‘Dennison Mfg’ back in business at Framingham History Center

Business is booming once again in “Dennison Mfg. Company: 1844-1990,’’ a nostalgic and informative exhibit at the Framingham History Center that explores the history and impact of the “largest tag works in the world’’ through memorable artifacts and hundreds of documents.

By Chris Bergeron / Daily News Staff

Posted Nov. 16, 2014 @ 5:00 am

Updated Nov 16, 2014 at 9:44 AM

http://bcove.me/6w1fiw2f —> Click here for a video of Executive Director Annie Murphy talking about the exhibit.

FRAMINGHAM – For most of the 20th century, the Dennison Manufacturing Company powered Framingham’s economy, shaping the town’s growth and social life while pioneering business innovations that still affect how Americans live today.

Longtime townies remember the signature Dennison tags that drove a global business empire, the crinkly crepe paper with a hundred uses and the imposing Howard Street buildings where generations of relatives worked in a different community in a different era.Business is booming once again in “Dennison Mfg. Company: 1844-1990,’’ a nostalgic and informative exhibit at the Framingham History Center that explores the history and impact of the “largest tag works in the world’’ through memorable artifacts and hundreds of documents.Entering the exhibit, visitors will see the familiar red brick building rising above the railroad tracks in Woolsey Conover’s atmospheric oil painting.At its considerable best, visitors will see a multifaceted family portrait of a company and community that grew up together until circumstances sent them in different directions.FHC curator and co-organizer Dana Dauterman-Ricciardi described the exhibit “as the most ambitious in scope and the number of objects and records that we’ve staged.’’Following prior shows about Shoppers World and the Civil War, “Dennison Mfg.” continues a strong streak by FHC staff who continue to present exhibits that explore Framingham’s history through residents’ stories.Co-curator Nancy Prince, whose father was a Dennison executive, sifted through more than 100 cartons of documents, giving the exhibit both a human touch and scope by documenting the experiences of workers at all levels and the company’s far-reaching innovations.The Newton resident described her work on the show as “a labor of love in honor of my parents.’’FHC Executive Director Anne Murphy said the company mastered the then-unknown art of “branding itself before anybody else’’ by making its products essential for business and celebrating the holidays.She credited former employee Paula Boulette for convincing Avery-Dennison to donate many boxes of archived Dennison documents to FHC, while others were sent to Harvard Business School.Visitors will see – naturally – hundreds of the signature tags that revolutionized how businesses around the world labeled their products and the modest cane chair once occupied by Henry S. Dennison in the early 1900s.They will see the jewelry boxes made by Dennison in the mid-1800s in Maine before relocating in Framingham and tiny figurines fashioned from crepe paper for a company Christmas party during World War I.And they’ll see 4,000-year-old ceramic “tags’’ made in ancient Babylon likely used to catalog trade goods that an archaeologically-minded employee brought home from a far-flung vacation.

Conveying the breadth of Dennison’s 146-year history, Dauterman-Ricciardi and Prince have created a detailed timeline that covers a gallery wall as it chronicles significant events from 1844 when Andrew Dennison “made the first jewelry boxes in the U.S. on his cobbler’s bench’’ in Maine to 2006 when space in the former business at 300 Howard St. was converted into luxury condos.

Some of the notable events were:

  • 1858: E.W. Dennison made his first merchandise tags.
  • 1897: Twenty years after purchasing a factory in Roxbury, Dennison bought a vacant factory in Framingham and moved most of its operations there.
  • 1910-1916: Dennison added an employee lunchroom, rest room, kindergarten and recreational facilities.
  • Oct. 16, 1990 Dennison merged with Avery International Corp.

Visitors will see Dennison started as a family business in Brunswick, Maine, that began in 1844 making jewelry boxes and grew within 20 years to making the first “merchandise labels and making the “patch,’’ a reinforced circle so tags could be tied to products.

 After relocating to Framingham, the company was so successful at the turn of the 20th century it employed 3,000 people, or roughly a third of the town’s population, and its 16-acre site was called “the Gold Coast.’’Dauterman-Ricciardi and Prince have found artifacts from the FHC’s collection that show how Dennison products influenced residents’ lives in ways often forgotten today.In a display case, a 10 cent “Dennison Bogie Book’’ offers children suggestions about making costumes and decorations for Halloween. Above the slogan, “the show window is the mirror of the store,’’ a poster offers suggestions “How to dress a window with Dennison paper.’’On Thursday, Dec. 4, the FHC will hold a reunion of former Dennison employees and relatives at Village Hall from 6 to 9 p.m.For old-timers and newcomers alike, Murphy thinks the exhibit celebrates Framingham’s legacy of hosting a global business that “became an integral part of our town.’’“If you worked at Dennison or had relatives who worked there, you’ll be reminded of how important it was to the town,’’ she said. “For those who don’t know much about it, I think they’ll be amazed that Dennison was here and had such a global impact. That legacy hasn’t been lost.’’

WHEN: Through December 2015

WHERE: Framingham History Center, 16 Vernon St., Framingham

INFO: 508-626-9091; www.framinghamhistory.org


Framingham History Center To Unveil Dennison Manufacturing Company Exhibit

Exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, Nov. 15 from 1 to 4 p.m., and can be viewed through December 2015.

Framingham History Center To Unveil Dennison Manufacturing Company Exhibit
The Framingham History Center will unveil the exhibit The Dennison Manufacturing Company 1844-1990, tonight, Nov. 14, with a private members only party at the Edgell Memorial Library.

The public will be able to view the exhibit starting, tomorrow, Nov. 15 from 1 to 4 p.m. $5 admission. Special membership rate available too. The exhibit will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. through December 2015.

The story of “The Dennison” is very much the story of the town of Framingham for nearly 100 years.

The Dennison Mfg. Company came to town in 1897 and employed thousands of Framingham residents until its merger with the Avery Corporation in 1990.

When the Dennison archives, which were so carefully kept in a special history room at the plant, were moved to headquarters in California there was a fear that a significant piece of Framingham history would be lost forever. Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, and a generous gift from the Avery Dennison Corporation, those archives were shipped back to Framingham over a year ago and our staff and volunteers have been caring for them ever since, according to the Framingham History Center.

The pride of being a “Dennisonian” runs deep among so many in our region and the Dennison Mfg. Company: 1844-1990 exhibition will celebrate that legacy.

Photo courtesy of Framingham History Center

The Tag! 1860-1870

By Laura Stagliola, Administrative Assistant

November 13, 2014

The period between 1860 and 1870 in the history of the Dennison Mfg. Co. was defined by the tag. The jewelry box business was steadily progressing and E.W. was expanding the number of sales offices and production size at a fast pace. E.W. patented the idea of reinforcing the hole in the tag with a paper washer on each side on June 9, 1863. The sales of tags for the first year were about ten million.

Dennison tags 6

Much like Aaron Dennison found that jewelry boxes in the 1800s were not reliable products, E.W. felt that imported tags from Europe were of inferior quality, and sought to change that. The world of advertising frequently used tags, but E.W. had to create a market for small jewelry tags of uniform size with a professional appearance. Businesses took some convincing but E.W. was able to harness and create with a tag machine. Now that jewelry tags had been introduced, Dennison’s newest invention focused on shipping tags, also known as direction labels.

necklace with tag

While shipping tags had been used well before the 1860s, the Civil War posed an overwhelming demand for cheap, durable tags unlike the expensive linen tags in Europe. After E.W.’s merchandise tag designer created the gummed washer to support the hole in 1863, his first shipping tag machine put out “about 15,000 tags a day and delivered 10 million tags to the marketplace in the first year.” Buyers quickly took to the new shipping and the need for tags increased steadily throughout the 1860s into the 1870s.

original and improved tag machines

Original and improved tag machines

The Dennison Beginnings: 1844-1850

By Laura Stagliola, Administrative Assistant

November 12, 2014

Dennison homestead

It all began in a small house in Brunswick, Maine in 1844. Aaron Dennison, a Boston watchmaker and jeweler, was frustrated with the poor quality of European jewelry boxes, and decided to craft a sturdy yet elegant jewelry box. While Aaron often made what he needed as a jeweler, he traveled to his childhood home in Brunswick to enlist the help of his family. His father, Colonel Andrew Dennison, was a shoemaker and cut the pasteboard supplies into box forms, and his sisters Julia and Matilda put the boxes together and covered each with fancy glazed paper. Later on Aaron’s brother, Eliphalet Whorf (E.W.), was also recruited in the box business as a salesman for his remarkable ability to attract potential customers. The jewelry boxes quickly became very popular and to meet the growing demand Aaron and Andrew hired ten workers and added new machinery in the first year alone.

In the early years of the box business, Aaron sold his product in Boston and shipped supplies to the factory in Brunswick. After a year or so, Aaron only wanted to focus solely on his watchmaking, while Andrew continued working on the boxes. Living in Maine, the Colonel needed an agent to go between the factory and Boston. On October 1, 1849 Aaron made E.W. responsible for managing the box sales and supplies for the company and Aaron soon retired from the box business. E.W. was a gifted salesman and he was always on the lookout for new ideas and products as he traveled across the nation promoting the jewelry boxes. They added items such as “twine, white and pink cotton, and jewelry cards” to broaden their product line. E.W. also introduced new custom boxes for “combs, wedding cakes, needles, flowers and hairpins,” to name a few.[1]

Finally in 1850, E.W. saw the potential to branch out and seek new product opportunities which prompted him to open his first salesroom and office at 203 Washington Street, Boston.

[1] The Dennison Mfg. Co. Archival Collection at the FHC.

Window display at the Framingham Public Library – November 1st through 30th

By Laura Stagliola, Administrative Assistant

November 10, 2014

Framingham History Center volunteers Linda deCougny and Nancy Hulme, along with Administrative Assistant, Laura Stagliola, installed a Dennison Manufacturing Company themed display case on October 30, 2014. The window display on the left side of the lobby of the recently renovated Framingham Public Library, features Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations made by The Dennison, as well as some of their most known for items such as the Buttoneer, jewelry boxes and the iconic gold star adhesives. From the ceiling of the display case hang reinforced tags like those of The Dennison to draw the eye of library goers. It was alot of fun installing the display! Make sure to stop by the FPL throughout the month of November to see it for yourself!

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The Holy Grail of Halloween decorations: Hobgoblinville

By Laura Stagliola, Administrative Assistant

October 30, 2014


According to The Mark B. Ledenbach Halloween Collection at HalloweenCollector.com,

Spookville (by Whitman)… isn’t to be confused with the awesome and tear-inducingly hard-to-find six section Hobgoblinville table decoration Dennison issued in 1928 for the then-steep price of $2.00.

He continues,

This has routinely eluded by grasp for decades and now tops the list of MBL’s Holy Grails!

With the recent acquisition of the contents of the Dennison Manufacturing Company’s History Room, the Framingham History Center unearthed the Spring 1928 What’s Next? (a publication sent to Dennison dealers and retail stores) where an image of the Hobgoblinville decoration was advertised. The advertisement briefly describes the decoration:

A new Hobgoblinville cut-out is most original and attractive. This comes in three sections, and although it is illustrated below in the long panel, it must be displayed and seen complete to be appreciated fully. It would be impossible here to tell you in detail about all the new subjects of interest, and you will want to see the complete line for yourself.

While we do not have a physical cut-out of Hobgoblinville in our collection, an image of the decoration must suffice! Happy Hallowe’en!

Hobgoblinville table decoration

Hobgoblinville table decoration, Spring 1928 What’s Next?, Dennison Mfg. Co.

Hobgoblinville What's Next article

Hobgoblinville Spring 1928 What’s Next article, Dennison Mfg. Co.