Anna Sutherland Bissell was the first woman to hold the title of Chief Executive Officer in the United States, and impacted many aspects of modern business practices during her impressive career.
Bissell’s youth was spent in Du Pere, Wisconsin, where she soaked up all of the formal education available to a young woman in the late 1800s. By the age of 16, she was a teacher, and at 19, she married Melville R. Bissell, who would become her joint partner in their crockery and china business.
In 1871, the couple moved to Grand Rapids to seek out business opportunities, and Melvin Bissell invented the carpet sweeper a few years later. He became a renowned salesperson and even managed to convince John Wanamaker to sell sweepers in his department stores.
As the organizer of assembly and delivery of the sweepers, Anna Bissell was proactive when a massive blaze engulfed a manufacturing plant. She was able to keep the business alive through loans, and had production restarted within 20 days of the fire.
Bissell became the first female CEO when her husband passed away. She had previously served as president of the Bissell Corporation for 30 years and chair of its board for 15 years. She was well informed of every aspect of her business, and introduced progressive labor relations policies into the company.
She gained a sense of loyalty from her workforce as she incorporated workman's compensation insurance, pension plans, and annual leaves, also establishing fixed working hours before they were common to workplaces.
Bissell was able to put the company in the international market and turned her business into the largest of its kind. She did all this while mothering five children as a widow and performing the civil duties expected of a woman at the time.
She gained a reputation as a motherly figure and was drawn to charitable causes. This led to Bissell’s many social projects, including The Bissell House, a recreation and training program for local youth and immigrant women. She served on the board of the Blodgett Home for Children and was able to aid in their adoption. She also dedicated time to the Union Benevolent Association, where she contributed through hospital work.
Bissell had a passion for business and helping those around her. Today, she inspires many with her impact on the business industry, loyalty to her family and employees, and service to those in need.