At Grand Rapids Community Foundation, we are well aware that our donors lead inspiring lives within our community. Recently donor Anna Bissell was honored with the unveiling of her statue, the newest in the Community Legends Project. At the time of her death in 1934, Anna left a charitable trust of $45,000 to the Community Foundation.
Through her gift, Anna demonstrated the value of planning ahead by thinking about the people who will benefit in the future. Her son Melville R. Bissell Jr. continued her legacy, serving on the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees for 30 years and as president in 1937.
Anna’s story is one of bold entrepreneurship, inspiring female leadership and a compassionate spirit.
Melville Bissell invented the first carpet sweeper in 1876 at his wife, Anna’s urging. They were tired of the dust cloud created each time they swept the crockery floor. The Bissell carpet sweeper picked up dirt when moving forward and backward – quite the innovative idea at the time! Anna and Melville traveled the country, using Anna’s charm and sales skills to sell the product to retail stores.
From Bissell Inc.’s beginning, Anna was intimately involved in business affairs. When Melville died in 1889, Anna was left with five small children and a growing company. There was no question as to who would run the business. Anna was one of the nation’s first female CEO’s, accepting the position in 1889.
She successfully managed the business, defending the company’s patents and marketing the sweepers throughout North America and Europe. She even gained a special fan in Queen Victoria, who insisted that her palace be “Bisselled” every week (“Our History”).
Recently we had the privilege of attending the dedication ceremony of Anna’s statue where speakers, including great-grandson and current CEO Mark Bissell, discussed her legacy. They highlighted her qualities of fairness and compassion, through her work at Blodgett Home for Children and her creation of progressive labor relations policies for her employees.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ann Hirsch, designer of the statue, said she can clearly see that Anna’s qualities of self-assurance, generosity and kindness are alive and well in the spirit of Grand Rapids today.
Anna’s statue is the newest addition to the handful of bronze statues sprinkled throughout Downtown Grand Rapids. These include Lucius Lyon, Jay VanAndel, Stanley Ketchel and others. The Community Legends Project, a gift of the Peter F. Secchia Family Foundation, aims to honor influential Grand Rapidians who walked these streets and sculpted history in Grand Rapids. The location for Anna’s statue was selected intentionally. The land currently home to DeVos Place Convention Center, along the Grand River, once housed the Bissell factory.
At the Community Foundation, we admire the way Anna combined bold leadership with a compassionate character. Anna’s life was not without its share of turmoil. A devastating fire destroyed the Bissell’s factory in 1884 and she lost her husband when he was in his 40s. Yet, these events forced Anna to become the leader she was and fueled her giving spirit. She understood the importance of providing for future generations. We’re proud of our connection to such an inspiring, female leader.
“Our History.” Bissel. https://www.bissell.com/about-us/our-history