firm "Jacksons of Sweetwater" that had exclusive rights to the distribution of Universal in TX, OK, LA, AR and MO.  I met these folks in my church and they asked if I would like to help them 4 times a year to set up trade shows in Kansas City and St. Louis.  A year later Jacksons made arrangements to also have IA and MN and we also set up trade shows in Minneapolis.  After high school I enrolled at the U of Missouri. I was asked if I would like to move to MN, go to college and cover the state while in school.  In the fall of 1960 I left home and enrolled at St. Cloud State, met my wife, got married, had kids, worked and moved between Kansas City and Minneapolis 2 or 3 times over a 20 year span...most of this time having something to do with Universal.  After college (1964) my partner moved to Minneapolis and opened a permanent showroom along with many other reps in the gift and decorative accessories market (I was off running a retail store for 4 years).   To us Universal was a commodity...we did not have to like it and in fact if we had items in our home it was most often things that were not commercially successful.  We liked Universal best because it put bread on the table.  Most of the time it was one of multiple products that we sold.  Most of the items I saw on your website (www.mid-centurian.com) were not items that I had much recall of.  Keep in mind that in the 50's ethnic items in the south were not highly desirable. Universal or other companies producing in materials that were as fragile as they were not real widely distributed because of freight charges and their fragile nature.  This is why "jobbers" distributed it...they sold it right off the truck.  Universal was real good about their packing to put on a truck for shipping but the boxes were huge with a lot of packing material and because UPS did not yet exist the customer had to order a lot to justify shipping charges.   On some items there is an artist signature, on some not.  I don't know if Universal tried to keep the artist name out of the spotlight, but I likewise never remember them promoting them either.  Universal made a concerted effort to copyright all their designs and they actively enforced them.  The dates are copyright dates not dates of production.  I do know they produced under contract for others...have no idea who or when...these items were not Universal designs.  As time progressed they purchased some other factories (injection molding) in WI and Mexico I know.    I have no idea who purchased Universal or what they might be producing today.  They had at least two different locations in Chicago...Chicago Ave. and later Ogden Ave.     The move was made from a multi-story building to single story and after the production of plaster products had pretty much gone by the way.  Since the old production used "latex" molds and the later used "stainless steel" I doubt the old latex molds still exist, storage without damage would be difficult.   Their catalogs were always 4 1/4" X 11" and numbered, I think the last I recall was #40.  In the last few catalogs they had a note of catalog #'s they were looking for in order to have a complete collection at the factory.  This was a family business until they sold it and I doubt the new owners cared one way or the other about any of the history.   Universal was not a huge company...I doubt seriously that they ever had more than 75-100 employees.  The volume in $ or quantity was not large in the overall picture.  I would imagine that their most popular items were produced in hundreds not thousands.  I doubt seriously that anyone ever wrote anything about them; the materials they used and nature of the products were not ones to lend themselves to the same status as crystal, porcelain etc.  They knew exactly what their place was in the market and would produce for their customer's resale needs.”

“There were several of the Italian manufacturers (small) located around the Niles (IL) area at one time.  One of Universal's original jobber companies was there (Jack Paccini). He bought items from a lot of those companies and combined them to make his own line.  Sold a lot to florist and garden center accounts.”

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Current location since 1998:

113,281 square foot industrial facility at 6400 Gross Point Road, Niles, IL. 60714
(847) 588-1705
Current employees ~200
Prior location:

850 N. Ogden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Possible prior location (1998):

900 S. Central Ave.Roxana, IL 62084

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