Joseph L. Ross Primary School Desk

Joseph L. Ross Primary School Desk

Usage conditions apply
This desk was designed by Joseph L. Ross, called the Primary Portable School Desk, and was sold to the public school system in Boston and elsewhere through much of the 19th Century. The desk features a simple desktop with base that is open on to the student and supported by two decoratively designed cast iron side support/ legs. These were sold in various heights, with size designed for the youngest student. By the 1860’s the legs on the desk could be special ordered less decorative and more functionally adjustable in length. These were later marketed as flexible as both a standing desk (which is healthy) or for use while sitting. The style of desk continues to be in use today though the cast iron leg supports are usually a simple style of steel, and the desk-box is often either steel, aluminum, or a synthetic like plastic.
I would date the desk at 1860-1900 and New England.
The manufacturer was Joseph L. Ross and Company. Joseph L. Ross (1798-1879) was born in Ipswich, Ma, the son of Joseph Lakeman Ross (1766-1850), a blacksmith and his wife Mary Wilcomb Ross. He was a carpenter who lived in Boston and founded a furniture business in 1838. By 1847 he was designing and specializing in school and church furniture. The company was known as Ross’ American Excelsior School Furniture Works and then as Ross American School Furniture and Ross School and Church Furniture and was one of the earliest American furniture companies to specialize in the school market. In 1869, Joseph L. Ross was involved with the incorporation of the Ipswich Savings Bank and in 1873 he gave a $600 set of school furniture to Central School in Ipswich. The company appears to have lasted into the 1920's, out surviving the founder as seen through later company catalogs, which included floor plan suggestions for classrooms as well as other school supplies and furnishings.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
delete (overall material)
wood (desk top material)
metal, cast iron (legs and support material)
overall: 22 in x 18 1/2 in x 10 in; 55.88 cm x 46.99 cm x 25.4 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Education
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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