A.B.Dick Company History

7400 Caldwell Avenue
Niles, Illinois 60714

Telephone: (847) 779-1900
Toll Free: 800-422-3616
Fax: (847) 647-6940

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Paragon Corporate Holdings, Inc.
Incorporated: 1884
Employees: 1,200
Sales: $268.62 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 333293 Printing Machinery & Equipment Manufacturing; 333315 Photographic & Photocopying Equipment Manufacturing; 421420 Office Equipment Wholesaling; 42183 Industrial Machinery & Equipment Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

Our mission is to provide our customers with everything they need to succeed in the production of high quality rapid response printing. We further commit to the development of quality equipment and supplies which will assist our customers in their need to advance to a digital printing environment.

Company History:

A.B.Dick Company is still going strong after 114 years in business and, after the turn of the new millennium, will be one of only a handful of companies who can say they have witnessed, and driven, change in three separate centuries. Owned by Paragon Corporate Holdings, Inc., a division of Nesco Inc., A.B.Dick continues as a leading worldwide supplier to the graphic arts and printing industry, manufacturing and marketing equipment and supplies for all stages of document creation&mdash′e-press, press, and post-press&mdash well as continuing service and support.

Albert Blake Dick and Thomas Alva Edison, 1884--1900

A.B.Dick Company was founded in 1884 in Chicago, Illinois, by a young lumberman named Albert Blake Dick, and was incorporated in that state on April 11. Offices were located at 720 W. Jackson Blvd. Business then was still predominantly done on a handwritten basis. Because there was no such machine as a mimeograph, it became necessary to invent one. How that invention came about is well documented and so is the fact that Thomas Alva Edison's ideas and his "electric pen" were key in the amalgamation of concepts that determined the form of the world's first duplicator, the "Edison-Dick Mimeograph." This simple machine created an industry.

In 1876 Thomas Alva Edison patented his "Edison Electric Pen." A few years later, experimenting with a file and waxed wrapping paper, Dick discovered the mimeograph process. The invention initiated the era of modern printed communications; formerly, documents were reproduced by the hand of a scribe. In 1887 the company released the Model "0" Flatbed Duplicator, which sold for $12. It was the original Edison Mimeograph and the company's first commercial product. Later that year, the Edison Mimeograph No. 4 came out, with a nameplate bearing the Edison patent from August 8, 1876. Over the rest of the 19th century, more products were developed: in 1894, the Edison Mimeograph Typewriter #3; in 1895, the Edison Mimeograph No. 51 "New Automatic"; in 1896, the Planetary Pencil Pointer; and in 1900, the Edison Diaphragm Mimeograph No. 61 (Rotary); the Edison Oscillating Mimeograph No. 71.; and the A.B.Dick No. 1 Folder, an automatic circular letter folding machine.

The Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World Wars

By the turn of the 20th century, A.B.Dick Company was flourishing. The A.B.Dick Model 75 Rotary Mimeograph was released in 1904. Capable of producing 50 copies a minute, it set the stage for ever increasing capacity in Dick products. The Edison Rotary Mimeograph No. 76 followed in 1909, as well as the A.B.Dick Company Adding Machine and the "Dermatype Wet Stencil," which replaced stiff wax stencil and revolutionized the industry. The Edison Mimeograph 77A came out in 1913. It is believed that the A.B.Dick mimeograph produced every copy of every single order of U.S. military personnel during World War I.

The ability to make 100 copies a minute was quite high-tech for the time, and the owner of the company knew that he had scratched only the surface of what potential existed. The flatbed mimeograph was replaced with the oscillating model, and soon the rotary had an electric motor added, which became the Model 77 and then the Model 78. The company's thrust had evolved from revolutionary to evolutionary. New stencil technology was converging continually with new equipment developments, allowing the company to expand and succeed at will. As the world changed and demands for copies grew, it almost seemed as though A.B.Dick was waiting for the needs to catch up with its vision of the future of duplicating. The company was always among the leaders of Chicago organizations.

A.B.Dick's visionary mimeograph process became part of the lexicon of the U.S. vocabulary. Nearly all needs for duplicated copy was done on the mimeograph. As technology became more available, the mimeograph continued to evolve around the basic ideas of the process. Throughout the Great Depression, two world wars, and other major changes taking place in a dynamic society--A.B.Dick Company grew by meeting the needs of a market it had created, and by continued research and development.

In 1924 stencil was improved again, and the "hill" dry stencil was introduced. It was the basic stencil, which changed only in minor detail all the way through the modern era. During these years, many tools (i.e., the stylus, shading plate, and lettering template) were perfected to allow free imagination to reign during stencil preparation. In 1932 A.B.Dick of Canada was established, representing the company's first international foray. Two years later, Albert Blake Dick, Sr., died and was replaced by his son Albert Blake Dick, Jr. His other son, Edison (so named because of his esteem for Thomas Alva Edison), became a board member and was intricately involved in the success of the business.

The company started building military hardware in 1939, as well as commercial products, including the A.B.Dick Portable Rotary #72; Mimeoscope #1; Model 96 Mimeograph; Edison Dick Mimeograph #30 (the simplest and smallest hand-operated mimeograph at the time); Model 100 Mimeograph; #9 Mimeoscope; Photomechanical Printer #67; Model 91 Mimeograph (17,874 units manufactured); and the Model 100 Chrome Mimeo (made as a one-of-a-kind showpiece at the 1939 World's Fair).

Through this period the company enjoyed the unusual growth of the "Roaring '20s" and fared through the Great Depression without laying off a single employee. In 1934 it announced a retirement plan for all employees, who, in grateful appreciation, soon had a bronze plaque made for display at the headquarters building. When A.B.Dick Company opened the Niles Plant in 1949, that plaque was the centerpiece of a magnificent new lobby. The lobby, like the "keyhole," was among the many design contributions of Walter Dorwin Teague, the preeminent industrial designer of the era.

Beginning in 1941 and lasting through World War II, the company manufactured only products needed to support the war effort, focusing on key defense needs by manufacturing the esteemed Norden Bombsight for long-range bombers. Other products included spark plug bodies and aircraft landing gear. The following year A.B.Dick Company began publishing Mimeographic, a comprehensive company newspaper aimed at keeping military personnel informed of working family and vice-versa.

Post-World War II

Following the war, land was acquired in Niles, Illinois, to build a new factory. Ground was broken there on October 13, 1948. Also that year, the first postwar Mimeograph, the Model 400 Series, was released.

All operations moved to Niles on October 22, 1949. The complex there was dedicated on September 26, and A.B.Dick III locked the doors for the final time at 720 W. Jackson Blvd. In 1951 the new building added a west wing.

In 1952 the company began to expand, entering the offset business by acquiring Lithomat Corporation in Massachusetts, which made paper masters. The company's first offset machine, the Model 350, was manufactured in 1955. An International Division was added to the organization in 1956.

More products came out, including the first photocopier, the Model 110 DTR Unit, in 1957, and the Tabletop Offset Model 320 in 1959. Also in 1959, videograph research was completed and the first high-speed videograph became available. It would, in later years, become the cornerstone of Videojet Company, a leader in inkjet printing and bar code marking.

Through 1958 the company had known only three presidents: the founder, A.B. Dick; his son, Jr.; and his grandson, A.B. Dick III. Their strong reliance on family was the cornerstone of their approach to managing the business and its employees. They recognized then, as the company does now, that shared loyalty and teamwork in achieving mutual goals was an irreplaceable ingredient in success.

Outside the Family, 1960

In 1960 Karl Van Tassel took over as president, the first non-Dick family member to do so, and served until 1971. During this time the company began to serve the banking industry for MICR check printing. New products included the Mimeoscope #10, #5, and #4; Mimeo-Introduced graph 410 and 450; and Spirit Duplicator M-210. The company historian, George Smith, noted that "this period was one of dynamic growth as the company changed location and started up in Offset, Videograph, Spirit, Azograph, MICR, and photocopiers, as well as continuing to develop new Mimeograph models, and furnish supplies for all the above." In September 1964 the Action Offset Line was introduced at an elaborate presentation at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. In all, nine new models were shown, of which the main ones were the Model 367A and the Tabletop Model 325.

A.B.Dick Company has remained at the forefront of the graphic arts and printing industry. As change accelerated in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the company's key products went through fast transitions in an attempt to continue to meet a growing and globally involved world.

John Stetson took over as president in 1971. The following year, in February, the company announced plans to go public with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange in September, selling shares at an opening price of $27. In 1974 the company entered a joint venture with Scott Paper to develop the System 200 Updatable Microfiche System. The company would buy out Scott Paper in 1978 to form the Record Systems Division (RSD). Major product lines were established, and there was more thrust at developing new products for all lines than announcements of new technology. Stetson left the company in 1978 to become secretary of the Air Force, and Van Tassel came out of retirement to serve again until April 8, 1979.

New Owners, 1979

The following day, April 9, 1979, General Electric Company (GEC) of England purchased the A.B.Dick Company for $104 million. Shares were returned to company ownership at $17 per share, and Geoffrey R. Cross became president and CEO.

After Cross shortly departed, Norman J. Nichol served as president for one year until David Powell assumed the office for GEC. He served twice in this capacity, with an interim nine months under the leadership of Jim Bast. During this period the company entered the microfilm/microfiche business. Word processors were introduced and the company was up and running in this technology. Smith noted that "the company changed radically with the new owners, GEC of The United Kingdom. Cross made it known early on that he saw computers and word processors as the future of the company. Soon, major efforts to develop and support these products was underway."

The K Series Copiers were introduced in 1986. Two years later the company acquired Itek Graphix in Rochester, New York, to expand its product lines in the pre-press arena. In 1989 the 2000 Series Copiers were introduced. Videojet became a separate company from A.B.Dick, spun off in 1991. Located in Elk Grove Village, it was wholly owned by GEC. In 1993 the Century 3000 Two-Color Press was introduced, and the Colorstar digital color printer was produced in 1995. Also that year, the company launched Micap Technology Corporation.

In 1996 Gerald J. McConnell was appointed president and CEO. That year, the company received a GATF Award for the DPM2000 and introduced the 3500 Series presses and the 9900 Series Offset Duplicators.

Another New Owner, 1997

Paragon Corporate Holdings, Inc., an investment firm and affiliate of Nesco Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, assumed ownership of A.B.Dick Company in 1997, retaining McConnell as president. In 1998 the company purchased an operation in Holland, opened a supply distribution center in Sparks, Nevada, and announced its intention to move the manufacturing facility to Touhy Avenue and its worldwide headquarters to Caldwell Avenue, both in Niles, Illinois. GEC sold the old sites to Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.

A.B.Dick Company's potential continued to be considerable. Certainly the digital revolution impacted on its product mix as much as it did on society at large. The company saw digital capability as a power to be exploited in making things compact, user-friendly, fast, and versatile. It was impossible to say where it would lead, but safe to say that A.B.Dick Company, under former Chief Financial Officer Ed Suchma, who was appointed president and CEO in 1999, would be right alongside whatever new technology developed.

Principal Subsidiaries: A.B.Dick Contract Manufacturing; American Grafix Service.

Further Reading:

  • "A. B. Dick Co.," Crain's Chicago Business, July 22, 1991, p. 26.
  • Arnott, Nancy, "Printing Money," Sales & Marketing Management, February 1995, p. 64.
  • Chapman, Bert, "Duplicators Offer Fast, High Quality Copy Reproduction for Small Printers," Graphic Arts Monthly and The Printing Industry, July 1982, p. 43.
  • Curtis, Carol E., "Ovonics--Has Its Time Come?," Forbes, August 4, 1980, p. 35.
  • Deady, Tim, "Datametrics Stands to Win Big in Printer Distribution Arrangement," Los Angeles Business Journal, April 3, 1995, p. 4.
  • Gillam, Carey, "A.B.Dick Transfers Execs," Atlanta Business Chronicle, August 27, 1993, p. 1A.
  • Higgins, Kevin T., "Personalized Ads Boon to Magazines: 'What Offset Was to Printing, Selectronics Will Be to Binding,"' Marketing News, June 20, 1986, p. 1.
  • "HPS Printing Products," Orlando Business Journal, September 6, 1991, p. 10.
  • Tieman, Ross, "AB Dick Sale Furthers GEC Streamlining," Financial Times, January 7, 1997, p. 16.
  • "Two-Color Press for Short-Run Work," American Printer, December 1992, p. 74.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 28. St. James Press, 1999.