February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Andrew Dennison

Rather than follow his father into the shoe business Aaron Dennison left Brunswick, Maine for Boston to become a jeweler and watchmaker in 1844. He asked his father Andrew to apply his handiwork to the making of jewelry boxes rather than cobbling. Andrew soon was making a comfortable living shipping jewelry boxes to Boston.

In 1849 Andrew's younger son, Eliphalet Whorf, took over the marketing duties of the business. From the beginning he pressured his father to expand the business, especially to New York, and move the factory to Roxbury, Massachusetts. Andrew Dennison refused, threatening to sell the business out of the family if Eliphalet persisted in his campaign for expansion.

Quietly Eliphalet continued his plans for expanding markets and product lines until finally in 1855 his father sold him the jewelry box business for $8000 plus a $1000 bonus. Immediately Dennison introduced a line of cards, fine cotton papers and tags. Shopkeepers made all their tags themselves at this time. Dennison needed to educate shopkeepers that his handsome standardized tags were superior in appearance and effectiveness to their traditional handmade tags. The conversion was slow.

In 1863 Dennison approached an associate looking for capital. "Get $5000 together," he said. "I want you to come into the concern and we will call it anything you say." The partners decided on Dennison & Company. That same year Dennison patented a gummed paper washer to replace the metal eyelet in conventional tags.

The two events saved the company. The new tag was clearly superior to traditional manila paper shipping tags and the infusion of capital enabled Dennison to finance the new product. The business expanded rapidly, adding gummed labels, colored tissue papers, sealing wax and specialty boxes.

After the Civil War many cheaper grade label manufacturers were flooding the market. Whenever possible Dennison bought out the competition rather than reduce his quality and slash prices to compete. Word spread and soon it became apparent that label makers were springing up with their only intention being to be bought by Dennison. The policy was abandoned and Dennison introduced the Wilde line of cheaper tags.

The 1870s brought one setback after another to America's labeler. The Chicago Fire of 1871 claimed the Dennison store. A plant fire in 1872 disabled the Boston facility. And the Panic of 1873 forced Dennison to discharge 3/4 of its workforce and go short-time with the remaining workers. Their financial credit rating dropped shortly thereafter.

All these things took a heavy toll on the partners. In 1878, with his health threatened, E.W. Dennison incorporated the business to raise capital. He remained as president until his death at age 68 in 1886, leaving his son Henry to take the labelmaking business into the next century.

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