Hallmark: An American Dream Becomes An American Institution



Joyce C. Hall

Hallmark Founder Joyce C. Hall

Early Hallmark cards


Telling the story of Hallmark Cards, Inc. is like flipping the pages of an American scrapbook. There are famous characters: Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, and Maya Angelou… new product advancements… retailing innovations… and a set of timeless values: service, quality, caring, and innovation.

The story begins in 1910, when 18-year-old Joyce Clyde Hall stepped off a train in Kansas City, Mo., with nothing but two shoeboxes of postcards under his arm. He had little money – not even enough to take a horse-drawn cab to his lodgings at the YMCA – but he had an entrepreneurial spirit and the determination of a pioneer.

Hall printed some invoices and started sending packets of a hundred postcards to dealers throughout the Midwest. A few of the dealers kept the cards without paying. Some returned the unsolicited merchandise with an angry note. But about a third sent a check. Within a couple of months, the teenage businessman had cleared $200 and opened a checking account. He was in business.

A Vision

With those two boxes and a vision, J.C. Hall pioneered a brand synonymous with integrity and gave birth to an industry that flourishes today. Some 6 billion greeting cards are sent each year in the United States alone. Hallmark is the industry leader – one of every two greeting cards sent is a Hallmark card – all beginning with the creativity and innovation of J.C. Hall.

Hall quickly made a name for himself with the picture postcards he sold, but he knew the future was more than postcards. In 1915, Hall Brothers, as the company was named when Rollie Hall joined his brother in business, saw the potential in high-quality valentines and Christmas cards – mailed in envelopes – and began creating and printing their own cards.

Hall’s instinct was right and greeting cards gained popularity. Armed with the success of the Hall Brothers greeting cards, J.C. Hall continued to innovate to keep his budding company growing. The first foray into other product lines came in 1917 when the Hall brothers invented modern gift wrap.

Traditionally, gifts were wrapped in brown paper or colored tissue, called “gift dressing.” One chilly December night before Christmas, Hall Brothers ran out of their stock of gift dressing. The sibling entrepreneurs knew they had to meet the needs of hurried shoppers wrapping up their carefully selected purchases. Rollie Hall headed to the product plant to search for anything else customers could use to decorate their packages. He returned with a stack of fancy decorated envelope linings from France. They charged 10 cents a sheet for the linings and the pages flew off the shelves into shoppers’ bags. The following year, Hall Brothers packaged the linings in sets of three and again sold out. It was enough to convince them to start designing and printing their own gift wrap. Other innovations followed and the Hallmark brand began to take form.

Building a Brand

Goldsmiths of 14th century London marked the gold and silver articles they crafted with a special symbol, signifying the purity and quality of their product. Each member of the Goldsmiths Hall had one of these symbols, called a “hall mark.” J.C. Hall had read stories of the goldsmiths and was intrigued by the word. “Hallmark” not only said quality, it included the family name.

In 1928, the company began marketing its brand by using the Hallmark name on the back of every card. This marketing move was followed by an advertising first. That same ye ar, Hallmark was the first in the greeting card industry to advertise nationally – the ad was written by J.C. Hall personally and appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal. The move was called “Hall’s Folly,” and one advertising executive told Hall, “You’ll never be able to advertise greeting cards if you expect people to turn them over and read the name.”

Hall was convinced of the power of national advertising and next turned to radio, sponsoring “Tony Wons’ Radio Scrapbook” in 1938. The program featured Tony Wons chatting with listeners, sharing sentiments from Hallmark cards, and ending the program with: “Look on the back for the identifying mark – a Hallmark card.”

The burgeoning brand solidified its position in American history in 1944 with nine simple words. One of the most recognized slogans in advertising, “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best,” was born from a three-by-five-inch notecard. Ed Goodman, a sales and marketing executive at Hallmark, jotted down his thoughts on what Hallmark stood for – caring, quality, the best. And the best was about to get better with the first sponsorship of an hour-long television program.

The series of specials that would become the Hallmark Hall of Fame began in 1951 with Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first original opera created especially for television. NBC approached Hallmark about sponsoring the opera in early December. Hallmark’s marketing department knew the sponsorship would be costly and the program’s Christmas Eve air-date was after most Christmas shoppers had made their holiday purchases. They asked themselves, are Americans going to tune in to opera on television? The answer was a resounding “yes!” J.C. Hall decided to take the risk and sponsor the program to thank all the people who bought Hallmark cards. The opera moved viewers to send thousands of letters, cards, and telegrams thanking Hallmark for presenting it.

J.C. Hall with Emmy Award

J.C. Hall received the first Emmy ever awarded to a sponsor for the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Hallmark saw the value in creating a series of dramatic specials produced with the highest standards of quality and taste. In the 50-plus years since, Hallmark Hall of Fame productions have won 78 Emmy Awards. In 1961, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented its first – and only – Emmy Award ever given to a sponsor when it said, “Thank you, Mr. Hall, for caring enough to send the very best in television.”

The Brand Flourishes

The Hallmark Hall of Fame was the right venue to showcase the values of Hallmark – quality, caring, and innovation. The sponsorship made Hallmark an American institution and brought the Hallmark brand alive for consumers by bringing it into their homes. Even the commercials were of the highest quality – 90-second or longer emotion-driven vignettes that required at least one box of tissues. Decades after its inception, Hallmark Hall of Fame continues to be “appointment television,” a program families plan an evening around.

When the company name was officially changed from Hall Brothers to Hallmark Cards, Inc. in 1954, the tradition of entrepreneurship started by J.C. Hall was deeply ingrained. In nearly a century of product innovations and creative partnerships, the company:

• Developed retail advancements such as “Eye Vision,” a display system that presented greeting cards in easy-to-view displays rather than out-of-sight in drawers, and an automated reorder and display control system that provided a record of what was selling and what was not, thus creating an accurate index of public tastes.

• Partnered with notable artists and personalities, from Charles Schulz to Saul Steinberg, and Winston Churchill to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who collaborated with Hallmark to develop the first Presidential Christmas cards.

• Pioneered decorative paper party products.

• Changed the way people decorate for Christmas by introducing Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.

• Introduced a line of humorous cards called Shoebox Greetings (named for the two shoe boxes of postcards that started Hallmark) that has become one of consumers’ favorite card brands.

• Developed culturally-relevant card lines for Jewish, African-American, and Hispanic consumers.

• Worked with software manufacturers to enable consumers to create personalized Hallmark greeting cards on their home computers.

• Extended its reputation for quality to the floral industry with Hallmark Flowers.

Partners in Quality

One of Hallmark’s most creative partnerships is with its employees. Known as “Hallmarkers,” employees share in the success of the privately-held company through the Employee Profit-Sharing and Ownership plan. With around 800 writers and artists on its payroll, Hallmark employs one of the world’s biggest and best creative staffs. That staff includes painters and poets, but also editors, photographers, calligraphers, sculptors, designers, cartoonists, needlework artists, and specialists in various graphic techniques.

In 1932, Hallmark signed its first licensing agreement with one of the 20th century’s most recognizable names – Walt Disney. And in 1960, the Peanuts® gang started appearing on Hallmark greeting cards. Partnerships and licensing agreements with top artists, writers and brands continue today. A new generation of Hallmark shoppers recognize famed poet Maya Angelou … popular Dutch nature artist Marjolein Bastin … kid sorcerer Harry Potter™ … the ever-fashionable Barbie™ … and the irascible yet irresistible Maxine. Today, Hallmark has agreements with seven of the top 10 leading licensors for characters and entertainment properties.

As the leader of the greeting card industry, Hallmark leaves its mark on more than just cards. The legacy of quality family entertainment started with the Hallmark Hall of Fame lives on with Hallmark Entertainment, Inc., the world’s leading producer and distributor of made-for-television movies and mini-series. The Hallmark Channel television network reaches millions of households with Hallmark’s family-oriented programming. Subsidiary Binney & Smith adds personal development products to Hallmark’s business with quality brands like Crayola®, Silly Putty® and inkTank™.

Staying in Touch

Although the company is approaching its 100th year, the Hallmark brand continues to evolve. It has remained a household name by staying in touch with consumer tastes and trends to ensure Hallmark products are relevant to today’s consumers. The company researches the latest consumer trends in color, fashion, design, and lifestyles. It also conducts focus groups and surveys, facilitates online consumer communities, and utilizes a sophisticated point-of-sale network to understand consumer needs today and in the future.

Hallmark trend experts research what’s “en vogue,” a practice marketing analysts praise. “They’re never going to be 100 yards ahead, but they’re never going to fall 100 yards behind, either. They’re right there walking with us,” said one analyst. Hallmark’s creative staff then incorporates the research into designs and editorial to create timely and culturally-relevant products.

On the Corner, Around the Globe

Hands holding globe


Whenever, however, wherever people are communicating thoughts and feelings, connecting with each other, and celebrating milestones, Hallmark is there. Hallmark products can be found at more than 43,000 retail outlets domestically and online at Hallmark.com. Hallmark Gold Crown® stores, the company’s flagship network of independently-owned card and gift specialty stores, carry the most extensive selection of gift and personal expression products. The Expressions From Hallmark and Ambassador lines of greeting cards serve customers in discount stores, supermarkets, drugstores, and other mass merchandise outlets.

Hallmark introduced its quality products and services to the world audience when it formed Hallmark International in 1966. Today, the company publishes in 30 languages and its products are available in more than 100 countries around the globe.

Hallmark Headquarters

Hallmark international headquarters are located in Kansas City, Mo.

A Century of Leadership

J.C. Hall retired in 1966, leaving the company he built in the capable hands of his son, Donald J. Hall. Don Hall continued to expand Hallmark, and with his father, spearheaded the development of Crown Center, a mixed-use real estate development to halt decay around the headquarters neighborhood in Kansas City, Mo. Outside of headquarters , Hall looked internationally for expansion, increasing distribution worldwide.

When Don Hall retired as president and chief executive officer in 1986, Irvine O. Hockaday, Jr. took the reins of the privately-owned company. Hockaday is credited with complementing Hallmark’s well-established personal expression business with new initiatives, including thriving businesses in family entertainment and personal development.

In 2002, Donald J. Hall, Jr., grandson of founder J.C. Hall, became the third-generation of the Hall family to take the helm of the American institution that is Hallmark today. He continues to build on the tradition that is the mark of excellence for the company.

“It is an awesome responsibility, and an incredible privilege, to lead a company dedicated to enriching lives. At Hallmark, we are invited to give voice to people’s feelings – of joy and grief, of compassion and healing. We provide ways for people to express themselves and are there when they celebrate life’s seasons. We help them reach out with words of hope and encouragement every day. These are enduring human needs, which is why I have such confidence in the future of our company.”

— Donald J. Hall, Jr.

President and CEO, Hallmark Cards, Inc.

PEANUTS © United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros.

BARBIE is a trademark owned by and used under license from Mattel, Inc. ©2005 Mattel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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