History of American Stationery - a True Tale
Since 1919, American Stationery has been a leading provider of personalized stationery and related products direct to the consumer. In these 90 plus years, we have served generations of satisfied customers with our quality and values.
American Stationery is a manufacturer, with a brick and mortar facility in Peru, Indiana. We have over 250 employees ready to make your shopping experience a pleasure.
As the world has changed in the past century, American Stationery has changed with it. While we're still the same family-owned business, our state of the art website allows you to preview your order and send it directly to our system for quick, error-free processing.
Remember, you can order with ease and confidence from American Stationery.
Over 100 years ago a simple twist of fate lead to the creation of American Stationery when, around 1905, a poor orphan got off the train from New York City in Peru, Indiana. He had gone as far west as his money could take him.
Peru was a bustling rail town of nearly 20,000 people at the turn of the 20th century. Three different railroads intersected in the city and Peru was the winter quarters for several well-known circuses. Back then railroads transported the animals, tents, and performers throughout the country and so it was convenient for circus performers to call Peru home.
It must have been quite a different world that young Ford Wallick stepped into when he disembarked from that train. From the slums of the lower east side of New York City to a small Midwestern town where elephants, tigers, tightrope walkers and acrobats mixed with the local farmers and railroaders in the busy little downtown.
He was hired as an apprentice printer in a local shop even though he had no previous experience in the craft. This was a time when printing was a vital part of everyday life. Handbills, business cards, letterheads, stationery, invoices and posters were just a few of the items that were used in great volume back then.
Peru had enough demand to support four print shops at that time, and young Mr. Wallick decided, after a few years, that it needed another. He opened up his own shop just a block off the town square in 1911, where he specialized in personalized stationery for the local community and businesses.
There are no records of when Mr. Wallick got the idea to advertise nationally, promoting his American Stationery company, but he was certainly an innovator well ahead of his time in the industry. Following in the footsteps of mail order giants like Sears, Roebuck, Spiegel, and Montgomery Ward, Wallick decided that he could sell more stationery by placing advertisements in leading magazines of the day: Ladies Home Journal, Boy's Life, and Good Housekeeping to name a few.
As a result of his innovation, by 1918, the small company he started seven years earlier had grown large enough to support a new factory of 10,000 square feet. Needing the train "siding" to offload the immense quantity of paper he was ordering direct from the paper mills in Wisconsin, he decided to build the factory in a location on the outskirts of town where two railroad lines met. Opened in 1919, the factory was a state of the art facility with an innovative saw tooth roof for natural lighting, outfitted with the latest in letterpress equipment and Linotype typesetters.
The company enjoyed an incredible run in the 1920s when it began mailing out fliers, which in reality were glorified order forms. It is almost comical looking back. The offer was The Standard Box: 250 6"x 7" letter sheets in block type, dark purple ink and 125 matching envelopes delivered to your home for $1 (we still offer The Standard Box today, although for just a bit more than $1!). If you lived west of the Mississippi river you had to pony up another 10 cents for delivery. Even in those days, when a dollar went a long way, this was a tremendous bargain.
Wallick excelled as a new age marketer yet had the insight to organize an efficient manufacturing operation; however, none of that mattered as the country slipped into the decade-long depression starting in late 1929. American Stationery survived the depression years of the 1930s only by the fortune Wallick had amassed from the previous twenty years. It seems he suffered a near breakdown during that time, as he rarely ventured into the office, talking to his managers primarily by phone. The company archives have many letters Mr. Wallick wrote condemning the politicians of the day and their continued mishandling of the economy that prolonged the nation's agony. This breakdown caused the company to flounder even more and kept American Stationery from truly becoming a household brand.
It took the horror of World War II to shake the economy and the company out of its depression era doldrums. Soldiers went off to war while many people left their homes and farms to work in factories and government offices. Never before had the need for stationery grown so quickly and, perhaps, it had never been more needed than in this period. It can easily be said that American Stationery flourished by keeping mothers and fathers in touch with their sons and daughters stationed all around the world.
As the Wallicks' never had children, the company passed into a series of absentee corporate owners after his passing. While not on the brink of failure, these owners did nothing to distinguish themselves until 1971 when they sold the company to Current, Inc., a vibrant, family-owned direct mail business out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Current then hired a local general manager, Don Bakehorn, to run the plant and together,
they whipped the operation into shape by expanding its product offerings and delving into new markets.
In 1973 the first catalog of wedding invitations, The American Wedding Album, was introduced. It featured 50 unique invitations unlike any the industry had ever seen, designed by Current artists and manufactured, in-house, at the Peru plant. The wedding line was a huge success and was followed up three years later with a retail line, White Lace, which was sold in fine stationery and department stores throughout the country.
Current's Colorado operations grew exponentially in the 1970s, so American Stationery was spun off to Don Bakehorn as an independent entity in 1979. Today, Don Bakehorns family and management still lovingly own and operate American Stationery and its associated brands, such as Rytex, The Chatsworth Collection, Dinky Designs, The American Wedding and The Boatman Group. The American Wedding is one of the oldest catalog sellers of invitations today and proudly added the ultra-chic line of MyGatsby.com wedding and party invites to its family in 2005.
American Stationery is proud to carry on the stationery tradition started so long ago by our founder by truly living up to our name as an American original, with Midwestern values and roots, while stubbornly battling the impersonal world of emails and texts.
We're still in Mr. Wallick's 1919 sawtooth building, handcrafting stationery, gifts, and wedding invitations, and we're looking forward to the next 100 years!
Original 1920 American Stationery 30,000 sq ft plant (parent company to The American Wedding) in Peru, Indiana