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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Charles Bedaux, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Grand Rapids Connection

by Richard Vettese, GRHC

published: April 9th, 2013

Charles Eugene Bedaux committed suicide in a Miami, Florida prison on February 18, 1944. The famed and wealthy industrialist was being held in Miami on charges of treason. Bedaux had been arrested in North Africa soon after the November 8, 1942 Allied Invasion on orders of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. At the time of his arrest, Bedaux was preparing to build a pipeline to transport oils across the Sahara desert for the Vichy French government and the Nazis. He had also given the Nazis a plan to protect the Persian Gulf oil refineries, which Germany was preparing to capture, from bombing. He was sent to the United States when it was found unfeasible to put him on trial before a military commission on charges of treason and communicating with the enemy. Little is known about his so-called suicide except that his attorney found him unconscious in his bed. He was taken to a hospital, remained in a coma and died without gaining consciousness. Many breathed a sigh of relief with his death, for Charles Bedaux perhaps knew too much about the connections between leading American industry leaders and the industrial development in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.  [continue reading] 

Bedaux’s connection to Grand Rapids, Michigan began in 1915 when F. Stuart Foote, secretary-treasurer and general manager of the Imperial Furniture Company, brought him here. Working for Grand Rapids’ famed furniture industry, Bedaux installed his plan, which became known as the “Bedaux System.” Bedaux, one of the leading contributors in the field of scientific management, [continue reading]

Bedaux, who became a naturalized American citizen in July of 1917, had developed a close relationship with Miss Fern Lombard, a favorite in Grand Rapids society and in the city’s musical circles. With his failed marriage behind him, he courted Miss Lombard, daughter of one of the city’s prominent lawyers, Mr. James Lombard, and his wife, Hattie M., of  223 Prospect Avenue NE. This second marriage happened in a most unusual way. [continue reading]

With homes in New York and France, and a fortune that continued to grow, in 1926 Bedaux decided to purchase the sixty-room Chateau de Cande estate on the Indre and Loire Rivers in Touraine, France. Bedaux poured his money into the castle, the original part of which had been built in the 16th century. [continue reading]

Charles and Fern loved to travel. In November 1929, they began a five-month safari to Africa lasting until April 1930. The trip was organized primarily as a hunting expedition, and it was filmed. It began in Kenya, continued through the Sudan, French Equatorial Africa, Nigeria, through the Sahara to Algiers, and finally to its end in Morocco. Familiarity with this area eventually helped Bedaux when he was working with the German government in the early 1940’s. Another famous or infamous trip was eventually called “The Champagne Safari.” 

The grand title Bedaux gave to the trip was the “Bedaux Canadian Sub-Arctic Expedition,” which he formed to cross the Canadian wilderness of Northern British Columbia in 1934. Much of this trip would be made through regions that were relatively uncharted and had no trails. Bedaux planned to test the new Citroen half-track cars developed by his friend Andre Citroen. The journey was to be filmed by the noted Academy Award winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby. [continue reading]

In 1995, Canadian director George Ungar produced a television biography of Bedaux incorporating Crosby’s footage of the expedition, which is now available under the title “The Champagne Safari.” This seemingly comical expedition with ladies preparing their toilettes in the middle of the bush, Fern handing out cigarettes to the cowboys, and the camera crew filming everything in sight including the funny Citroen tractors bogged down in the mud, appeared ridiculous but [continue reading]

Bedaux continued to develop relationships with government leaders of England and Germany in the 1930’s. With a close friendship established over the years with Wallis Simpson, Charles and Fern were well aware of the constitutional crisis that was to hit England in 1936. With the death of George V in January 1936, Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VIII. [continue reading]

Charles and Fern Bedaux eventually invited their friend, Wallis Simpson, to stay at their Chateau de Cande while the turmoil was going on. With her divorce finalized in May 1937, she and Edward reunited as guests at the Bedaux estate. Edward proposed to her, and they were married at the Chateau on June 3, 1937, with the famous English photographer Cecil Beaton documenting the event. [continue reading]

After the arrest of Charles Bedaux for treason in 1942, Fern Lombard Bedaux and her sister, Eve Duez, were interned briefly in Paris during the war. They were soon released through their connections to the Nazi government and with the help of Otto Abetz, the Nazi Ambassador in France. Fern was later held under house arrest at the Chateau, and she never saw Charles again. [continue reading]


Items Available at the History & Special Collections Dept., Grand Rapids Public Library

  • Biography & Portrait File, Charles E. Bedaux
  • Grand Rapids Herald and Press microfilm

Author's Bibliography

  • B-Units & Windsors: Time Magazine, November 8, 1937.
  • Bedaux, Charles E.: Biography & Portrait File, Grand Rapids Public Library, History & Special Collections Department.
  • Bedaux Career Started Here: Grand Rapids Press, February 19, 1944.
  • Bedaux, When You Need Some Extra Power: http://www.bedaux.com.
  • Bedaux’s Death Called Suicide: Grand Rapids Press, February 19, 1944.
  • Charles Bedaux: http://www.en.wikipedia.org.
  • Charles Eugene Bedaux, 1887 to 1944: http://www.managers-net.com.
  • Chateau de Cande: http://www.chateaux-france.com/cande.
  • Chateau de Cande: http://www.en.wikipedia.org.
  • Fern Bedaux: http://www.littleaugury.blogspot.com/search/label/fern%20bedaux.
  • Her Fairy Prince Makes Dreams Come True For Former G.R. Girl, Attorney’s Daughter, Couple Returns from Hunt Through African Interior to Materialized Air Castle, Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Bedaux Enjoy Fortune Whose Cornerstone Was Laid in Furniture Capital, by Theodore H. Peck: Grand Rapids Herald, August 31, 1930.
  • International Bedaux Institute: http://www.internationalbedauxinstitute.com.
  • Mrs. Charles E. Bedaux Death Notice: Grand Rapids Press, July 17, 1972.
  • Punctured Tire—Lo! Society Girl is Wed: Grand Rapids Herald, July 3, 1917
  • Rough Road to the North, by Jim Christy: Doubleday, 1980.
  • Rumours Surround Legendary Bedaux Trek: http://www.wdm.ca.
  • Suicide of Charles E. Bedaux: Grand Rapids Herald, February 20, 1944.


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