First Female CEO Got Started In Kalamazoo, Eventually That Became Bissell
As we celebrate Women's History Month, here's one you may not know. The first female CEO in U. S. History got her start in Kalamazoo. It was 1865 when Anna Sutherland married Melville Bissell. She was just nineteen years old. The newlyweds settled in Kalamazoo, and they started a business, but not the one that would lead to a giant corporation. It was just a small grocery store, but they expanded into crockery and then glassware. The couple thought they could do better in Grand Rapids and moved north.
As with many success stories, things just happened. The items the couple sold in their store arrived packed in sawdust or straw, and when the boxes were opened they made quite a mess. As the cliche goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and Melville designed and more importantly patented a carpet sweeping machine. Friends and customers saw it and the rest is history. Anna knew the housewife market and knew a lot of people and the Bissells incorporated as they kept selling the sweepers.
But tragedy struck when Melville died of pneumonia in 1889.
When Melville passed away in 1889, there was no question who would take the reigns at Bissell. Anna stepped in, making her the first female CEO in America. Anna aggressively defended the company’s patents while also marketing sweepers across North America and Europe. It didn't take long for Bissell to get its first famous fan, Queen Victoria, who insisted her palace be “Bisselled” every week. We like to think the palace attendants were also fans, loving the free time they had thanks to how easy the Bissell sweeper made cleaning up royal messes. - Bissell
Bissell served as CEO for thirty years and by all accounts ran the company successfully and treated the employees well. Her great-great granddaughter-in-law is Cathy Bissell, who does the company's commercials and leads its effort in helping animal shelters.