Article Category: Pillars | Places | SC22

The Marsellus Casket Company

Posted Saturday, Dec 01
Written By Alice Adams
Southern Calls, Vol. 22, December 2018

For over 130 years, Marsellus Casket Company remained true to its highly principled, purposeful mission to manufacture the finest handcrafted hardwood caskets and offer maximum value to funeral home owners and to the families they serve. The company was supported by an undeniably loyal and enthusiastic organization of highly-skilled men and women who, through the generations, were encouraged to think, to learn, to enhance their skills and to live up to their responsibilities. 

During the company’s early development – and with humility – the business faced all honorable competition, learned from every possible source and adopted with eagerness all improvements in merchandise, methods and equipment. Its goals to assure satisfaction with every purchase and to acknowledge public confidence and goodwill were incredibly important. Until the end, the company maintained a successful, growing business, quickly responsive to new ideas and changing times while displaying a fierce dedication to the interests of the community, the funeral profession and the casket industry. The company code, a constant quest to perpetuate the high standards of product, purpose and perfection, remained unwavering until the very last casket left the factory in 2003. 

Founded by a keenly ambitious traveling salesman, John Marsellus originally made his mark as a peddler of undertakers’ accoutrements. At the age of 20, Marsellus left his Schenectady home in Upstate New York for New York City and a junior partnership opportunity selling his specialty supplies along the Erie Canal. To describe travel as simply difficult during the late 1800s would be an understatement. Transportation was slow and unreliable, while communication was nearly nonexistent. Marsellus commonly utilized a canal packet boat for travel. Although the competition was intense and the sales tactics often underhanded among rivals, Marsellus experienced much success, which was directly attributed to his unshakeable virtue and genuine honesty – core values that served as the foundation of the Marsellus name. 

Unable to contain his entrepreneurial spirit any longer, Marsellus saved enough money to leave New York City and the security of his flourishing career. Arriving in Syracuse, he described in a diary entry, “This is a bustling community.” In the early 1870s, the John Marsellus Casket Company was born.

John Marsellus, Founder
John Marsellus, Mfg. Co., Limited | 1846-1941
John Marsellus, Founder
John Marsellus, Mfg. Co., Limited | 1846-1941

Handwritten note from John Marsellus  |  The John Marsellus Casket Co., in its spirit not only, but in actual treatment of its many employees, through many years of intercourse, regardfully recognized the immortal worth and dignity of man; the appreciation of his manhood; the acknowledgment that all men – even those performing the most humble of tasks – are peers (the lowest with the exalted), and that all work is glorified.

Less than a decade following the end of the Civil War, America was beginning to develop an interest in the services of undertakers. Services held in the home were still the most common, but embalming and an increase in respect and specialized care for the dead was becoming more prevalent. Advertising broomsticks, novelties, medicine chests, shoe-brush handles and cloth-covered coffins, Marsellus began with fewer than a dozen employees who truly handcrafted each item. From the earliest of days, Marsellus instilled several principles that would remain constant throughout the next 130 years. 

“Whiskers had what I call ‘founder power,’” explained John D. Marsellus, using the nickname coined for his great-grandfather because of his enormous mutton chops. “He believed strongly in the principle of innovation, building a product up to a standard and not down to a price and contributing to the profession he served and to the community in which he labored.” 

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