W. Mitchell

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  • One of the original founding partners of Vermont Castings, who along with Murray Howell and Duncan Syme started the company in 1975. W. Mitchell, now a well known motivational speaker, tells the story below - paraphrased by Craig Issod of Hearth.com .

    Note: The events below happened soon after the oil shocks and gas lines of 1973-1974, otherwise knows as the 1st oil shock.

    In 1975, two men set out on a road trip from Crested Butte, Colorado traveling back home to Northern New England. The two were Murray Howell and W. Mitchell, who were partners in some real estate in Crested Butte. Along the way, Murray told Mitchell about his brother in law, Duncan Syme, who had some original ideas about a new wood stove. Mitchell listened, but suggested to Murray that there were already a number of fine stoves on the market, like the Ashley, Atlanta and even Taiwanese models available at Montgomery Ward. Never the less, Mitchell agreed to front some money to Duncan and Murray so they could research the issue...lore has it that Murray spent a lot of this money on some fancy stereo equipment!

    Duncan and Murray were living in the Warren, VT. area (part of the so-called Prickly Mountain Gang) and on July 4 of 1975, Duncan unmasked the prototype of his first Defiant to a gathering of friends. The only problem was, the day was over 90 degrees, and so this became the first (and not the last) Defiant to roast a crowd due to its large size!

    After some additional discussion, the three men decided to found Vermont Castings and each became a 1/3 stake holder. They drove together down to White River Junction and made the company official with Mitchell elected as the Chairman of the Board. Mitchell was the money man as well as an outside source of good business advice, while Duncan and Murray were more hands on with the daily operation of the company.

    They found some empty space in an abandoned Foundry building in Randolph, Vt. and started about the business of making stoves. Mitchell tells of returning to Crested Butte in Feb. 1976 and finding the 6th Defiant even built sitting on his porch....obviously the great venture was underway!

    Duncan and Murray were having problems with finding iron castings of the quality they desired. They tried the top American founderies as well as some in Germany, but found that it was difficult to make updates and changes as quickly as they needed. Demand was quickly rising and Vermont Castings was already many months behind in filling orders. So they made a fateful decision and built a new Iron Foundry in Vermont. This was the first new foundry built in the US since the second world war, and also the ONLY foundry in the USA dedicated to stove castings.

    Mitchell also founded the first retail outlet selling Vermont Castings Stoves. The shop was started in Crested Butte and moved to Boulder, Colorado as sales increased.

    At a future date, Duncan and Murray came to Mitchell and inquired as to whether he would sell some of his interest in the company back to them. He agreed and transferred 2/3 of his share (1/9th of the company stock) back to them for the sum of $125,000.00. All parties knew it was a good price, so Murray made Mitchell an offer he could not refuse - a LIFETIME payment schedule which would pay him a certain amount, adjusted for inflation, as long as he lived! Vermont Castings has kept this promise, although CFM tried hard to reneg, and Mitchell received a very nice check each year from the company.

    Mitchells interest in the company ended a few years later when a large company desired to purchase an interest in Vermont Castings and paid Mitchell approx. 1/2 million dollars for his remaining 2/9th share.