The Grand River has an 18 foot drop that was unbridled by the dams that currently slow the river to a calm flow. Before the dams, the rapids enabled logging, and consequently woodworking. The first furniture shop was opened in 1837 by William Haldane (the father of the furniture industry), soon followed by many others. To make furniture, carpenters need wood. The Grand River served as a way to transport wood products in and out of the city and surrounding forests, and supplied power to saw mills that processed the trees into lumber.
When Grand Rapids was being settled, the east coast of the United States had already been stripped of most lumber resources. The unmolested forests in Grand Rapids served the nation with the raw materials needed to expand cities, as well as the local population and furniture industry.
Grand Rapids furniture gained its worldwide reputation for the quality of furniture at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, which strengthened the local economy and put Grand Rapids on the map.
The technological improvements of railroads, and the steam engines would transform the Grand Rapids furniture industry and economy. The railroads in Michigan at the time were a blessing, they increased mobility of people, opened up new markets, and made shipping more convenient than river travel and other alternative methods. The Steam engine allowed Grand Rapids furniture factories to move away from the Grand River, because the steam power would replace the water power needed to run the mills and and produce furniture. Furniture factories moved closer to railroads, which enabled them to ship out more of their product and increase profits.
By 1876, Grand Rapids was the top furniture manufacturer of the world, and to this day, Grand Rapids is still a leading manufacturer of office furniture in the global market.