Please welcome guest author Bill Carlisle. Bill Carlisle is the grandson of Robert Dennis, owner of the Morgan Run Coal Co. in Coshocton, OH. He lives in Cleveland but has been coming down to Cosh all his life, since his mother’s family has land there. For 35 years he has been collecting beer signs and Coshocton advertising art. Bill is the curator of the Advertising Art of Coshocton exhibit currently on display at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.
Coshocton, OH, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, has long been called the birthplace of specialty advertising. The first art-inspired advertisements were printed on trade cards in 1884. From that humble beginning an entire industry branched out to produce signs, trays, thermometers, calendars and hundreds of other items.
The American Art Works (AAW) became the best-known company thanks to its popular Coca-Cola trays. The AAW made at least 24 different full-sized Coke trays and vast numbers of advertising novelties. In 1926 The American Art Works alone produced 72 million pieces.
‘Advertising Art Made in Coshocton’ exhibit at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, OH.
Joe and Donna Kreitzer and I have been collecting advertising art made in Coshocton for over thirty years. Although hundreds of trays and signs have passed through our hands, we still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. In 1992 Joe and I had the opportunity to walk through the American Art Works South Plant (old Standard Plant) just before its demolition.
We explored the two buildings connected by an enclosed second floor walkway, finding a paint shop, an artist studio with tables made from giant litho stones, the battery of curing ovens on the second floor of the Fourth Street building, tool rooms, and many large Coca-Cola and Genesee beer signs lining the walls of both buildings. Joe and I decided at that time that we wanted to learn all we could about the operations in this old plant between 1886 and 1963. Over several years we spent our weekends on the front porches of retired craftsmen or their remaining family members.
This revolution in advertising, graphic art and lithography began when a small ad ran in the January 5, 1884, edition of the Coshocton Age. The newspaper announced that W.W. Shaw & Co. had gone into the printing and advertising novelty business. The success of Shaw’s venture caught the attention of two rival newspapermen, Jasper Meek and Henry Beach. These two men would form competing companies that would merge in 1901 and, after just a few months, would again become competitors.
Curators Joe and Donna Kreitzer and Bill Carlisle (left to right).
Jasper Meek, editor of the Coshocton Age, purchased a modern press and was taking orders for first class printing work at the newspaper office on Main Street. He had three steam-driven presses in full operation printing trade cards and booklets between press runs of the newspaper by 1886.
William Shaw sold his printing business to Meek and became a salesman for the Age and later for Meek’s Tuscarora Advertising Company. Shaw would eventually go to work for Henry Beach at Standard.
Jasper Meek then experienced another aha! moment. It is said that he noticed a school child struggling to hold onto her books and thought, “That child needs a book bag, and better yet, one printed by me with an advertisement.” Meek convinced locally owned Cantwell Shoes to pay for burlap book bags that bore their advertisement, thereby launching a brand new industry with Meek at the helm.
This was advertising on non-paper, utilitarian objects. Meek turned to the German invention of stone lithography, the process of transferring images onto paper and textiles by drawing on stone and then taking impressions from that stone. There was already a large printing industry in Cincinnati, the handiwork of early immigrants from Germany. Between l836 and the introduction of the steam press in l868, Cincinnati had about fifteen large lithography companies printing circus posters, play bills and book illustrations.
Meek employed artists who moved to Coshocton to design and paint the pictures that were to illustrate the signs and calendars produced by his company. Skillful artisans and mechanics transferred these images onto lithography stones using a separate stone for each color. The workforce consisted of townspeople working with the highly skilled artisans who came to Coshocton to work their trade at Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Advertising Co. grew from three employees in 1887 into a manufacturing plant with sales worldwide and over three hundred employees by 1901.
Lith iron sign by the Tuscaroras Advert. Co. (1887 – 1901)
Henry Beach, editor of Coshocton’s other weekly newspaper, took no time to establish his own specialty advertising company just a year after Meek, in 1888. His company, The Standard Advertising Co., was especially interested in the metal sign trade.
Beach was able to borrow two men from a Baltimore company who, along with his own mechanics, were able to develop a process superior to any in existence. Standard began lithography of metal signs in 1890, the first company in the world to do it on a steam press.
A rubber sheet attached to a cylinder passed over the litho stone, picking up the image, and then the cylinder would pass over the tin, depositing the image. The signs had to make a trip to the drying ovens after each color run. By 1890 the plant employed about 350 people, manufacturing signs, leather goods and a complete line of advertising novelties.
Standard was incorporated in 1892 and had branch offices in London, Sydney, Havana, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, Baltimore, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Denver and Louisville. The company ledger contained the names of over 2,500 regular customers by the century’s end.
The Standard Advertising Co., along with the Tuscarora Advertising Co., dominated a worldwide market, but a third company, The Novelty Advertising Company, was just a few years from joining the competition.
William Shaw, who had sold his presses to Meek before joining Meek’s company, had also worked for Beach at Standard. In 1895 he left Standard, taking all of his experience with him, to incorporate a new company, The Novelty Company of Coshocton.
In 1899 it consolidated with the Empire Novelty Company of Wellsville, NY, to form the new Novelty Advertising Company. It employed about 125 people, one-third of the workforce being women. It moved from an old flour mill to its present location on Walnut Street where it began manufacturing advertising novelties and metal signs. It continues in operation today.
Coca-Cola trays by American Art Works.
In 1901 the Tuscarora and Standard Companies merged to become Meek and Beach. By 1902, it existed only in name, and Henry Beach formed a new company, H.D. Beach, as well as offshoots such as Beach Leather Co., Beach Enameling Co., and Beach Art Display. By the end of 1903, Meek officially changed his company’s name to The Meek Company, and then two years after his retirement in 1908 the board of directors voted to change the name to The American Art Works.
During this first decade of the 20th century, Coshocton boasted of having more artist residents than any other city in the U.S. save New York City. But, by 1912 the artist colony that had been established in the city since about 1890 dissolved. There was never been a definitive explanation for the departure of artists during this short two-year period, however technological advances in the use of photographic equipment may well have reduced the need for their services.
Meek and Beach were so successful from the start that several rival companies were formed, eventually growing into twelve companies with, combined, over five-hundred years of business experience, that shipped finished products worldwide.
Nearly every family in Coshocton had a relative working in one of the plants. The economic depressions of 1891 and 1911 were virtually non-existent in Coshocton and the companies carried the city through the Depression in 1929. The advertising companies of Coshocton became world leaders in this industry, much the same as Bucyrus and Marion became world leaders in road building equipment, Akron in rubber products and tires, and Toledo in glass.
The German influence was especially strong in the late 1800s. The German community established several social clubs and singing societies as well as a German language newspaper, The Coshocton Wochenblatt. The tremendous growth of the city itself was the result of great industrial leadership, a very aggressive Board of Trade, and progressive city leaders.
The legacy of the advertising art industry can be seen throughout the city today. Henry Beach donated the land for the city hospital. Charles Frederickson, president of the AAW for 43 years, was a founder of the country club, and donated and maintained the land for the Boy Scout camp at Wills Creek. Jay Shaw, along with Edward Montgomery, established Lake Park, one of the finest city parks in the nation for a town of this size. Many buildings on Main Street are named after executives of the advertising companies. The Beach family continues to manufacture calendars under the leadership of the fifth generation, Jamie Beach.
Lith iron tray by Standard Ad. Co. (Henry Beach’s Co.) 1888 – 2001
In 2003, in celebration of Coshocton’s Bicentennial, the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum asked Donna, Joe and me to curate an exhibit of Coshocton advertising art from the first fifty years. A command performance with even more pieces on display (850) is currently on display this summer through September 14th.
A publication on the advertising art industry in Coshocton, as well as a DVD with images of all 900 works currently on display, is available through the museum’s gift shop. The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum has four permanent galleries—American Indian, Historic Ohio, Asian and Victorian, and one changing exhibit gallery. Special exhibits range from art and American history to world culture and local history. For more information on the museum’s exhibits and programs, go to its website.