Louis Prang.jpgLast year around this time, I featured a post exploring British attitudes towards Christmas, including a brief history of the festive greeting card in the UK.

The man who learned how to print greeting cards in England and then took his skills to the United States was Louis Prang.

Few people alive today know his name. Even fewer probably know that he was in trouble with European authorities and had to emigrate to the US!

Louis Prang was born in Breslau (Wroclaw), which was in 1824, part of Prussian Silesia.File:Provnice of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia, 1905, Administrative Map.png This area is now part of Poland, but it had a difficult political history from the 18th century onwards. In the Wikipedia map at the right, showing the Province of Silesia in 1905, you can see Breslau in the middle. (Click on the map for an expanded view.)

Prang’s father, Jonas Louis, was a Huguenot engaged in textile manufacture. His mother Rosina (née Silverman) was of German parentage.

Prang was a sickly child, often too unwell to attend school. His father took the opportunity to take the boy on as his apprentice. From him, Prang learned engraving as well as dyeing and printing calico.

When he was in his early 20s, Prang left home to work in a neighbouring territory, Bohemia. There he honed his skills in both printing and textiles.

He also travelled elsewhere in Europe and became involved in political activities linked to the German revolutions of 1848-1849.

The Prussian authorities wanted to arrest him. He managed to evade them by moving to Switzerland.

Prang emigrated to the United States in 1850. He had hoped to make an immediate success of his skill set, but his venture into publishing architectural books and crafting leather goods did not go well.

Frank Leslie, art director for Boston’s Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, hired Prang, enabling him to earn a decent income so that he could marry a Swiss lady, Rosa Gerber, in 1851. He had met Gerber in Paris in 1846.

In 1856, Prang co-founded Prang and Mayer in Boston. Together, the two men produced lithographs. He bought Mayer’s share of the company in 1860 and created L. Prang and Company. The new firm specialised in colour printing of advertising and business materials. It was highly successful and expanded into the printing maps relating to the American Civil War which were distributed by newspapers.

In 1864, after the war ended, Prang returned to Europe to learn more about cutting edge German lithography. This knowledge enabled him to print high-quality reproductions of famous paintings. In 1873, he travelled to England, where he worked on Christmas and other greeting cards.

In 1874, he returned to the US and began manufacturing Christmas cards for the American public. He is known as the ‘father of the American Christmas card’. He wanted to make festive greetings less expensive and more accessible. Up to that point, only the well-heeled could afford cards.

His first images included flowers, plants and children.

Prang lived and worked in Roxbury, a district of Boston. His Wikipedia entry has photos of both his home and his factory.

Prang’s company continued to print works of art, including a set of watercolours of scenes from the Civil War. He was keen to see American education extend to creating art as well as art appreciation. He published instruction books in this regard and also created a foundation to train art teachers.

In 1897, L Prang and Company merged with another firm to become the Taber-Prang Company, which was based in Springfield, in the western half of Massachusetts. (Taber-Prang filed for bankruptcy in 1938.)

In 1909, Prang was on holiday in Los Angeles and died during that time. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, a neighbourhood bordering Roxbury.

During the next few years, Christmas cards took off with Americans everywhere. Some families began making their own, devising elaborate shapes and adornment, using ribbon and foil. A number of these homemade creations were so delicate they had to be given by hand to the recipient.

In 1910, Joyce C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hall Brothers, which later became Hallmark Cards, a company which needs no explanation. Hall had begun his career in postcards and, by 1906, was convinced that greeting cards were the way forward. He was not wrong!

In 1917, he and his brother Rollie invented wrapping paper.

By 1922, Hall Brothers had expanded nationwide. Having originally printed only Christmas and Valentine’s Day greetings, they diversified into greeting cards for other occasions. The firm adopted the brand name Hallmark in 1928, although the formal company name did not change until much later in 1954.

Over the years, Hallmark has made acquisitions in Canada and the UK.

The company has also sponsored the Hallmark Hall of Fame, winner of 80 Emmy Awards. In 2001, they launched their eponymous television channel.

Hallmark has 11,000 full-time employees, 3,100 of whom work at the Kansas City, Missouri, headquarters.

Amazingly, after 105 years, Hallmark is still a family-run business. Donald J Hall is the current Chairman. One of his sons, Donald J Hall, Jr, is the CEO. Another, David E Hall, is President of the North American Division.

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