What do promotional calendars, ice cream parlor displays, printed glass beer signs and roadside ads have in common? They were the first products manufactured by the W.H. Brady Company after it was founded in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1914. Now known as the Brady Corporation, what began as a Midwestern family-run printing and die-cut business has become an international leader in high-performance label printer systems and software. Curious to find out how they got there? Read on for some of our favorite little-known facts about the history of Brady.
It all began in 1914, when Will Brady – who sold custom-printed calendars and yardsticks for an Ohio manufacturing firm – turned down a promotion that would have meant moving to his company’s New York branch. Instead, Brady decided to strike out on his own, and founded the W.H. Brady Company in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
During its first 15 years in business, the W.H. Brady Company experienced steady growth… until the stock market crashed in 1929, that is. Because many of the company’s customers went out of business, it looked like the same would happen to Brady as well. As it turns out, they were saved by candy: Webster’s Famous Fudge, to be exact. The candy manufacturer began a promotional gimmick in which they enclosed die-cut paperboard push cards in each package of their product; customers would punch out circles on the card, and if they uncovered a winning number, they were awarded free candy bars. With their expertise in printing, die cutting and lamination, Brady was pegged as the ideal punch card manufacturer for the job, and the company was rescued from economic crisis in the nick of time.
Throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, Brady became the largest push card manufacturer in the United States, where companies were using their perforated paperboard cards to sell an enormous variety of products, including cigars, cigarettes, beer, and even turkeys.
After the outbreak of World War II, the W.H. Brady Company underwent two significant changes: to begin with, Will Brady passed company leadership on to his two sons, Fred and Bill Jr. Secondly, the paperboard used in manufacturing push cards became scarce, so Brady partially offset the decrease in push card business by printing Red Cross morale booklets.
In 1944, Bill Brady Jr. came across a product that would forever change the course of the W.H. Brady Company: the wire marker card. While he working at Cutler-Hammer, a Milwaukee electrical control manufacturer, Brady was first introduced to the cards, which were covered in self-adhesive cloth strips that could be peeled off and wrapped around wires for identification. With the ever- increasing need for wire ID in military equipment and vehicles, there came a strong demand for wire markers, and the W.H. Brady Company was already set up with all the printing, cutting and laminating machinery needed to produce them. By the end of Word War II, wire markers had overtaken push cards to become Brady’s chief product.
During the post-WWII 1940s, Brady built on the success of its wire markers and began to branch out into other products, like UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seals, pipe and conduit markers, safety signs, and oil, acid and temperature-resistant vinyl labels.
By late 1952, Brady was a nationally known entity, and had billed themselves as identification specialists. With steadily increasing demands from their industrial customers, it came time for more production space, so the company – by then located in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin - moved to a new, larger facility in Milwaukee.
1953 saw Brady’s introduction of a revolutionary new adhesive called Blue Streak Release, which allowed much larger labels and markers to be produced and utilized without loss of adhesion.
In 1958, the W.H. Brady Company leapt to international status by establishing Brady Canada near Toronto, Ontario.
During the 1960s, Brady products actually left the Earth’s atmosphere: the company’s microscopic fireproof component markers were used in NASA’s Gemini spacecraft.
Brady’s LiteTouch membrane switches – which featured electrically conductive inks and adhesives – debuted in 1977, allowing appliances like sewing machines, microwaves and dishwashers to be activated with a simple touch of the finger.
By 1993, Brady’s product lines and operations had become so diversified and spread out that then-President Katherine M. Hudson took the initiative to reorganize all of Brady’s facets into the three divisions that remain today: the Seton Group, the Graphics Group, and the Identification Systems and Specialty Tapes Group.
In 1998, the W.H. Brady Company officially changed its name to Brady Corporation, in order to reflect the organization’s growth from a small, privately owned business into an international, publicly traded conglomerate