A history of our company from an article done about us in

Business Magazine

By the Manufacturer’s Association of Northwest Pennsylvania


Cemetery memorials provide a record of a  person’s history, tell a story and serve as a permanent display of a person’s life. They are works of art handcrafted by talented artisans that show both hope and sorrow.

Although the process and technology have changed since Oliver T. Korb founded his business in 1901, the third and fourth generation of Korbs continues to create the same product – stone memorials that can be found in cemeteries of central Pennsylvania that proved individual histories chronicling a community’s past.

“A cemetery marker is the final purchase for a loved one:  said Joe Korb, who operates the company with his brother Jim and son Jeff. ” As a result, people take great care when they choose a stone. Not only is choosing a stone an emotional task, it is not an item that people buy every day.  We try to make it as easy as possible.”

Like many business ventures, Oliver T. Korb’s entry was by chance.

“My grandfather worked for Neal Granite & Marble Works and was friends with the owner,” Joe Korb said. “Apparently, he really enjoyed the business and when the owner wanted to sell it, my grandfather – then in his 20s – saw an opportunity and bought the company, establishing it as the Oliver T. Korb Company in 1901.”  

Oliver’s son Maxwell started working at the company in 1927 after having  graduated from Georgetown University with a business management degree. Max’s brother Hugh also joined the family business in 1930 after studying granite work at a trade school in Vermont. The three Korbs worked together for quite some time with Oliver overseeing the operation, Max taking care of the business end and Hugh doing the technical work.

Jim Korb explained that at the turn of the century, mining and working with granite was a cumbersome and difficult job.

“Back when my grandfather and father worked with granite, it was split by hand,” he said. “You may notice that older cemetery markers are often much larger than ones made today. Since they were cut by hand, they were burly and much of the granite that was cut away was unusable. Today, modern machinery enables cutters to get the maximum use out of a large slab.

“They also used to set big stones with a horse and buggy; today we use cranes,” Jim said. “When I see those enormous markers from a century ago, I marvel at how they set the stone.”

Both Joe and Jim Korb also marvel at the ways in which their grandfather kept the business afloat during the Great Depression.

“Today we can’t imagine running out of work, but they did back during the 1930s,” Joe said. “Dad tells us that during the Depression, people had a hard enough time paying rent and buying food, and investing in a cemetery marker was considered frivolous. When the business was extremely slow, Dad pounded the pavement looking for orders. It had to be an awkward job, but he had to feed his family, too.”

He also recalls a story his grandfather told about a Korb salesman during the company’s slow period.

“Finding those who didn’t think buying a marker was extravagant was difficult, but one salesman set out to find them,” he said. “He regularly traveled by train to Emporium, a town about 50 miles from DuBois, to sell stones. He would stay with friends for a week or so at a time. Instead of cash, his customers would exchange horses and chickens for markers.”

Today, even though the product is the same, the process is quite different, and technology has paved a new path for memorial makers. But the Korbs believe this technology has driven away some of the industry’s true artisans.

“Certainly our grandfather and father saw true craftsmanship,” Jim said. “Modern machinery has eliminated much of the craftsmanship of this industry. Technology has both enhanced our ability to satisfy customers and eliminated some of the art of this business.

Korb Monuments 1910

“This business used to use marble almost exclusively,” he said. “Now, granite is used almost primarily.  Today, if you want a marble statue as a marker, you have to find an old Italian artist. They carve the marble by hand with a hammer and chisel, so it takes six to eight months to complete.

Prior to the 1970s, when both Joe and Jim joined the firm, some stones were still engraved by men with hammers and chisels. “With current engraving techniques, you don’t see much of the hand cut raised lettering,  Joe said. “It is a dying art. Modern engraving is a technology that is effective, accurate and efficient, but people still request raised letters and luckily, I am trained to do it.

Laser technology allows for greater detail and color, he said. Scenes of a person’s home, pets and cars, as well as portraits of the deceased allow family members to depict those things valued to that person. “When this technology was first introduced, I wasn’t sure I liked personalizing the stones so much,” Joe said. “It was new and untraditional.”  Now I see the detail the laser engraving allows and see how pleased family members are to have captured a part of their friend or family member, I realize this type of engraving offers a great deal of comfort to the survivors.”

He said 60 to 70 percent of people are not aware of the wide variety of stones that are available and the engraving and detail that can be added. “People are quite surprised at the detail that is available,” he said. “Diamond-point etching, in particular, offers the opportunity to create realistic, color portraits. People just don’t want a stone with a cross and flowers on it anymore.”  Jim said the evolution of cemetery markers is illustrated by simply walking through a cemetery with stones spanning several generations. The markers often parallel the nation’s economic and social periods.

Stones more than one century old are often ornate and grandiose and are marked with detailed statuary; their wording tells much about the deceased. Those a generation later are much smaller and quite plain, often with only a person’s name, date of birth and date of death.  As the century moves on, the stones become larger and begin telling more about the person.

Korb Monuments 1920's

“If you ever visit an old cemetery, you will find that 40 and 50 years ago, there were fewer people who went to college and who moved away from their family,” he said. “So entire families are buried together – maybe as many as 20 to 30 family members might be buried there. You can go to a family plot and learn a great deal about the family tree just by looking at the stones.

“In the past 10 years, people are starting to go back to their roots, even if they don’t live close by,” Jim said. “Their stones are personalized.  In one glance, you can see that a person enjoyed hunting or was an avid swimmer, or rode motorcycles, or was a gardener or was a musician.  A marker can show a snapshot of a person’s life.”