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Monday, June 1, 2009

Kirkwood Woman Pens First -- and Only -- Biography of Hallmark Cards Founder

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 8:52 AM

Six years ago, Margaret Benedict remembers being riveted by an article in Investor's Business Daily on the life and times of Joyce Clyde Hall, the highly-driven founder of Hallmark Cards. At the time, Benedict was reaching the end of a long career as a fifth-grade teacher in St. Charles.

"I've always loved biographies. They've always been my favorite genre," Benedict, who lives in Kirkwood, said last week. (In fact, she required her students to read eight biographies a year.)

"After reading the story on Hall, I kept wanting to learn more about him -- and couldn't really find much. So I contacted his grandson, Donald Hall, who is the president of Hallmark. He sent me a copy of his memoirs and invited me to come to headquarters in Kanas City. Everyone at Hallmark was extraordinarily helpful in me writing this biography."

The rest, so to speak, is history.

"I was surprised that no real biography of Joyce Clyde Hall existed," Benedict went on. The recently published book -- now on sale at Barnes & Noble and -- has a rather academic title, An American Entrepreneur -- Mr. Joyce Clyde Hall: Founder of Hallmark Cards, Inc. Seems Joyce Clyde Hall: Card Shark might have been a bit more catchy, especially when catchy heartfelt slogans ("When you care enough to send the very best.") is what's fueled Hallmark since its creation 99 years ago.

Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City - FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/PEACHSMACK
  • Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City
Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City

In any case, Benedict says a key reason for writing the book, which is geared to younger readers, is to convey to students the importance of acquiring a strong and disciplined work ethic that Hall so richly possessed in building the world's largest greeting-card business..

Some of the terrain Benedict covers in An American Entrepreneur:

* Hall's father, a wayward preacher, abandoned the family when Hall was a child, leaving him and his two older brothers to care for their semi-invalid mother.

* Hall was eighteen and poorer than dirt when, in 1910, he stepped off a train in Kansas City with two shoeboxes of picture postcards, which he and his brothers invested $180 to buy.

* Hall began to send out packets of 100 postcards to dealers throughout the Midwest and slowly a profitable mail-order business began to take root.

* In 1915, shortly before Valentine's Day, a fire destroyed his warehouse and he lost his entire inventory of Valentine's Day cards, leaving him and his brothers $17,000 in debt. 

* In 1919, after Hall had begun to market his cards under the Hallmark brand name, he rightly figured that casual "me to you" messages would eventually catch on as a social custom.

  • Charms
* By the early 1920s, Hallmark greetings were becoming  commonplace, after Hall introduced new lines of cards: birthday wishes, anniversary tidings, inspirational greetings, get-well messages and "missing you" cards to loves one stationed overseas.

* Even during the Great Depression, Hallmark continued its vigorous growth and was never forced to cut loose a single worker.

* At the time of his death in 1982, at the age of 92, Hallmark was churning out more than 8 million cards a day, including the card that started it all -- the Edward Guest friendship verse: "I'd like to be the kind of friend you've been to me."

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