Sunday, March 12, 2006
Harrie Lewis' Contributions to the Industry Properly Recognized (Finally!)
Tonight. I am astonished to be here! Grateful, too, for the long institutional memories of Joe Truncale and NAPL, of Bill Lamparter, Neil Richards, Dr. Joe Webb, Gregg Van Wert, Marguerite Van Stolk and others who played a role in designating this award for me. I have been away from our industry since 1998 when the Blue Books and Harrie F. Lewis & Associates were sold to Cahners, now Reed, where they rejoined their long ago partner, Graphic Arts Monthly, and that is a long time.
My lifetime achievement is bound up with the Graphic Arts Blue Book and its marketing information services. Here is the story of how it was founded and grew.
Abraham Franklin Lewis, my oldest uncle, was born in a ghetto village in Poland in 1873. The Lewis family emigrated to London and, from there in 1888, to America. They settled in Chicago where my grandfather was a fine gentlemen's tailor. Nevertheless, they were poor. My father, Meyer, ran away from home at 13, to get more to eat. He grew up as an itinerant farm worker, following the harvest from Louisiana to Canada, sometimes sleeping in hobo camps and riding the rails under freight cars for transportation.
Uncle Abe became a printer. Shortly after 1900 he had established his shop on South Dearborn Street, where he did letterpress job work, setting hand type, and enhancing his gregarious instincts to become everybody's friend. Work was a 12 hour day and, in time, the venue for the subsequent evening's crap game settled at Abe's print shop. Players would send one messenger to the corner saloon with the growler, for beer, and the other messenger home to tell their wives they had to work late. The composing stone would be pushed up against the well to provide a rebound, and everybody...printer, typesetter, bookbinder, paper salesman, ink salesman, engraver...knew that Abe's was where the action was.
Telephones were just coming into use among small businessmen. Abe, who was always an experimenter, got one. Soon, other crapshooters also got telephones in their shops. There was no telephone directory so, as Abe walked around his shop, composing stick in hand, he would set type for the names and phone numbers of others in the game. After pulling a proof on his Vandercook proof press, he nailed a printed card on the wall. As more printers got phones, he would revise and reprint and nail up an enlarged card.
Soon, a printer said, “Abe, that's a handy card you have there. The next time you reprint it, pull an extra copy for me. Those are all my friends, too, and I often need to call them. Soon the card became ubiquitous in South Side print shops and one day a crap an ink salesman, came to Abe and said, "Everywhere I go I see your card on my name on it and my competitors names, too. The next time you reprint it, print my name in bold face type and I'll contribute a case of whisky to the crap table."
Abe got it. The industry needed a directory and the supply salesmen would pay for it with advertising. In 1909, as a subsidiary to his print shop, Abe established A. F. Lewis & Company and in January 1910, he published the first edition of the Printing Trades Blue Book, covering printers and suppliers in Illinois. It had about 150 advertisers, including Vandercook and Rouse, and, I think, Miehle, Chandler & Price, and most of the other eminent old time names.
I recall that it contained, not only listings, but also feature articles. One, on pictures to be reproduced, noted the new-fangled chemical method called photoengraving, might be suitable for coarse work in newspapers, but that, for quality reproduction, “there is nothing like a good wood engraving.”
Abe also depended on advertising income from small trade shops such as typesetters and bookbinders of whom there were many in Chicago. A few blocks south of his shop was skid row for the drunks of that day. Each morning they would pull themselves together and amble up Dearborn Street towards Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott where they would panhandle. Abe would intercept one or two of the more presentable, outfit them with Blue contract forms and a list of prospects and send them off to solicit contracts for space and bold face listings. A page was $40. A quarter-page was $15 for a year. When they came back in the afternoon with contracts and deposits, Abe paid them half in cash and half in whisky.
Abe got the whisky by selling trade deals to whisky manufacturers and dealers. I remember one ad in the first edition that said, “There is no such thing as pretty good whisky!”
After a couple of years of moderate success, Abe realized he needed a more professional approach and so he summoned Meyer, my father, who was working in California running newspaper circulation contests. Meyer took over sales and did well. He realized, however, that success lay in making the Blue Books national and so, in 1915, he came to New York to open an Eastern Office. Soon, there were five editions covering 48 states.
Blue Book information was collected through annual questionnaires, using an Addressograph system for mailing and record keeping. By the late 20s, direct mail advertising was evolving and Abe's advertisers began asking him to address their mail to his list of printers. Soon, some said they didn’t want all the printers, only those with certain types of equipment or product specialties. Abe realized that, if you asked a printer what kind of work he did, you would get a different answer from one month to the next. But the printer could answer questions accurately about what equipment he operated, and, so, on promise that this detailed information would not be revealed in the Blue Book, it began to be collected, which allowed Abe and Meyer to provide specialized lists to sell specialized products or services by direct mail.
Publishing proceeded through the Depression and after the war, hampered by ill health for both men. In 1957, when my father lost his two partners to accident and stroke, I moved back to New York from my job in Pittsburgh and began the arduous task of reviving and expanding Blue Book services. I had been in the midst of a successful academic and consulting career in market research, and could see that Abe’s relatively primitive but prescient idea of collecting equipment information offered a way to quantify marketing information, not only for direct mail fulfillment but to validate investment decisions in new products by identifying and quantifying market share and potential. This soon became an important part of our business and it remains so today, utilizing the Blue Book's unique data bank.
The Printing Trades Blue Books became the Graphic Arts Blue Books. More editions were published with enhanced marketing information. Harrie F. Lewis & Associates developed Blue Book Marketing Information Reports and engaged in marketing studies for GAMIS and on a proprietary basis for Eastman [Kodak], DuPont, 3M and many others.
Son Tim ran the business when I retired to part time activity, with Dr. Joe Webb carrying most of the professional workload. Facing the diminution of trade shops and the blurring of the definition of commercial and other types of printing that has been driven largely by computers and digitization, Tim sold the company in 1998 to the publishers of Graphic Arts Monthly, which also had been founded by the vision of Uncle Abe. All of our 23 employees shared in substantial bonuses from the proceeds of the sale, and all became fully vested in their accounts in our defined contribution profit sharing trust for which our company had paid all the contributions and invested them successfully in equities since 1967.
I’ve had a good life.
Thank you for adding to it by inviting me here tonight, and for this splendid award which I shall treasure.
Remarks by Harrie Lewis at NAPL Top Management Convention in Orlando, FL, March 2, 2006, upon presentation of the “Lifetime Achievement Award.”