Pitman Company History

721 Union Boulevard
Totowa, New Jersey 07512

Telephone: (973) 812-0400
Toll Free: 800-526-5441
Fax: (973) 812-1630

Private Company
Founded: 1906
Employees: 543
Sales: $138 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 423410 Photographic Equipment and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers; 423440 Other Commercial Equipment Merchant Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

The core of Pitman's philosophy has always been its unique level of concern for customers and employees. Some eight decades after its founding, the company continues to reflect this commitment and offers customers many practical advantages. Pitman customers have access to a complete range of products reflecting the most advanced technology from the industry's foremost manufacturers. The company backs these products with full technical assistance and provides numerous services and support programs specifically designed to meet each customer's needs.

Key Dates:

Harold Pitman founds company in Chicago, Illinois.
Pitman is the first company to employ trained photoengravers in sales.

1930s:Pitman is the first U.S. company to use deep-etch lithographic process.

1940s:The company manufactures lithography equipment.
Pitman pledges commitment to electronic imaging products and equipment.
Joseph Demharter joins Pitman, bringing with him 22 years' of experience at DuPont Printing and Publishing.
Longtime chairman John W. Dreyer resigns and Robert Pitman Schmidt, president and chief executive officer, dies.
Pitman makes three key acquisitions with Ad Vantage Computer Systems Inc., PrintNation, and Litho Development and Research.

Company History:

With more than 20 branches, each with its own warehouse, spanning the United States, Pitman Company, which claims annual revenues over $600 million, is the largest graphic arts supplier for the printing and publishing industry in North America. Headquartered in Totowa, New Jersey, the company offers digital imaging solutions, traditional prepress and pressroom products, graphics software, as well as technical support and customer service. Pitman serves more than 900 manufacturers of prepress and pressroom supplies and equipment, including such leading companies as Agfa, Kodak, 3M, and DuPont. Pitman offers services to meet the needs of commercial, corporate, and newspaper customers, and, through its subsidiary PrintNation, the company is committed to online sales and services.

A Centuries-Old Industry Evolves

Since Johannes Gutenberg invented the first European printing press in 1450, the industry has experienced dramatic change, most of which has occurred within the last 100 years. Pitman Company was founded by Harold M. Pitman in Chicago in 1906. The company has prided itself in maintaining its status as an industry leader able to keep up with, and even set trends, with advancing technology in the prepress and printing business.

When Harold Pitman founded his company, he manufactured, sold, and delivered steel dies and copper plates used in offset printing in the early 20th century. He soon added zinc and copper plates used in photoengraving, establishing Pitman products as the industry standard. Towards the end of World War I, Pitman employed trained photoengravers among its sales force, thus providing the highest level of customer support the company could offer. By the 1930s, the Pitman Company focused on the manufacture of deep-etch plates utilized in offset lithography, a printing process wherein ink is transferred from a plate to an intermediate rubber surface and then to paper.

Following World War II, Pitman moved from being a manufacturer of deep-etch plates and lithography equipment to becoming a distributor. At that time, offset lithography was the dominant method of printing, and Pitman had established a solid reputation in the field. Pitman counted among its customers DuPont, Kodak, and Agfa, companies that were just then marketing films to the print industry. Additionally, Pitman marketed presensitized lithographic plates, the first company to do so, and became the distributor for 3M. Continuing to expand its scope, Pitman distributed films, plates, chemicals, and scanners as offset printing continued to grow and dominate from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Digital Technology Opens New Doors

With the advent of electronic imaging, Pitman became the first distributor to offer a full array of desktop publishing and electronic imaging products and equipment. In 1991, Pitman declared its intent to address the changing needs of its customers. Mont Phelps, vice-president of sales, commented in American Printer that "Pitman is the first graphic arts dealer to provide such a broad range of offerings. Graphic arts companies of all types are recognizing the necessity for computerization." Among the first products offered through its manufacturers were scanners, magnetic media, data transfer systems, digital proofing systems, and laser printers. Along with its commitment to supplying a wide range of digital products, Pitman invested in helping customers maximize their computer investments with daily technical support and employee training workshops through in-house electronic specialists and by partnering with its major manufacturer base.

Throughout the 1990s, Pitman advanced its presence in servicing the graphic arts industry. In 1993, the company offered the Eskoscan 2540, a scanner manufactured by the Danish company Eskofot; the DCS-200 digital camera manufactured by Kodak; and the Picasso Still-Image Phone manufactured by AT&T. In 1995, Pitman counted PowerShop for use with Adobe PhotoShop, Wright Technologies' Project X, ScanView Inc.'s ScanMate high-resolution digital color scanners, and ColorQuartet color separation software among its array of products. That same year, Pitman was awarded exclusive marketing, sales, service, and distribution rights in the United States for New Hampshire-based Presstek Inc.'s PearlSetter product lines and digital direct-to-plate systems and consumables. Another key distribution agreement achieved by the end of 1995 was made between Pitman and Howtek, Inc., authorizing Pitman North American sales rights for the entire line of Howtek Scanmaster drum and flatbed color scanners.

During the late 1990s, Pitman looked to the future, assessing the needs of the printing industry, and set the pace for advancing technology. By 1997, the company operated 22 distribution branches and had organized its operations to include teams devoted to digital, computer-to-plate, newspaper, packaging, and national accounts. The sale and distribution of computer-to-plate (CTP) units represented a significant profit increase. Joe Demharter, vice-president of digital imaging, noted in Printing Impressions in 1997 that Pitman shipped 15 CTP units from Gerber Systems in fourth quarter 1996, maintaining, "People quickly recognized CTP's potential for saving time and material on the front end. Now they're also realizing that CTP delivers on press, as well, in terms of increased quality, reduced make-ready time, and improved registration." The North American newspaper industry had not implemented widespread use of CTP imagers by mid-1999. In June, however, Pitman signed on as the contractor to supply, configure, and install CTP at USA Today, while the manufacturers of the systems, Agfa and Barco, became the subcontractors. With this deal, Demharter hoped to activate future sales, noting in the Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, "U.S. newspapers will watch the activity at USA Today ... and, after seeing that CTP really works in that kind of environment, others will follow."

Pitman continued to augment its services in digital imaging in 1999 when it aligned with Portalis Inc. to distribute its PressPort, a system that quickly converts hard copy original material to a digital version that can then be printed off digital presses by such brands as Agfa, Heidelberg, IBM, and Xerox.

Growth through Acquisitions

As Pitman reached revenues of $620 million in late 2000, the company experienced several shifts in personnel. Longtime chairman John W. Dreyer retired in December after having served in that position since 1977. Robert Pitman Schmidt remained president and chief executive officer while Demharter was named executive vice-president. However, shortly after Dreyer's retirement, Schmidt passed away, and Paul (Peter) F. Schmidt, Jr., representing the third family member to run the company, was appointed chairman while Demharter was made president and CEO.

Beginning in 2001, Pitman made the first of several acquisitions. In February, the company purchased Ad Vantage Computer Systems Inc., a systems integrator based in Des Moines, Iowa, creating the Pitman/Advantage division. In May 2001, Pitman ventured full force into e-commerce with the acquisition of PrintNation, considered the largest online printing and supplies store in the world. With the longstanding reputation of Pitman and PrintNation's e-commerce capabilities, the site, which remained under the PrintNation name, offered an extensive array of products from over 900 suppliers. Demharter told Printing News, "This acquisition establishes Pitman's long-term commitment to online sales, in addition to our traditional sales and service methods." In December 2001, Pitman announced its third significant transaction for the year, this time an acquisition of the assets of graphic arts supplier Litho Development and Research (LDR), which had sales and distribution centers in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Portland, Oregon. With this purchase, Pitman achieved powerful sales and service status in the western states. In 2002, Pitman actively pursued other areas of growth through strategic marketing alliances with New York-based Van Son Holland Ink Corporation and DuPont Imaging Technologies.

As e-commerce and Internet media continued to grow in the early 21st century, Pitman continued to foresee where the printing and publishing industry must go. Pitman long recognized the need to incorporate digital technology as a means to thrive in the printing industry. When asked what he predicted for Pitman by 2006, Demharter ventured, "Pitman will be an international company. A significant share of its business will take place over the Internet, both to its traditional customer base and to new customers. Much more of its revenues will come in through services. Pitman will represent a strong group of new major manufacturers. We'll be very much an equipment company."

Principal Subsidiaries: PrintNation Inc.

Principal Competitors: Buhrmann NV; Enovation Graphics Systems, Inc.; Matthews International Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • "Briefly: Pitman to Sell ScanMate," Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, April 17, 1995, p. 1.
  • "Dealer Buys Sites in West," Graphic Arts Monthly, December 2001, p. 25.
  • "Digital Deal," Graphic Arts Monthly, August 1995, p. 23.
  • "Distributor Pitman Revives PrintNation," American Printer, June 2001, p. 12.
  • Hevenor, Keith, "Joe Demharter Interview," Electronic Publishing, August 2001, p. 16.
  • "Howtek, Inc. & Pitman Company Reach Distribution Agreement," PR Newswire, December 19, 1995.
  • "Imaging the Possibilities," American Printer, November 1993, p. 78.
  • Mackenzie, Seth, "Pitman CEO Assesses the Future of Print: Still Secure, But, Oh, the Changes in Store!," Printing News, January 31, 2000, p. 1.
  • "New Look for Pitman," American Printer, November 1997, p. 14.
  • "Pitman Acquires Iowa-Based Co. Ad Vantage Inc," Printing News, February 26, 2001, p. 22.
  • "Pitman Co. Acquires Online Supplier PrintNation," Printing News, May 14, 2001, p. 1.
  • "Pitman in New Role," Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, July 26, 1999, p. 23.
  • "Pitman Inks Portalis Distribution Pact," American Printer, February 1999, p. 18.
  • "Pitman Looking to the West to Expand Its Market Share; Major Asset Deal Underway," Printing News, December 3, 2001, p. 5.
  • "So Happy Together," Printing News, November 22, 1999, p. 8.
  • "Successors at Pitman," Graphic Arts Monthly, January 2001, p. 25.
  • Tribute, Andrew, "CTP Orders: Will This Be the Start of Something Big?," Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, June 30, 1999, p. 14.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 58. St. James Press, 2004.