F or more than 100 years, American Greetings Corporation (NYSE: AM ) has been a manufacturer and retailer of innovative social expression products that assist consumers in enhancing their relationships.
The company's major greeting card brands are American Greetings, Carlton Cards, Gibson, Recycled Paper Greetings, and Papyrus, and other paper product offerings include DesignWare party goods, American Greetings and Plus Mark gift-wrap and boxed cards and Date Works calendars. American Greetings also has the largest collection of electronic greetings on the Web, including cards available at AmericanGreetings.com through AG Interactive, Inc., the company's online division. AG Interactive also offers digital photo sharing and personal publishing at PhotoWorks.com and Webshots.com and a one-stop source for online graphics, animations, and more at Kiwee.com.
In addition to its product lines, American Greetings also creates and licenses popular character brands through the American Greetings Properties group. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, American Greetings generates annual revenue of approximately $1.7 billion, and its products can be found in retail outlets domestically and worldwide.
While today, the company helps millions of people worldwide stay connected and celebrate life's special occasions, it all started with $50 and the dreams of one determined young man.
Big dreams, humble beginnings
- The success of American Greetings Corporation began in the heart of Jacob Sapirstein, a young Polish immigrant. Jacob believed that with ambition, ethics and hard work, anyone could achieve the American dream.
Shortly after his arrival in America in 1905, Jacob moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and became a jobber of post cards - a popular item of the times - buying the cards from German manufacturers and selling them to local merchants.
To start his business, Jacob borrowed $50 from a local bank to buy a supply of penny postcards, which he sold to drug stores, novelty shops and confectioners. By the end of the first week, he had sold enough cards to repay the loan, and had an extra $50 to fund the following week's business. The most popular designs in his early product line expressed feelings using rhymed verses and flowery Victorian artwork.
Jacob and his wife had four children: sons, Irving, Morris, and Harry; and daughter Bernice. Before long, the Sapirstein Greeting Card Company became a family operation. The children helped their father organize inventory, stuff fancy postcards into envelopes and make deliveries to accounts in the family's horse-drawn cart.
1918 - The flu won't stop business
- In a family business, everyone helps out. In 1918, when Jacob was bedridden by the flu epidemic that killed 20 million people worldwide, son Irving, 9, made sure Christmas and Valentine's Day cards were delivered to retailers. By age 12, Irving was keeping the company books. His brother, Morris, joined soon after, delivering cards to stores after school.
1921 - A peek at the books
- In 1921, family business sales totaled $11,500, enough for Jacob to take home $1,000 for the year. That's equivalent to about $100,000 sales today, or take home pay of $9,000. By 1928, sons Irving and Morris were increasing sales even further. One of their biggest deals closed when a landmark Cleveland amusement park, Euclid Beach, bought $24,000 worth of picture postcards equivalent to about $240,000 in sales today.
1929 - Shopping is made easy
- Shopping for greeting cards hasn't always been easy. At one time, shoppers had to flip through an album and then ask a shopkeeper to pull the card from behind the counter. American Greetings simplified everything in 1929 by introducing the first self-serve greeting card display fixtures. This innovation has withstood the test of time, and is still the standard display vehicle for greeting cards today.
Greeting cards cure depression
- Through the Great Depression, Jacob's business flourished. People bought milk and bread to feed their bodies and greeting cards to feed their spirits. During the Depression, inexpensive greeting cards were often given in lieu of gifts people couldn't afford. By 1936, the Sapirstein Greeting Card Company was printing its own cards. Since World War II soon made it impractical for Jacob's young company to import cards from Europe, establishing its own manufacturing plant became a smart strategy. Making its own cards gave the fledgling company the ability to develop its own paper, art, verse and envelopes to have complete creative control over the cards that "say it best."
World War II changes everything
- Before World War II, Americans were usually married and buried in the same towns in which they were born. They didn't travel much and had little need to communicate in writing. The war changed that. People were often separated from their families, and used greeting cards to stay in touch. Now known as American Greetings Publishers, Jacob's company had six artists creating red-white-and-blue cards with patriotic rhymes to help families connect the home front with the front line.
Also during the 1940s, Jacob's sons Irving, Morris and Harry, changed the family name from "Sapirstein," which translates as ``sapphire stone," to "Stone."
1952 - Everyone can take stock in American Greetings
- After World War II, Americans grew restless with wanderlust. Improved automobiles gave them a new mobility and began to separate families. These new adventurers used greeting cards to communicate with those back home. Jacob's company enjoyed phenomenal growth, leading to its first public offering of stock in 1952, with the sale of 200,000 shares at $12 a piece. Today, the company trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol AM.
1956 - Carlton Cards comes on board
- With the acquisition of Carlton Cards, a Canadian-based card company, American Greetings created a continental sales perspective for itself. With the addition of Carlton, American Greetings also realized a significant increase in revenues.
1957 - Meet Hi Brows
- Beatniks launched the anti-establishment movement in the 1950s and Americans began to question tradition. Building on this counterculture momentum, American Greetings introduced a new kind of greeting card - Hi Brows. These irreverent, witty cards were slim and tall. Even the name of the cards was a rebellious parody. The inspiration for Hi Brows came from funny cards being made by Bohemian artists in their Greenwich Village studios. Hi Brows featured short, comic punch lines and cartoon-style artwork, a new generation of greeting cards to help a new generation communicate.
1967 - Holly Hobbie character debuts
- After the Vietnam War protests, civil rights riots and cultural revolution of the 1960s, Americans looked to nature and history for an antidote to the cultural and economic tumult of the times. American Greetings filled the void with Holly Hobbie, a nostalgic sweetheart who was symbolic of simpler times. Holly captured the fancy of millions with her peaceful, patchwork Americana style. Named after the artist who created her, Holly Hobbie was introduced on greeting cards in 1967. With her introduction, American Greetings led the world into the phenomenon of character licensing. By 1977, Holly Hobbie was one of the most sought after female licensed character in the world.
The Holly Hobbie character was the first licensed property launched by Those Characters from Cleveland, Inc. (TCFC, Inc.) an American Greetings subsidiary that would go on to add such stars as Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and the Get Along Gang to its list of accomplishments. Today, the company's Outbound Licensing program (the descendent of TCFC.) and its property development accounts for nearly $1 billion in worldwide retail sales annually.
1968 - Carlton extends into Mexico
- American Greetings purchased Feliciataciones Nacionales in 1968, and made it a part of the Carlton family. The new subsidiary was renamed Carlton Mexico S.A. de C.V. under its new ownership.
Imagine a better world
- Following the tumultuous '60s, many of America's youth distrusted "anyone over age 30." They bonded with each other and talked idealistically about building a world based on love, sharing and caring. The new Soft Touch card line took the dreamy idealism found in John Lennon's rock-n-roll reflection "Imagine," and translated those feelings into a new genre of sensitive greeting cards. Soft-focus images were combined with tender words. Sales skyrocketed.
1978 - American Greetings gets into the fixture business
- Expanding its ever-growing evolution as an innovative corporation, American Greetings established AG Industries, Inc. as the largest display fixture company in the nation.
1978 - Christmas all year round
- Plus Mark Canada, a manufacturer of Christmas wrap, boxed cards and accessories, was purchased by American Greetings in 1979. The small, seasonally inspired enterprise became a major asset of American Greetings. Today, Plus Mark, an American Greetings subsidiary, has evolved into a leading manufacturer and distributor of promotional Christmas giftwrap, boxed cards and accessories. Plus Mark operates in the mass retail marketplace to develop private label products for retailers. Innovative designs, new products and accurate shipping keep retail registers ringing during the holiday season.
Strawberry Shortcake - The $500 million girl
- Strawberry Shortcake, a new character personifying spunky innocence, made her debut in 1980. By 1981, the adorable rag doll-style character dressed in her pinafore and bonnet generated $500 million in retail sales. In less than a year, more than 600 different Strawberry Shortcake products became available. The adorable little girl from Strawberryland was featured on everything from toys and accessories to housewares and apparel. Strawberry Shortcake was also a national celebrity, appearing in a national telethon, on two television specials and in countless magazines, including Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.
1980 - American Greetings continues global expansion
- In 1980, American Greetings purchased the rights to Rust Craft Greeting Cards of Toronto, Canada, and all of its subsidiaries. American Greetings also acquired from the Phillip Morris Group their UK greeting card subsidiary Celebration Arts Group Ltd (CAG) based in Corby, Northamptonshire.
1982 - Care Bears cause near riots at retail
- Forget the war protests 15 years earlier -- when Care Bears debuted, their popularity caused near riots as moms and dads vied to get their hands on the lovable new characters. The Care Bears represented different emotions through endearing symbols on their tummies. The original Care Bears included Tenderheart Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Wish Bear, Good Luck Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-a-lot Bear and Funshine Bear. Consumers filled theaters across the country to see three full-length, animated Care Bear movies. In its first five years, Care Bear merchandise accounted for $2 billion in retail sales.
1985 - Further acquisitions strengthen company
- American Greetings acquired Dallas-based Drawing Board Greetings, Inc. The acquired company would later become Carlton Cards, Inc., USA.
1986 - Company reaches $1 billion milestone
- At the age of 101, Jacob Sapirstein saw his company sell more than $1 billion in social expression products. That same year, the company celebrated the Silver Anniversary of using the Rose Logo as part of its corporate identity.
An alternative to the everyday card
- Alternative cards were introduced in the 1990s. These cards are the modern-day relatives of the old Hi Brow line and account for one of every four greeting cards sold today. These casual creations break a lot of traditional greeting card "rules." They can be sent for special occasions, or for no reason at all. Today's alternative cards cover a wide range of humor, from cute to slightly silly to irreverent and off-the-wall.
1993 - Different name, same quality
- The Summit Corporation, the American Greetings retail store subsidiary, which became part of the company in 1973, officially changed its name to Carlton Cards Retail, Inc. Today, Carlton Cards Retail owns and operates approximately 500 card and gift shops in the United States and Canada.
1995 - Overseas expansion
- With the acquisitions of John Sands in Australia and New Zealand, and S.A. Greetings in South Africa, the company strengthened its international presence considerably by 1995.
1996 - Staking claims in cyberspace
- In 1996, American Greetings launched its own site on the World Wide Web, featuring paper greeting cards, electronic cards, candy, flowers and gifts. Today, AG Interactive offers one of the largest creative selections available on the Web through its flagship site, AmericanGreetings.com, as well as its family of other sites, including Egreetings.com and BlueMountain.com. Together, these sites offer more than 30,000 high quality greetings and comprise the number one online greeting card destination in the world. The sites have more than two million paying subscribers and tens of millions of unique visitors per month.
1998 - Something for every day of the year
- American Greetings introduced DateWorks as a separate business unit, to create, market and distribute the company's calendar line. DateWorks has become a major factor in the calendar market and currently features wall, day-at-a-time, pocket and mini calendars in addition to many personal planners.
2000 - Gibson joins the American Greetings family
- American Greetings ushered in the new millennium by acquiring Gibson Greetings combining the world's two largest publicly held greeting card companies. The addition of Gibson also gave American Greetings a stronger presence in the deep discount channels.
2002 - Care Bears emerge from hibernation
- Twenty years after their original introduction by American Greetings in 1982, the Care Bears re-emerged from the clouds of Care-a-lot to charm a whole new generation of kids and parents. The relaunch proved that the characters are in demand with three different generations: parents, who fondly remember the Care Bears they grew up with; children, who discovered them for the first time; and teens, who embraced the icons from the '80s for their hip, "retro chic" appeal.
2003 - Strawberry Shortcake is back in action
- Today's mothers experienced a little déjà vu when another great '80s icon, Strawberry Shortcake, was reintroduced at the 2003 Rose Bowl Parade. Today, the beloved icon has two different looks.
"Classic Strawberry Shortcake" with her trademark pinafore and rag doll look, captures the interest of collectors and young women who fondly remembered Strawberry Shortcake from their youth. An updated, more contemporary version called "Strawberry Shortcake and Friends" was also introduced, to appeal to today's little girls. She retains her spunkiness and charm, but resembles a real little girl instead of a rag doll. Overalls replace the pinafore and the bonnet becomes a wide-brimmed straw hat.
2004 - American Greetings gets interactive
- With a jump into mobile technology in 2004, AG Interactive continued the trend of bringing social expression to growing markets of tech-savvy consumers. In the spring of 2004, AmericanGreetings.com announced the formation of AG Mobile, the company's new wireless division. As a result of this expansion into a new medium, the company also changed its named from American Greetings.com to AG Interactive, a move made to highlight the company's growing presence beyond online greetings. The company bolstered its new stance when it acquired MIDIRingTones, an award-winning mobile entertainment and personalization company. The St. Paul, Minnesota-based MIDIRingTones creates, sells and distributes wireless content, including ring tones, graphics, audio tones and games to the latest generation of cellular phones.
2004 - Celebrating all aspects of life
- DesignWare evolves into Celebrate It!, to better reflect a diverse range of products and expanded business mission, which now focuses not only on party goods, but many different categories of products that help consumers connect, express and celebrate themselves. The Celebrate It! group combines DesignWare, Learning Horizons and BalloonZone.
2006 - American Greetings celebrates 100 years
- American Greetings turned 100 with clear goals in place for an even better next century. The dedication to innovative products that drove Jacob Sapirstein in 1906 is alive and well today, driving the modern torch-bearers forward to assist consumers in enhancing their relationships through self expression. 100 years later, American Greetings still says it best.
2008 – Picturing a new way to connect
- As a natural extension of products that enable people to connect and celebrate, American Greetings purchased PhotoWorks and Webshots, two online photo sharing and personal publishing sites. At PhotoWorks.com, consumers can create memorable gifts with favorite photos. Webshots.com users can store and send personal photos and interact with the Webshots community as well.
2009 – Helping consumers find the perfect card wherever they shop
- To add to the company’s existing depth of product offerings, American Greetings acquired the successful Recycled Paper Greetings and Papyrus brands. By adding these popular brands to the family of products, American Greetings is able to offer consumers the best in value, innovations, humor and high-end elegant designs.
2011– American Greetings introduces Cardstore.com
Adding to the wide variety of convenient solutions from American Greetings, Cardstore.com was introduced as the website to create perfectly personalized cards . Cardstore offers consumers unmatched variety as well as the opportunity to personalize their selections through an assortment of interactive options. Users can add personal photos, include unique, heartfelt messages and even upload a signature for the perfect final touch. In addition to these great options, Cardstore will also stamp and send the cards via US postal service.