Newark's Attic

The Whitehead and Hoag Company 1892-1959

The Whitehead and Hoag Company was the preeminent American manufacturer of advertising novelties. The company was founded in 1892 by Chester R. Hoag and Benjamin S. Whitehead. Initially, the company was known for the creation and manufacture of ribbon badges. In 1896, they introduced the pin back button for which they held the patent. W&H went on to become the world’s largest manufacturer of quality buttons and remained so for many years. The company also manufactured various types of medals in bronze, silver and gold, calendars, pocket knives, paperweights, letter openers , celluloid items and novelties of every sort.

In 1892 , the main office and factory was located at Washington and Warren Streets. As the company continued to grow and expand , a new factory was built at 272 Sussex Avenue and First Street in 1903. The new factory had a complete printing and lithographing plant with over fifty modern presses, a complete art and photo engraving plant in which all the engraving sketches and plates were made, a complete button plant with the capacity of one million buttons a day, and a machinery plant where the company made all its own tools, dies and special machinery.

Due to the immense popularity of their advertising novelties the company began to establish offices throughout the United States and in many foreign countries. The branch offices were given samples to show prospective clients . To assist the sales force, the Home Office provided them with a list of all conventions to be held in the branch office city. However, it was up to the branch office salesmen, who worked on commission, to contact all the local businesses, organizations and churches to solicit additional business. All the manufacturing was done in Newark until the factory closed in 1959.

Not willing to lose a button order, the company maintained a strictly non-partisan stance.   Small groups such as the Socialists, Communists and Prohibitionist  could place their button orders as easily as the Democrats or Republicans could. To create an attractive and high quality product W&H would use the famed illustrators Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell from time to time. They also had a great talent pool on staff.

In 1919, the company experienced a significant reorganization and became a non-union shop. Prior to this, most of their items were marked with the union seal. Although W&H was no longer a union shop they would still mark certain items to appear as if they were union made- especially political buttons.

In 1959, Whitehead and Hoag was sold. The purchaser was Bastian Brothers of Rochester, New York, a long-time competitor of W&H. Because Bastian Brothers was a union shop it was often undersold by W & H. Not being able to compete with W&H’s prices they would subcontract some of their work to W&H and buy parts from them as well. When the opportunity came to purchase their competitor they did not hesitate.

There are several reasons why W&H sold out to Bastian Brothers.   In 1953, with the death of Phillip Hoag no member of the family was left on the board or in a policy making role. In addition, the company’s profitability would vary greatly making substantial money for a year or two and then operating at a loss for several years. Thirdly, was the company’s insistence on making top quality product and their refusal to advertise any other way but on their own product. In the early years, if a customer insisted that the W&H logo not appear on an item, the price was raised considerably. Maybe, in the final analysis,they failed to keep up and change with the times.

The Newark factory was closed in May of 1959. Bastian Brothers continued to use the Whitehead and Hoag name finally phasing it out in 1964-1965.

Included in this blog are a salesman’s sample case of medals and the companion brochure, a key fob with an engraving of the factory and a paperweight commemorating the 1927 opening of The United States Trust Company’s new building in Newark. Whitehead and Hoag items are avidly sought by collectors and the rarer objects are rather expensive.

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