Friday, September 25, 2009

Billheads: Dry Goods

Dry goods are products such as textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, and sundries. In U.S. retailing, a dry goods store carries consumer goods that are distinct from those carried by hardware stores and grocery stores, though "dry goods" as a term for textiles has been dated back to 1742 in England. Dry goods can be carried by stores specializing just in those products, or may be carried by a general store or a department store or more recently, a big box store.

In the beginning of the 19th century, dry goods were often combined with other commodities to form the merchant's stock in trade, that it was difficult to determine where the former began or the latter ended. Trading of all kinds was of a generalized character, merchants handling a like dry goods, groceries, and sundries in the same establishments. The stocks represented in such stores were incongruous in the extreme; cottons and silks from India, and velvets and woolens from Europe, were placed in juxtaposition with groceries and hardware.

The village stores in the early days were few and far between, and where they did find location, their stocks, so far as dry goods were concerned, represented only a few of the coarser textures in woolens, linens, and cottons, with buttons and thread, associated with goodly supplies of rum, molasses, and groceries. A considerable trade with towns located on the banks of inland streams was transacted by means of flatboats similarly stocked. In the cities the wholesale trade was almost entirely confined to the importers, who dealt in those foreign and home commodities, crude or manufactured, which were in the greatest demand and yielded the best profits. With the retail trade in the cities likewise, the distinction in the kind of goods handled by different dealers was not very marked, most of the shopkeepers selling a little of everything. Eventually, dry goods merchants moved to handling mainly textiles and clothing. Many of these stores had modern appointments and conveniences that served to attract, please, and satisfy the wants of customers. Some of these establishments provided delivery, samples, mailing, and express systems to patrons living thousands of miles away. The merchants of America who have handled the immense quantity of merchandise instanced have, as a rule, been men who have borne favorable comparison with those in other varied walks of life. A standard of integrity and honor was formed by the early merchants, which their successors have maintained. Before the days of "rapid transit," when a journey from Buffalo to New York was more of an undertaking than is now a trip to California or to Europe, the village merchant who made his annual or semi-annual visit to the city was the oracle of his neighborhood. His return home was hailed as an important event. He was immediately surrounded by his neighbors, anxious to hear all the news from the city. The answer as to whether goods were "high or low " settled the market with them for the season, as "new goods " would not again make their appearance for six months at least. Those who were in a position to secure the first selections were to be congratulated. After the advent of new goods ceased to attract attention the merchant would find time to attend to certain duties which, by virtue of his position in the community, were apt to be placed upon him. As a rule, he held the office of postmaster, town clerk, school trustee, and exchange banker, for his customers. He wrote their wills, and in due time executed many of them.

Numbers of such old-time retail merchants can now be recalled by our city jobbers. They were, in the main, honest men—as is true of the great majority of the merchants of to-day. While dishonest failures occur, and always have, and always will, they are the exception and not the rule. The safety with which wholesale merchants distribute millions upon millions of dollars of merchandise far and near, throughout the length and breadth of this land, lies essentially in the fact that they are dealing with honest men, whose ambition is to make themselves more and more worthy of credit. Mutual confidence exists, and forms the basis of the immense volume of business of the present day. The aggregate transactions of a single day in any of our large houses often reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many of them are based upon the simple word of honor. A prominent dry-goods merchant, accustomed to large offhand transactions with his fellow-merchants, was recently closing up a real-estate deal. Being somewhat wearied with red-tape delays and repetitions, he exclaimed, " I suppose all this is necessary with you real-estate people; but in my office I would have transacted ten times this amount of business, with perhaps not a written word between my customer and myself, and our obligations to each other would have been carried out as faithfully as will these which you have taken volumes to express."

Since the establishment of the first mercantile agency in 1841, these agencies have multiplied and improved so as to be of vast service in determining credits. While far from infallible, they are indispensable. The uniform courtesy existing between merchants in the exchange of references is also of great value, and with all the means of information now at hand the "far-off merchant" worthy of credit suffers no disadvantage by reason of distance from market.

For more see George Cole's Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods (1892).

Famous 19th century dry goods merchants:

Alexander T. Stewart, Marshall Field, Isidor Strauss, Levi Strauss, and Aaron Montgomery Ward.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rubber Goods

The rubber industry in the United States can hardly be said to have had any real and tangible existence until the discovery of the process of vulcanization in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. The first rubber ever imported into this country was brought into Boston in the year 1800 and came in In that same year a patent was granted to one Jacob Hummel, of Philadelphia, for a gum-elastic varnish; of which, however, there seems to have been no further mention. Some ten years later, in 1823, a Boston sea-captain, coming from South American ports, brought with him a pair of gilded rubber shoes which excited the greatest interest. Two years later, 500 pairs of rubber shoes, made by the natives along the Amazon, were brought into Boston, this time without the fantastical refinement of gilding. They were exceedingly thick, clumsy, and unshapely shoes, and yet they sold readily, bringing from $3 to $5 per pair as they were found that they were a secure protection against dampness. This was the entering wedge for the Para rubber shoe.

It naturally suggested itself to a great many enterprising minds that if rubber, when crude, had so little value (such lots as had already been imported had sold at five cents a pound), and when manufactured into shoes commanded so high a figure, there must be an excellent profit in rubber manufacture; and so people began to study the rubber problem. Among them was Mr. Chaffee, a manufacturer of patent leather in Roxbury, Mass. It occurred to him that if he could manufacture a leather with a varnish of rubber, which would give not only a smooth and finished surface, but would render the leather impervious to water, he would have a material of obvious usefulness. He began to experiment in 1831 and soon discovered that by dissolving the crude rubber in spirits of turpentine and adding a quantity of lampblack, he obtained a varnish which, when spread over leather or cloth, gave a hard, smooth, impervious surface. He formed the Roxbury India-Rubber Company, the first to engage in rubber manufacture in the United States, in 1833.

In 1833, Charles Goodyear, was a bankrupt hardware merchant of Philadelphia. Goodyear read about Chaffee’s new product and was greatly interested therein. Born in New Haven, the son of a Connecticut manufacturer, he had acquired by inheritance and by association a very considerable inventive ability. He had been in partnership with his father, conducting a branch store in Philadelphia for the sale of their Connecticut-made hardware; but owing to an over-extension of credits the firm had become insolvent, and Goodyear, then a young man but a trifle past thirty, found himself out of business and out of health, with a large load of debt upon his shoulders. He thought he saw in this new product, then being put upon the market, an opportunity to retrieve the family fortunes. Accordingly, on his next visit to New York he called at the office of the Roxbury Rubber Company and examined some of their goods, and particularly their life-preservers. Thereafter, the history of the rubber industry in the United States is little else than the personal history of Charles Goodyear.

Two years after visiting Chaffee, in 1840, Goodyear was able to interest parties in his new system of vulcanization. In that year he secured the assistance of two New York capitalists and built a factory in Springfield, Mass. Four years later, he took out a patent for preparing rubber by the process of vulcanization, and began to sell licenses for the manufacture of various articles under this patent. The license to manufacture rubber boots and shoes was sold to Leverette Candee, of New Haven, the founder of L. Candee & Co. The license to manufacture rubber gloves he granted to the Goodyear's India-Rubber Glove Manufacturing Company, of Naugatuck, Conn. The license to manufacture door-springs, which seemed a very trivial branch of the industry, but which later grew to considerable proportions, was granted to Daniel Hodgeman, of New York; and various other licenses for the manufacture of other goods were given out under his patent to different companies, which immediately began the manufacture of rubber goods under these licenses.

Several other companies, in addition to the Candee Company, bought licenses to manufacture boots and shoes; among them Ford & Company (now the Meyer Rubber Company), and the New Brunswick Company, both of New Brunswick, N. J., and the Hayward (which later grew into the Colchester Rubber Company), and the Goodyear's Metallic-Rubber Shoe Company, of Naugatuck, Conn.

The Civil War gave a great impetus to the rubber industry. This was particularly true of the clothing branch; blankets were needed for the soldiers, and the government gave out large contracts. The attempt was made, and with some success, to construct rubber pontoons to be used in military operations.

The manufacture of mechanical goods took a rapid start shortly after the war. This was owing to a considerable extent to the great increase of railroad building at that time. The railroads called for large quantities of packing, and for hose to be used in conveying steam and gas. The impetus given to manufacturing in general made an increased demand for rubber belting. The first rubber belt was patented in this country in 1836, but this particular branch of the rubber industry reached no considerable size until after the war, when rubber belting was in demand for mills, factories, and elevators, and especially for all outdoor machinery.

The making of rubber tires for bicycles, and to a growing extent for other vehicles, took its rise in the 1870s with the solid tire. That gave way to the cushion tire, which was displaced by the now universal pneumatic tire.

Another important branch of the rubber industry in the United States is the making of druggists' sundries. The pioneer in this industry was the Union Rubber Company, located in Harlem. It derived its license direct from Goodyear, and began to manufacture druggists' sundries early in the fifties, making syringes, water-bottles, bandages, air-pillows, air-cushions, and a variety of other druggists' articles.

For twenty years after the invention of hard rubber two companies practically enjoyed its monopoly —the India-Rubber Comb Company and the American Hard-Rubber Company; but other companies entered the field after the expiration of the Goodyear patent.

A very important event in the history of the rubber boot and shoe industry in the United States occurred in the fall of 1892, when the United States Rubber Company purchased nearly all of the large rubber footwear interests in the United States. Forming the Rubber Trust.

(Taken from 1795-1895: One hundred years of American commerce).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Billheads with Exposition Medals

Similar to the UK billheads advertising the royal warrants, many US billheads advertised the number and type of exposition medals the company won. Exposition officials rewarded participants and exhibit winners with elaborately engraved commemorative certificates, diplomas, or award medals. These exposition award medals were big and beautifully designed works of art, like art medals. They were executed upon a design prepared under the Departments of Fine Art. Award medals are often inscribed to recipients, in effect creating a unique medal. The medals were made many times of bronze metal. These award medals were a big deal. They were chosen from hundreds and many times thousands of US and foreign exhibitors. Medal award winners took pride and general satisfaction in their awards. They often printed a copy of their medal on their flyers and advertising media if they had a commercial product. Check out for more information. I have placed some examples below.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soap Billheads

Soap making in the American colonies was largely a household art in the beginning. When the second ship sent out from England to the Jamestown colony arrived, there were landed a number of Germans and Poles, skilled craftsmen, among whom were several proficient in handling fat and soap- ashes. The candle and the tallow dip, then the ordinary means of illumination, have always constituted in their manufacture a branch of the soap maker's business, but in those days it was a far more important one than it is to-day. Newport, R. I., had a number of these establishments by the middle of the last century. Boston and all New England were likewise active in this trade, owing to the large whaling interests there, which furnished the sperm- oil.

While there were small soap- boiling establishments in nearly all the large towns by 1795, it is safe to say that they did not produce a great deal over $300,000 annually. The bulk of the product consumed was, as has already been stated, home-made. The increased importance of the soap industry thus developed in England, together with the many new uses to which the product was soon being put, especially as an auxiliary in other manufacturing processes, was speedily felt on this side of the water. New England was then the principal center of the manufacture for the United States, although New York and Philadelphia were gaining prominence.

While processes and methods were thus, comparatively speaking, at a standstill during the first four decades of the present century, the soap industry, nevertheless, steadily advanced in importance, and prepared itself for the wonderful development that immediately followed the discoveries of Chevreul in 1841. The impetus thus given is shown in the fact that only one year later, in 1842, there were produced in the United States alone 50,000,000 pounds of soap, 18,000,000 pounds of tallow candles, and 3,000,000 pounds of wax and spermaceti candles, while exports to the value of more than $1,000,000 attested the preeminence we were gaining in the markets of the world.

In common, too, with almost every manufacturing industry of importance, the making of soap was soon facilitated by the introduction of machinery. In the decade ending in 1850 the annual production of soap and candles had reached nearly $10,000,000, and by 1860 it had increased to still greater proportions.

Among the great firms engaged in the business were Morgan, Kendall Mfg makers of Soapine, B. T. Babbitt, N. K. Fairbank & Company, James S. Kirk & Company, D. S. Brown & Company, Procter & Gamble, and Colgate & Company. Read more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Billheads - Packing Industry

It is said that pork was cured and packed in barrels in Salem, Mass., in 1640, and it is certain that, about 1690, Boston did quite a trade in that line; but the paternity of the Western packing business belongs to Cincinnati. In 1818, Elisha Mills established as a packer in Cincinnati. The first drove of hogs ever received in Chicago was in 1827, but no attempt at packing seems to have been made until 1832. In that year George W. Dole packed some pork for Oliver Newbury, of Detroit; but Chicago does not figure in the statistics of packing points until 1850.

The development of the agricultural resources of the Western States, especially from Ohio to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, cheapened the cost of producing animals, particularly hogs; and attention to their production was stimulated and encouraged by the demands from Southern and Eastern dealers for product for their markets. Packing operations naturally followed in many places west of Cincinnati, more or less directly in communication with the transportation facilities afforded by river navigation. The movement of the product was by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, and a great deal was shipped thence by vessels to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and other cities on the Atlantic coast.

In the early days of Western pork packing the slaughtering was, to a large extent, a distinctive business from the curing operations. The packer confined himself largely to the cutting and curing of dressed hogs. The farmer in those early days slaughtered his own hogs on the farm, in the months of December and January, the neighbors usually assisted; and he sold whatever he could spare over and above the needs of his own family to the nearest storekeeper, or to the small packer, who, located at some convenient point, cut up the dressed hogs, cured the product, and shipped it South. Sometimes, indeed, the packing-house took the form of a flatboat on the river, the curing, such as it was, being done on board. When the spring "break-up " came the flatboat was floated down the river, and the product exchanged at Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and New Orleans, for sugar, molasses, rice, and other merchandise.

Chicago's place in the packing business is preeminent today, but it was not always so. For the ten years ending with 1851—52 the packing at Cincinnati represented twenty-seven percent of the total for the West. At that time the industry had scarcely been inaugurated at Chicago, and was of unimportant proportions at St. Louis, while Milwaukee, Kansas City, Omaha, and other towns were unknown in the packing lists. Railroads penetrated the West in 1852, and by 1855 several roads were in operation. This influence opened up the country to settlement, and facilitating the exchange of commodities, which had a marked effect on the extension of the packing business, and in changing its geographical position and its character.

The canning of beef was attempted in Chicago in the sixties, and enjoyed some little growth; but it was not until the year 1879 that the beef-canning business was taken up on a large scale by the packers. Mechanical ingenuity, in discovering a sure and practicable method of hermetically sealing tins, rendered possible the preservation of food in this way on a large scale; and the facilities already secured by the large packers for disposing of every part of the animal placed the business entirely in their hands. The convenience of canned beef, tongues, potted meats, and soups, and the fact that they could be guaranteed to keep sound in any climate for years, combined to steadily increase this branch of the industry.

Unfortunately, I could not find any Cincinnati packing billheads. However, below are some nice examples of the area (I think all of these are currently for sale on ebay right now too).

First off is a nice signboard graphic billhead for Jonathan Steward for 1867, indicating he is a pork packer and the packer for Trenton Hams.

Next up is the graphic of the Cudahy Brothers billhead. This company was a large Wisconsin company and still in existence today as Patrick Cudahy.

The next billhead shows a nice graphic of the slaughterhouse for George Clough & Co. dated 1884. Again, another pork packer.

Next up, finally a butcher and beef packer supply house. Beef packers tend to have steer animal graphics on their billheads. Here we have a long-horn animal on this one. Notice the the company manufactures cold storage work and refridgeration.

By far my favorite billhead in this category is the wonderfully colored and vivid graphics of the Brelsford Packing Co. There are currently 2 of these beauties for sale on ebay. Nice cattle graphic and also a nice graphic of hanging pork.

Lastly, let's not forget the UK. A nice 1916 example for a pork purveyor with a nice fat big on it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Paint, Oil & Varnish Billheads

Paint, Oil, and Varnish Industry. The paint industry in the United States started in New York City, in 1715, when linseed oil was put on the market as an article of commercial value. This first mill was closely followed in 1718 by one in Connecticut, erected by John Prout, Jr. Later in 1750 the Dunkers, in Lancaster Co., Pa., started the industry and by 1786 had four mills in operation. While paint had been used many years before the linseed-oil industry was started, yet its manufacture added a great stimulus to the use of paints because it aided greatly in the manufacture of paints and varnish and later became a necessary adjunct to the business.

The rapid growth of the linseed-oil industry had not been without its effect in stimulating the use of paints. These colors were, however, wholly imported, and grew but slowly in general favor. Nevertheless by 1714 painters' colors were for sale in Boston, and while their employment, even for painting the churches, was frowned upon by the Puritans, they grew slowly in use among the wealthy until the time of the Revolution. In New York whitewashed walls and woodwork painted a sort of bluish gray were quite general so early as 1748, and both here and in Philadelphia the use of paint increased far more rapidly than in New England. In 1767 painters' colors were among the articles taxed in the colonies by England. The disturbance created by this act caused its repeal by Parliament three years later.

White lead was first successfully made and used commercially in 1804, by Samuel Wetherill, of Philadelphia. This was followed in 1806-7 by the manufacture of different colors, such as rose-pink, Dutch pink, blue, and French green, the inventions of Anthony Tiemann; in 1800, Prussian blue was first put on the market; and later William Guest, of Baltimore, started in to make chrome yellow. Many colors were added to the list in a short time, by 1811 as many as 22 being made in Philadelphia alone, and beside the firms which made these there were also three red-lead factories in Pittsburg. From that time the growth of the industry was rapid and healthy. Brooklyn and New York each had several large works turning out red and white leads, chrome, and various other colors; the manufacture of Prussian blue was started in Rensselaer Co., N. Y.; and during the next few years factories sprang up in all the large centers of trade, notably Albany, Boston, and Philadelphia.

The manufacture of oil and varnish necessarily developed along with the paint industry. The first factory established in the United States for the manufacture of varnish was founded by P. B. Smith, in New York City, in 1828. This was followed in 1830 by Tilden & Hurlbert; in 1830 by the firm of Smith & Price of Newark, N. J.; and later by Christian Schrack, of Philadelphia. The quality of the varnish made by the American manufacturers soon became widely known and a large export business was built up, the increase in the manufacture of paint and varnish greatly affecting the oil-mills. Prior to 1836, domestic seed had been entirely used in these mills, but with the increased use of paints and varnish and with the introduction of new and improved machinery, outside markets were invaded by the American traders for the purpose of obtaining raw material for use in the mills of this country, and in 1836 the first cargo of flaxseed was imported from Sicily Other trading points were rapidly opened up, Odessa, Alexandria, and Calcutta, being the most important. By 1860 there were several factories for the manufacture of varnish in the Eastern States and three had been established west of the Alleghanies. (To read more on the paint oil and varnish industry).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hardware Billheads

Hardware includes a great variety of articles. These, in their manufacture and sale, fall naturally into certain groups, any one of which frequently constitutes an interest in itself. Domestic hardware includes agate, tin, and iron utensils and other household furnishings. Builders' hardware explains itself in a long line of bolts, locks, knobs, and trimmings, in addition to building staples, while tools, agricultural implements, machinists' supplies, cutlery, and saddlers' hardware are common trade distinctions.

The early hardware industry imported goods, and for the most part of English make, the mother country continuing to be the principal source of supply throughout the colonial period. With independence came the beginnings of hardware manufacturing, which if small were at any rate prompt and significant. Soon the War of 1812, emphasizing the separation from England, and throwing the people on their own resources, gave a great impetus to all manufacturing interests. But American hardware in a differential and distinctive sense dates from about 1840, when the struggling American manufacturer began to get a foothold. Gradually the superiority and more attractive appearance of his goods were recognized and the foreign article supplanted.

The burden of the distribution of these manufactured goods rested on the hardware jobber, a middle man, peculiar to American business methods, who carried for the convenience of the smaller merchant a stock which is the accumulation of many factories. Other countries handled their products direct from factory to retail shop; but the great distances which separate the local dealer from the industrial centers have made the hardware jobber a necessity in America.
The locations of these jobbers become known as centers of distribution. The centers of a hardware distribution in the United States show a firm westward tendency. In the days of imported hardware the seaport cities were the distributing points which forwarded the hardware to the whole country, but, with the natural spread of population and the improved facilities in transportation, the centers of distribution have moved steadily westward and are now represented in the middle West.

Certain localities supplied their own specialized needs; California made the canners' tools which prepare for market the products of her orchards and fruit farms. The Northwest made for its use its own grain tracts reaping and harvesting machines. Pennsylvania converted much of her own iron and steel into tools and heavy hardware and became a very important factor in hardware production. (Read more about the American Hardware industry)
On the Blanchard billhead below, note the "Importer of" - at this time, a lot of hardware was being imported fron Great Britain as manufacturing in the US had not come into its own.
By 1854, this beautiful and richly decorated billhead advertisies both foreign and domestic goods including stoves, iron, cutlery, carpenter tools, rakes, forks, etc.

In the 1860 Kline billhead we have the start of the jobber / distributor / dealer of hardware.

The Lloyd billhead below goes further to designate itself has a wholesale hardware house, as well as importers and dealers.

Nice 1888 example of the eleborate store front of the Pritzlaff Company.