*Ace of Spades - company name time line
*Playing Card Companies Absorbed by USPCC
*Late 19th century: Origins
*Early to Mid 20th Century: Continued Growth Despite Depression and War
*Mid to Late 20th Century: Another War, A Museum, & Many Ownership Changes
*The 21st Century: "The Quintessential Dominant Player in a Niche Market"
*Sources and Thanks
- Ace of Spades
- 1881 - 1885 "Russell, Morgan & Co." or "Russell & Morgan Co."
- 1886 - 1891 "Russell & Morgan Printing Co."
- 1891 - 1894 "The United States Printing Co."
- 1894 - 1925 "The United States Playing Card Co."/"U.S. Playing Card Co., Russell & Morgan Factories"
- 1926 to date "The United States Playing Card Co. "
company name time line
The ace of spades has always featured a woman who rests her right hand on a sword and shield while she holds an olive branch in her left. The image was inspired by Thomas Crawford’s sculpture "Statue of Freedom", placed atop the Capitol Building in Washington, DC in 1865.
- Playing Card Companies Absorbed by USPCC
- National Card Co. 1893
- Standard Playing Card Co. 1894
- Perfection Playing Card Co. 1894
- The New York Consolidated Card Co. 1894
(An 1871 merger of Lawrence & Cohen, Samuel Hart & Co., and John J. Levy)
- Andrew Dougherty 1907
- Russell Playing Card Co. 1929
- Heraclio Fournier 1986
- Arrco Playing Card Company 1987
- Hoyle Products 2001
- KEM Playing Cards 2004
*There were also subsidiaries of USPCC that appeared under separate company names such as "Atlantic Playing Card Co.", "Hamilton Playing Card" and many others. These company names often came from the names of streets in the Norwood neighbourhood around the USPCC factory. (Thank you Andrew Daugherty)
- Key Dates
1881: Russell, Morgan & Company prints their first deck of playing cards.
1885: Bicycle brand of playing cards is introduced by Russell, Morgan & Company.
1885: Tally-Ho brand is first printed by Andrew Dougherty.
1885: Aladdin #1001 brand is introduced by National Card Co.
1892: Bee Playing Card brand is originated at New York Consolidated Card Company.
1894: The United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) is established.
1914: USPCC opens a Canadian manufacturing operation.
1922: USPCC establishes a radio station to broadcast lessons on how to play bridge.
1950: The craze for the South American card game Canasta boosts sales.
1969: Diamond International acquires USPCC.
1982: Jesup and Lamont buys USPCC.
1984: Museum opens at Norwood facility displaying company's collection of playing cards.
1989: Frontenac buys the USPCC
1994: USPCC is acquired from Frontenac by management and private investors.
2004: USPCC accepts acquisition offer from Jarden Corporation.
2010: Bicycle brand celebrates it's 125th anniversary.
Late 19th century
Russell, Morgan & Co. is formed by the partnership of A. O. Russell, Robert J. Morgan, James M. Armstrong and John F. Robinson Jr. Russell and Morgan were printers while Robinson and Armstrong were financial backers. The new company is located on the first and second stories of a building at 20 College Street in Cincinnati, Ohio, the former Cincinnati Enquirer job printing rooms, where they printed theatrical and circus posters, placards and labels.
In November the growing company moved into a new four-story building on nearby Race Street in downtown Cincinnati.
Mr. Russell proposed to his partners that they embark upon the manufacture of playing cards, an industry monopolized by several East Coast companies. The partners agreed and arrangements were made to add two additional stories to their building, making it six stories high. Many new machines were designed and built expressly for Russell, Morgan & Co.
On June 28 the first pack of the first brand of playing cards was produced, Tigers #101. The cards had full length one-way courts but included indices and rounded corners. This was the least expensive of the five brands which made up the opening line of the playing card branch of the company. The other brands of the opening line, from lowest to highest in quality and price, were Sportsman's #202, Army #303, Navy #303, and Congress #404. 20 employees manufactured 1600 packs per day.
With the growing popularity of bicycles Russell, Morgan & Co. began printing Bicycle cards which would become their most popular line. The first back is "Old Fan", very similar to the later "Expert" back, and there would eventually be a total of 82 different bicycle backs.
The nucleus of the company playing card collection is acquired from George Clulow, a graphics designer in England who wrote "The Origin and Manufacture of Playing Cards" in 1889.
Russell, Morgan and Company becomes The United States Printing Company.
Bee Playing Card brand is originated at the New York Consolidated Card Company, acquired by the newborn USPCC 2 years later.
The United States Printing Company acquires the National Card Company. This company was started by Samuel J. Murray, a disgruntled former employee who became a serious competitor. Mr. Murray was given a large block of stock and put in charge of playing card manufacturing.
The playing card business had grown to such proportions that it was separated from the Printing Company, becoming The United States Playing Card Company.
The new USPCC included the following companies:
Standard Playing Card Co. which continues to operate independently until 1930.
Perfection Playing Card Co. and continues to use the name until 1915.
New York Consolidated Card Co., which functions under that name until 1930. The New York Consolidated Card Company was formed in 1871 by the merging of three earlier firms, Lawrence & Cohen (which had been founded in 1832 by Lewis I. Cohen), Samuel Hart & Co (founded c.1849 by Samuel Hart) and John J. Levy.
Early to Mid 20th century
Continued Growth Despite Depression and War
The United States Playing Card Company, and the United States Printing Company, expand again, moving from downtown Cincinnati to 2 separate newly-built factories in Norwood. Situated on over 30 acres, the facility would eventually accommodate over 600,000 square feet of manufacturing operations. Pressure was successfully applied to extend the Cincinnati rail car service to the Norwood facilities, with schedules being set by the shift hours for the employees of the 2 facilities.
USPCC acquires Andrew Dougherty which operates independently until 1930.
USPCC opens a Canadian manufacturing operation, which becomes the International Playing Card Company in 1933, and continues producing cards until 1961. From 1961 until 1991 they processed sheets printed in Cincinnati into finished decks. Currently, the International Playing Card Company is a sales and marketing organization located in Ontario.
The radio station WSAI was built within the USPCC complex and used to promote the game of bridge. In those days, there was no limitation on the range of radio power and the WSAI transmission was so clear and strong that it could be picked up as far away as New Zealand. WSAI was eventually sold in the 1930's to the Crosley Radio Corporation.
A Neo-Romanesque bell tower (4-stories high) was built atop the company's 4-story main building entrance. This tower housed a set of 12 carillon bells, ranging in size from 1-1/2 to 5-1/2 feet. This was the first set of chimes built for radio broadcasting, and they were connected electronically to radio station WSAI.
USPCC acquires the Russell Playing Card Co., second largest playing card manufacturer in the US at that time. Russell was itself composed of the Willis W. Russell Card Co., the Kalamazoo Playing Card Co and the American Bank Note Company playing card line.
Consolidated-Dougherty Card Co. Inc. is formed, a division of USPCC. The new company is made up of the New York Consolidated Card Co., Andrew Dougherty, and the Standard Playing Card Co.
Catherine Perry Hargrave publishes "A History of Playing Cards" based primarily on the USPCC collection which she catalogued.
World War II
USPCC secretly worked with the U. S. government in fabricating special decks to send as gifts for American prisoners of war in German camps. When these cards were moistened, they peeled apart to reveal sections of a map indicating precise escape routes. Also during the war, USPCC provided "spotter" cards which illustrated the characteristic shapes of tanks, ships and aircraft from the various countries involved.
Mid to Late 20th century
More War, A Museum, & Many Ownership Changes
In the post war era the craze for the South American card game Canasta boosts sales.
Consolidated-Dougherty Company is dissolved and fully absorbed by USPCC.
The Vietnam war. The US military orders crates of the ace of spades in bulk. The crates were often marked with "Bicycle Secret Weapon". The cards were used as psychological warfare, deliberately scattered in the jungle and in hostile villages during raids. The ace of spades, while not actually a symbol of superstitious fear to the NLF (VC), did help the morale of American soldiers. US soldiers and Marines would also stick this card in their helmet band as a sort of anti-peace sign.
Diamond International buys the USPCC which becomes a largely neglected part of the Diamond International Specialty Printing Division and loses market share to low-price competitors, such as Hoyle Products. A new marketing strategy was developed in which special subject-specific back designs (ie. King Tut's Tomb) were offered to appeal to diverse consumer interests. The Match devision of Diamond International produces Matchbooks with Bicycle rider back covers, and card faces on the inside. (Thank you Liberto J)
Fireproof Bicycle playing cards made for NASA are mentioned in the article "NASA Studies Methods To Assist Firefighters" released in the Spartanburg Herald, Monday, November 30, 1970. (see link under "Sources") Standard Bicycle cards were printed on fireproof paper supplied by Scheuffeln Paper Company of West Germany and worked into usable playing cards by the USPCC technical director. The NASA emblem was embedded in the rider back design.
A victim of a corporate raider, the holdings of Diamond International were sold off, with USPCC going to Jesup and Lamont for $5 million.
A Museum is opened at the Norwood facility to display the company's collection of historical playing cards dating back to the fourteenth century. The thousands of artifacts span over 500 years and provide a global survey, especially strong in non-standard packs. A related library contains about 1000 books, some dating as early as the 1500s. The museum curator and historian traveled and gave lectures to promote the museum and card playing. These promotional efforts resulted in increased sales.
USPCC acquires an 87 percent interest in Heraclio Fournier S.A. of Spain, the largest manufacturer of playing cards in Europe, and a family operation since 1868.
USPCC acquires Arrco Playing Card Company, the third largest playing card manufacturer in the U.S. and previously called Arrow Playing Card Co. (1920's - 1935).
Bicycle Games is launched to develop boxed games for children and families.
Frontenac buys the USPCC for $95 million.
"Bicycle Secret Weapon" decks are reissued for Operation Desert Shield. The words "Desert Shield" were printed at the bottom of all the aces and appear on the fronts of the boxes.
Bicycle decks are licensed for use in computer games.
After many ownership changes a successful buyout returns control of the company to Management and local investors, bringing the USPCC back to it's Cincinnati roots.
The 21st Century
"The Quintessential Dominant Player in a Niche Market"
The company acquires Hoyle Products and its Hoyle brand playing cards.
USPCC renewed its attention to the casino market by introducing tamper resistant cards. The following year they began marketing cards that incorporated an anti-fraud technology developed by LaserLock Technology. Through this innovation, a visible band on a box of cards would indicate whether someone had tampered with the deck.
On October 30 the USPCC Museum closes without warning. By 2007 a small number of items from the collection are displayed at the gift shop while an unknown percentage of the collection had been sold and the rest remained packed up.
The United States Playing Card Company introduces Iraq's Most Wanted Decks, identifying the most-wanted members of President Saddam Hussein's government. When introduced, 750,000 decks were sold in one week. 4 million decks were sold by the end of the year.
Texas Hold 'em Poker craze boosts sales.
The United States Playing Card Company entered into a licensing agreement with Techno Source, expanding Bicycle into the hand held electronic game category.
USPCC braced for another reorganization as an acquisition bid from New York-based Jarden Corporation was accepted. Under the agreement, Jarden would pay $232 million for USPCC and the other Bicycle holdings, including European player Heraclio Fournier S.A. and the International Playing Card Company of Canada. There's a stipulation in the contract that the US Playing Card Company and its 510 employees will remain in town. In addition to gaining a company which Jarden management referred to in a 2004 New York Times article as "the quintessential dominant player in a niche market," the prospective new parent vowed to focus on the company's profitable licensing agreements and non-card game segments as well.
USPCC acquires KEM playing cards, Pisano Dice and Gamblers General Store & Poker Chips.
USPCC entered into a licensing agreement with Encore, expanding the Hoyle brand into the PC software category.
The United States Playing Card Company introduces pre-shuffled cards.
USPCC becomes a sponsor of the World Series of Poker and introduces a new line of playing cards called "PokerPeek" at the 2007 tournament. The face of each card has the rank and suit at all four corners, at a 45° angle to the card's edges, and the size of the traditional face designs are reduced and flanked by jumbo-index ranks. They were not popular with the players and were pulled from play.
Bicycle Games "Take the Train" and "4-Mation" are launched and become proud winners of the 2007 Seal of Excellence Award by Creative Child Magazine.
Bicycle Po-Ke-No is launched and becomes a winner of the Fun Stuff Award by Parents' Choice.
On August 20 USPCC has a Grand Opening of the new location in Erlanger, Northern Kentucky. In a news release Jarden states that USPCC will continue to have operations in Cincinnati, including a display of the company's museum of historical playing cards.
Bicycle Playing Cards introduces Bicycle Prestige as a premium playing card for the competitive player.
The USPCC entered into a licensing agreement with World Series of Poker and introduced a line of playing cards and poker accessories co-branded as Bicycle and World Series of Poker.
The United States Playing Card Company entered into a licensing agreement with Jacks & Jokers LLC expanding Bicycle, Bee, Aviator and Tally Ho into the apparel category.
The Bicycle Playing Cards brand celebrates it's 125th anniversary.
Navarre Corporation and Jarden Corporation announce an expanded License agreement for a new line of Bicycle Playing Card Brand interactive games.
Bicycle Playing Cards donates all profits from "Hope for Haiti" decks to relief efforts.
The USPCC enters into a licensing agreement with world-renowned magician David Blaine to create a magic playing card program for the retail marketplace.
As of December, according to a local resident, the Cincinnati division of the USPCC has moved across the river into a business park near the airport. They no longer have a gift shop, and it's not clear what happened to the remnants of the playing card collection.
USPCC launches a Bicycle YouTube Channel, Twitter, and Facebook page for news and updates.
USPCC begins a strategic partnership with theory11 for collaboration in web ventures and playing card design.
The United States Playing Card Company moves further into the computer gaming market with the Zeniz Social Casino, a mobile social gaming platform planned for iOS and Android. "Our product is more than just another poker app, it's a virtual casino: one lobby with digital entertainment as well as many games," said Marc Hill, current President of USPCC.
Sources & Thanks
July 8th, 2008 Jarden press release
Official USPCC history
World Web Playing Card Museum
Wikipedia USPCC entry
"NASA Studies Methods To Assist Firefighters", the Spartanburg Herald, Monday, November 30, 1970
The Dotpattern Digital Museum of Collecting - playing cards section
April 20th, 2012 USPCC press release
The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards
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