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Hay Rubber Stamp Company (1918-1952)

826/832 13th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
(click on any picture for a larger view)

click on any photo for a larger image - Robert Hay circa 1915
Robert Howsmon Hay worked in the stamp industry for over 40 years, first as editor and publisher of the national magazine "The Stamp Trade News," then its owner, and then as owner and president of the Hay Rubber Stamp Company for 35 years until his death in 1952.

Above: Hay Rubber Stamp Company building in 1987 at 13th and I Streets, N.W. (per Michael Horsley). Building listed as "abandoned" (per Washington Post in 1987).
Note: same corner pictured in 2014.
A BIG thank you to Esmeralda Aguilar for sending this picture and newspaper article to me! And a BIG thank you too to Michael Horsley for posting it on Flickr!
Above: 1930s ad for the Hay Rubber Stamp Company
Above: 1922 Washington Post article about stampmaking at the Hay Rubber Stamp Company

Robert attended business school prior to his marriage in 1909 at age 27. He lived with his family in Washington, D.C. in 1909-1915 (where his two sons were born) at which time they moved to Cherrydale (Arlington), Virginia. They moved back to the District in 1921 (see directories), and remained in the District for the rest of their lives. The residences were 3½-5 miles from his office; Robert likely took Capital Transit's electric streetcar in the early days, but may have driven a family automobile to work in the later years.

Robert took over the management of The Stamp Trade News magazine ("the official organ of the International Stamp Manufacturers' Association") as editor and publisher in October 1912, according to his 1952 obituary in the magazine. Apparently, at least in the early days, this was a part-time job as the annual Washington, DC directories list him as a route agent, stenographer, hydro o clerk, and navy clerk. Robert continued as publisher until he sold his interest in the magazine (later known as the Marking Industry Magazine) in May 1930. The magazine apparently made money through both ads and subscriptions (and the subscriptions rate was $1/year in 1914 for a monthly magazine!)

The obituary states that for "these 18 years Mr. Hay developed the magazine and worked untiringly for the advancement of this industry." "He was a down-to-earth writer and the columns of the magazine were always filled with news of individuals and firms who were struggling to build this industry. The Marking Industry owes much to people like Mr, Hay. He has made his mark a lasting one, one that is an example for those who follow."

In 1912-1914 his business address was 710 13th Street, N.W., (about one block south of the building which housed the Hay Rubber Stamp Company starting in 1918), as listed in the 1912/1913 "The Inland Printer - the leading trade journal of the world in the printing and allied industries" (p.895), and it called the Stamp Trade News the "official organ of the International Stamp Manufacturers' Association." By December 1914, the Stamp Trade News offices moved to 1404 H St, NW. It is not known if there was another address prior to 1918.

In 1918 at age 36 Robert founded the Hay Rubber Stamp Company, with offices at 826 13th Street, N.W. (pictured above right as of 1987), which also served as the business address for The Stamp Trade News magazine in 1918-1930.

Although Robert's 1952 obituaries state he had founded the Hay Rubber Stamp Company 37 years earlier (so circa 1915), this is in error, and the 1918 date is absolutely correct.

The July 1, 1918 issue of "The India Rubber World" p. 612 states "Lamb & Tilden, Inc., Washington, District of Columbia, manufacturers of the "All Rubber" and "Dove Tail Air Cushion" stamps, have sold the rubber stamp department, including patents and ink formulas, to Robert H. Hay, who will continue that line of business in a building adjoining Lamb & Tilden's under the name of Hay Rubber Stamp Co. Mr. Hay is the publisher of "The Stamp Trade News," 826 Thirteenth street, N. W., Washington, D. C." A similar article in the August 1918 "Office Appliances: The Magazine of Office Equipment," Volume, p.92 further details that Robert will continue the Lamb & Tilden rubber stamp business in an adjoining building after alterations have been completed.

It is particularly noteworthy that when Robert bought the L&T rubber stamp department, he also bought the patents and ink formulas. His stationery specifies "makers of L & T quick-drying ink and L & T meat-branding ink," with L & T undoubtedly refering to Lamb & Tilden. No patents have been found in Robert's name.

It should be noted that in the 1910s there were only two rubber stamp companies in Washington DC -- Baumgarten and L&T. It was fortuitous for Robert to find a company for sale in this small market, so limited in competition. It was also fortuitous that for the next 20+ years there were no new entrants to split up the stamp market. (In the 1920s Robert mentions four companies in Washington, DC in the Stamp Trade News but this includes two Baumgarten entries and an L&T entry, so two of these are not expected to have been rubber stamp competitors.)

The Hay Rubber Stamp Company retained its 13th Street location between New York Avenue and I Street (now across from McPherson Square), throughout Robert's ownership, with a business phone number of Franklin 7381 (FR-7381 or 37-7381, yes, just a 6-digit phone number!) in 1923-1930+ but National 9533 by 1935.

The address of 826 13th Street was listed in the 1918 India Rubber World magazine above, Robert's 1918 WWI draft registration card, and on company 1923 stationery as well as in the 1919-1923 directories. By 1930 (see directory ad at right) the address was 832 13th Street, I think perhaps reflecting two doors in the same building, such as a storefront entrance and an office entrance, and not a moving of the company into an adjacent building. The 832 13th Street address was listed on 1930s newspapers, Robert's 1933 will codicil, and Robert's 1952 obituary.

The building pictured above right is the Hay Rubber Stamp building but it is a picture in 1987, 35 years after Robert died and the company had moved elsewhere, so undoubtedly is more delapidated-looking in 1987 than it was in 1918-1952. In fact, the fellow researcher who found the picture on Flickr, and then found me to give the picture to me, had discovered it was listed as abandoned in the Washington Post 1987 newspaper article, which curiously listed the address as 830 13th Street. Indeed, the entire neighborhood looks dilapidated in 1987 compared to its gentrification by 2014.

I am confused that the one-way street signs seem at odds in the 1987 picture and a 2014 picture; perhaps I Street changed traffic directions between 1987 and 2014?

In 1922-1923 the Washington Post ran a series of articles on different workers in Washington, DC, and in March 1922, featured Herman Clayton at the Hay Rubber Stamp Company (see article above right). Note that Clayton has been making rubber stamps for 12 years, so since 1910, predating the start of the Hay Rubber Stamp Company in 1918.

It is thought that the company always had three full-time employees -- Robert, Elfrieda Baker (as secretary and bookkeeper) and a "compositor" who made the stamps. Two compositors are known -- Herman Clayton who is known to have been there in 1922, and Paul Carson who is known to have been there in 1930-1952. Clearly Robert hired experienced staff when he started his firm; it seems quite probable he acquired the L&T staff (at least compositor Herman Clayton) when he purchased the business, as the article above specifies he will continue the business next door. Indeed, a compositor would have not had much choice for other options as there was only one other rubber stamp company in town. It is unknown if Elfrieda Baker was working at L&T in 1918, but Robert knew her from when they both worked at Multi-Copy in 1915 (see directories). It is unknown how and when Paul Carson was hired.

WWII (1941-1945 in America) resulted in many businesses being short-handed as so many adult males volunteered for service, including both of Robert's sons. For some businesses the war had a detrimental effect, but apparently not so for the rubber stamp business, or at least the rubber stamp business in Washington, DC with the increase in federal government wartime expenditures and workers (his stationery specifies "government contractors"). During the war years Robert had additional staffing help from his family.

Robert's son Perry worked full-time in the business -- six months at the end of 1941, and it is thought he worked there again after his wartime service. It is known that Perry started on July 1, 1941 (from his parents' diary -- the penultimate entry), but was called up/volunteered for the army after the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (he was "manager rubber stamps" on his army service certificate). It is thought Perry worked again in the business after discharge from the army. [In April 2022 the 1950 census data will be released and there will be confirmation of where Perry worked then.]

Robert Hay in the 1940s

Robert's sister Frances Hay, who had retired from teaching in the District public schools in June, 1938, worked at the stamp company for her brother for 2½ years, from the fall of 1941 to February 1944, perhaps to replace Perry. The dates of her employment were documented in her personal diary. It is assumed that Frances worked in the office as a bookkeeper in addition to Elfrieda Baker, or perhaps as a salesperson in addition to Robert or manager after Perry left.

Robert died suddenly in May 1952 of a heart attack. Neither of Robert's sons took over the business; long-time bookkeeper Elfrieda Grieb Baker bought the company from Robert's widow Alma, assuming the presidency in 1952 until her death in 1958, coincidentally on the sixth anniversary of Robert's death -- May 9th.

A family story was that Alma (and also apparently sons Don and Perry) felt that the sale to Elfrieda was not entirely voluntary or amicable -- that the family felt it was somehow under-handedly arranged by Robert for her to get the business. While Robert's will (written in 1930, proved in 1952) gave and bequeathed all his interest in the business "to my wife, Alma E. Hay, absolutely," he no longer had a 100% interest in the business at the time of his death -- the 1952 probate records show that Robert owned only 67% of the business, and Elfrieda owned 33%. Undoubtedly this was the source of the ill will. Alma sold her 2/3 share to Elfrieda in October 1952. Perhaps since Hamilton National Bank was executor, the bank effected the sale against the wishes of the family, or perhaps company employees Elfrieda Baker and Paul Carson demanded the sale. It is now 65 years after the sale, and the details will never be known.

It is unknown when Robert sold 1/3 of the business to Elfrieda, but sometime between 1918 and 1952, perhaps in increments. While Elfrieda Baker's 1958 obituary states she was "a founder and president of the Hay Rubber Stamp Company ... Mrs. Baker established the rubber stamp firm with the late Robert Hay as her partner. She was 19 at the time. On the death of Mr. Hay six years ago, she assumed control of the firm and operated it until her illness ..." it is not thought she had a financial stake as of the 1918 founding, as indicated in magazine articles, census and business records, city directories (see details), and even just the name of the company. Furthermore, one family story stated her share was acquired during WWII. It is certain that Elfrieda was an employee since day 1 of the company's founding, and was a highly valued employee, as so acknowledged in Robert's will, always more than just a secretary-bookkeeper, serving as an office manager before successfully assuming ownership in 1952.

From the information at hand, not only was Robert a successful businessman, but he was also a beloved employer. Elfrieda was employed by Robert for 35 years, and Paul for over 25 years. It is thought that both stayed on in the business after Robert's death. Paul named his first-born son Robert in 1929, perhaps in his employer's honor. My grandfather clearly found very competent staff, remunerated them well, and cherished working with them. - DLH 2017

Hay Rubber Stamp Company products

1919 Navy Dept order of Rubber Stamps -- $14.60
1919. Contingent Expenses, Navy Department. Detailed statement of the contingent appropriations of the Navy Department, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1919 - Continued. Date: November 19, 1919, Paid to the Hay Rubber Stamp Company, for Rubber Stamps, in the amount of $14.60. This is in the Congressional serial set, volume 7769, by the Government Printing Office. full page online

I found a 1200-page (!!!) booklet listing information about the 66th Congress purchasing for Dec 1919-June 1920 -- there are 100 entries for the Hay Rubber Stamp Company! The items listed for sale (p.54-74) generally range from $0.22-$9.00 on pages 54-74. On p.151+ it lists expenditures by the War Dept (WWI was 1914-1918) for new stamps ($80-112) and repairs ($26-63).

Ink pad and typeset (pictured 1-4 below) -- found on Etsy in 2016 for $42.95. (A solid rubber typeset date stamp set called a "vintage item from the 1940s")

Tin box (pictured 5 below) found on ebay in 2016 for $4 plus S/H -- the auction was over, but I emailed the owner, and he relisted and I bought it! Listed as a "vintage superior solid rubber dates tin box," length 3½" by 2¼".

Etsy view 1 Etsy view 2 Etsy view 3 Etsy view 4 Ebay tin box

L & T patent for purple ink. The purple ink is still used today in the inspection/grading of meat -- according to the USDA Food Inspection website: "Meat that has been federally inspected and passed for wholesomeness is stamped with a round purple mark. The dye used to stamp the grade and inspection marks onto a meat carcass is made from a food-grade vegetable dye and is not harmful. (The exact formula is proprietary/owned by the maker of the dye.) The mark is put on carcasses and major cuts. After trimming, the mark might not appear on retail cuts such as roasts and steaks. However, meat that is packaged in an inspected facility will have an inspection mark which identifies the plant on the label." Distinctive for its strong purple color, indelibility, and edibility, the ink is still manufactured today (2016) by at least two manufacturers, Birko Corp and Packers Chemicals, Inc., who keep the exact formula secret and proprietary; the original patent expired many years ago (a utility patent lasts 20 years while a design patent lasts 14 years).

A (very) brief history: Early stamp pads around the mid 1850's were awful. The inks smelled and the stamp pads were made of gelatin, which became a gooey mess during hot weather. In 1880, B.G. Volger pioneered stamp pads, pouring gelatin into boxes and coving it with felt. By 1908 he perfected a formula for quick drying, non-smear ink and eliminated the odor.

The 1907 Commercial Stamp Trade Journal has marvelous information about the machinery and stamps of the rubber stamp industry.

The Story Behind Stamps, by William Gold (online source)

There are many versions for the genesis of rubber stamps. One of the reasons for this is that there are slightly different definitions of just what constitutes a rubber stamp. Thus, depending on one's point of view, rubber stamps can be traced as far back as the ancient Mayans and their jungle civilization! But one of the most popular and widely agreed-upon origins for modern-day rubber stamps is accredited to a certain James Woodruff, who was a dental assistant for his uncle.

Before the invention of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear which is to say, rubber that can be "cured" or treated so that it can be molded dentures were made of metal or, more commonly, wood. Since cured rubber was so much easier to work with, more and more dentures were made with this new material. Thus, one of the many practical everyday applications of Mr. Goodyear's invention was discovered by dentists. Mr. Woodruff was working in his uncle's dental practice when he realized another possible application of rubber. He soon started manufacturing rubber stamps, marking devices made out of rubber which was easy to mold and cheap to produce. His business expanded most notably to include the U.S. Postal Service among its customers.

Another story purporting to explain the invention of rubber stamps involves an L.F. Witherell, who actually wrote a paper titled How I Came to Discover the Rubber Stamp. In it, Mr. Witherell claimed that he was inspired to invent the rubber stamp after noticing how a certain problem could be solved when he was a foreman at a wooden pump manufacturer. Each pump made was to be painted with certain identifying marks, but one day a problem arose where the paint would run and create blotches on the pumps. That was when the idea occurred to Mr. Witherell that stencils could be created out of some thin sheets of rubber packing laying about the premises. While making these stencils, however, he thought further and decided to just create thick letters out of the rubber and glue them to a piece of wood thereby inventing the rubber stamp as we know it today.

Perhaps the third most popular account for the origins of rubber stamps is that involving Mr. Henry C. Leland, whose claim was actually championed in his time by the Stamp Trade News published by a manufacturer of rubber stamps. But no matter the actual origins, it is certain that the rubber stamp has left a lasting impression on our world.

More on the invention of rubber stamps.

Rubber stamps were so ubiquitous that the term entered the daily lexicon. As a political metaphor, rubber stamp refers to a person or institution with considerable de jure power but little de facto power; one that rarely or never disagrees with more powerful superiors. The term likely stems from the commonplace practice of giving subordinate employees the authority to sign their superior's name on documents, and when this practice was frequent, rubber stamps of the signature were often employed.

Miscellaneous tidbits online:

2009 finding. Curiously, while searching online in 2009, I found a reference to the Hay Rubber Stamp Company in regard to an artistic paper quilt found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=13819
quilt made on homemade paper, cotton and silk
Commemorative Quilt
1982 Jody Klein
Born: Akron, Ohio 1931
Died: Needham, Massachusetts 1999
handmade paper, Arches paper, stitched cotton and silk, velcro, ink, foil paper, plastic beads, and colored pencil 58 1/2 x 48 5/8 in. (148.6 x 123.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the James Renwick Alliance; Conservation Materials, Ltd.; Georgetown University Student Affairs Office; Hay Rubber Stamp Company; Process Materials Corporation; Swiss Bernina, Inc.; and Test Fabrics, Inc. 1982.132
This is curious as in 1982 when the quilt was made, the Hay Rubber Stamp company was long gone out of the Hay family, but the gift acknowledgement includes Georgetown University where Alma Bischoff Hay's sister Anna worked. I am wondering if the actual photograph, perhaps a silk-screening, was somehow related to the Hay Rubber Stamp Company from the time that Robert Hay owned it. Inquiries are in progress by email with the Smithsonian Museum as to any further information of how and when the Hay Rubber Stamp Company was involved.

Hello Donna Hay Ask Joan of Art reference service, Smithsonian American Art Museum has received your question. You will receive an e-mail message with the answer as soon as possible. [Question]: I was googling my grandfather's business -- the Hay Rubber Stamp Company -- and came across the quilt in your collection (http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=13819). My grandfather died in 1952 and the company was transferred to the long-time employees. I know the quilt was designed in 1982, but I was wondering if perhaps the print was from earlier, and had a tie to the Hay Rubber Stamp company from my grandfather's time. I would be most appreciative of more information in how the Hay Rubber Stamp Company was involved with the quilt, and when. Thank you. We will try to respond to your question within the time frame you have indicated on your query form. If you have not heard from us within a month, perhaps the email address you typed was incorrect, there was a technical problem with the transition at either end, or your question was outside the scope of American art. If you still need the information, please send us another request.

1969-1970. There are documents in the George Washington University Telman Library System -- Special Collections Research Center -- A Guide tot he Greater Washington Board of Trade Records, 1889-1986, Collection #MS2029: Board of Trade General: Accounts-Hay Rubber Stamp Co., 03/25/1969-03/25/1970 [Box 78 Folder 25]. Since from the Abstract (Collection contains correspondence, minutes, reports, publications, audio tapes, photographs, directories, programs, and artifacts. These materials date from 1899-1986. The founders of the Board of Trade shared a vision of a vibrant multi-faceted region and its history reflects the Board's involvement in almost every major issue concerning the metropolitan area. This subjects includes economic development, home rule, business development, trade associations, race relations, transportation, education, public housing, hospitals, criminal justice, tourism, cultural programs, preservation, consumer affairs, and planning) it would appear that this might relate to the court case above, no further inquiries were made.

1970-1973 court case. The Hay Rubber Stamp company was instrumental in capturing a forger, who was tried, convicted, but overturned on appeal. The Hay Rubber Stamp Company, long out of our family, had been "requested by postal authorities to be on the lookout for orders of stamps that could be used to counterfeit money orders." http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/481/481.F2d.1062.23741.html

2009. Hay Rubber Stamp Company is still listed in Washington, DC Yellow Pages (commercial directory) -- online listing:
Hay Rubber Stamp Company Incorporated
Serving Your Community
Washington, DC 20001
Tel: (202) 628-9535

Online: Hay Rubber Stamp Co Inc. (202) 628-9533 1430 H St NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Directions

2009. There is also a listing online for unclaimed property, from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia -- HAY RUBBER STAMP CO, ID# 146074 (http://app.cfo.dc.gov/CFORUI/services/financial/unclaimed_property/search/result.asp?model=&last=a&modef=&first=&page=1596)

1941. Vannevar Bush Papers at the Library of Congress, Box 48, includes something from the Hay Rubber Stamp Co., 1941. (http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/text/bush.html). The Collection Summary:
Creator: Bush, Vannevar, 1890-1974
Title: Papers of Vannevar Bush 1901-1974 (bulk 1932-1955)
Size: 55,000 items; 174 containers; 69.6 linear feet
Repository: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Abstract: Physicist, engineer, government official, and science administrator. The collection relates primarily to Vannevar Bush's role as coordinator of the scientific community for defense efforts during and after World War II when he served as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and director of its successor, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he supervised the Manhattan Project and other programs.
Since he was primarily involved with defense, and 1941 was just prior to the war, I have no idea how the Hay Rubber Stamp Company could be involved. Inquiries were made of the Library of Congress as to how to obtain a copy of the (assumed) letter.

Hello Donna Hay Library of Congress - Collections Access, Loan and Management Division has received your question. You will receive an e-mail message with the answer as soon as possible. [Question]: I found a reference to my grandfather's company in your Vannevar Bush collection, Box 48. It was probably a letter from the Hay Rubber Stamp Company in 1941. (http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/text/bush.html). Is it possible for me to get a copy of this letter? Thank you. To check the status or the history of your library question(s), go to: http://www.questionpoint.org/crs/servlet/org.oclc.ask.PatronDirect?&language=1&email=dhay16301@sbcglobal.net&qid=4900618

The National Center for Urban Affairs has a repository at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana with a folder titled "CNUE 17/40 - Folder - Hay Rubber Stamp Co." From context, it appears that all the folders are after 1964, with this section from the late 1970s. It would be unlikely to have information relating to Robert Hay.

There is incorporation information online for 1958 and 1966; but nothing about earlier years. Both the national and district archives have been contacted to request any business information; this will hopefully elucidate any partnership agreements outside of Robert's will. Found online: Hay Rubber Stamp Company (Company Number EXTUID 2712019) was incorporated December 16, 1958 (six months after Elfrieda's death) and dissolved March 10, 1966:

HAY RUBBER STAMP CO., INC. (580751) is a company from District of Columbia. Our system shows that this company is INACTIVE. Company type is DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION. More detailed status of HAY RUBBER STAMP CO., INC. is Dissolved. The date of incorportaion is 1958-12-16, so the age of this business is around 58 years. (DC file #580751 -- see online record: summary and 1958)

HAY RUBBER STAMP COMPANY, INCORPORATED (660256) is a company from District of Columbia. Our system shows that this company is ACTIVE. Company type is DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION. More detailed status of HAY RUBBER STAMP COMPANY, INCORPORATED is Revoked. The date of incorporation is 1966-02-24, so the age of this business is around 50 years. listing. Hay Rubber Stamp Company is a Corporation, located in Legacy No Data, and was formed on Feb 24, 1966. This file was obtained from the Secretary of State and has a file number of 2723353. This business was created 18,335 days ago in the SOS Office and the registered agent is Corporate Services Company that does business at 1100 New York Ave., N.w., W. Tower,#500, Washington, DC. After conducting a search for principals and owners of HAY RUBBER STAMP COMPANY, we could not find any results. (DC file #660256 -- see online record).