Hodges Badge Company's History
Hodges Badge Company was founded in 1920 by William Hodges, great grandfather of the present Company President, in or around Milford, New Hampshire. Family rumor has it (families are not always great at recording this information) that he had previously worked for another Badge Company that had gone out of business. This seems logical for he must have had some information about a base of customers to draw on as well as a source of printing equipment, type, and raw materials. In any event, he started the company, as salesman, order taker, and head printer. His two younger daughters, Anna and Emaline, worked for him doing assembly, stitching, or what ever other work was required.
Why a BADGE company?
1920 America was very different than it is today. Horses were an everyday occurrence. They pulled milk wagons, buckboards, etc. They were not for recreation and horse shows were a rarity. There were some country fairs but they were small due to the transportation problems of getting a large number of people to them. Swimming had to wait for swimming pools to become common before it could thrive as recreation. And gymastics? No one knew what it was.
What small town America had in abundance was fraternal lodges. The Moose, The Elks, The Order of Eastern Star, The Odd Fellows, and on and on. Since you didn’t have television what you did for entertainment two or three nights a week was wander over to “The Lodge” and swap stories with your friends. When the Lodge marched in a parade, had a formal dinner, or buried a deceased member, every member pinned on his BADGE, which usually consisted of a fancy brass bar at the top, proclaiming Member, or President, or the most impressive title that could be invented, a hanging ribbon, and fringe at the bottom. The ribbon was printed with the lodge’s name, on one side gold print on a multi-colored ribbon and on the back silver print on black for funerals. We just knew them as “reversible badges”, and they required lots of assembly to sew the front and back ribbons together, and to attach the fringe at the bottom. We made reversible badges, so we were Hodges BADGE Company.
In 1924 Frederick J. Hodges, William’s son and oldest child, gave up his job at the Boston and Maine Railroad, and came to work at the Badge Company as office manager and salesman. The company grew slowly and sometime in the mid "20’s" the family and company moved to the greater Boston area. The first location in Boston was a two room loft space on Essex Street, then Milk Street, and the first that I can document, a 5 room space at 185 Summer Street.
In the late 1930’s as roads improved and autos became more common, horses started to become a recreational pastime for wealthy Americans and weekend horse shows became regular events. Also more city dwellers had an interest in and an ability to visit county fairs held around our major cities. Sponsors of these events needed fancy ribbons and rosettes and discovered that Badge companies, with their printing equipment and skilled stitchers, were a logical source of supply. Noting the demand, Hodges Badge prepared one sheet mailers of their products to circulate to event sponsors. Slowly the business grew.
The Influence of World War II
Before World War II our ribbons were printed with gold leaf. I mean it. Real genuine gold. It was beaten very thin and came in sheets that had to be cut to about the size of the ribbon to be printed. Ribbon was hand sized with a glue that stiffened it. The heat of printing made the glue in the sizing bond with the thin gold leaf. After printing, the surplus gold was brushed off and of course recycled.
In the 1930’s most printing gold leaf was manufactured in Germany and imported to the US. After the outbreak of war in 1939, F.J.Hodges anticipated a potential problem with supplies. He switched from a German gold leaf supplier to a Japanese one. He ordered several bolts of uncut cloth for ribbon and put them in storage.
All went well until December 7, 1941, when access to Japanese gold leaf was shut off. (Several other things happened that day but since this is a history of Hodges Badge Company I am allowed to view history from a very narrow prospective.)
Prior to Pearl Harbor, a New Jersey company called Peerless Roll Leaf had been trying to interest Hodges Badge in a new printing press which printed bronze lettering. It was clearly inferior. The bronze lettering tarnished within a year. But it was cheaper, and it was available. My father bought a press and a supply of leaf in January 1942.
The years 1942-1946 were rough on all Badge businesses. Our products were non-essential production. It was hard to get materials in an era of rationing. All the men went to war, cutting back on the number left to visit the Lodges and order new badges. Gas rationing made it difficult to have horse shows or county fairs. But as much as possible people tried to lead normal lives and those that persevered and held events still needed ribbons. Many badge companies just didn’t have raw materials. Those bolts of cloth and rolls of bronze leaf that my father put aside in early 1942 allowed Hodges Badge Company to continue operation, picking up many new accounts that became the foundation for growth after the war.
Post War Growth
Following the War, there was no return to gold leaf stamping. Peerless was improving the bronze leaf, which came in 200 foot rolls on a cellophane carrier. It speeded the printing process by a factor of 10, and eliminated the need for the very slow hand sizing of ribbon. The company acquired a second roll leaf press, new foot operated eyeleters, and additional sewing machines. About 1955 I started working at the Hodges Badge Company at 185 Summer Street in Boston during the summers.
The technology was:
- Company in a DC electric district. No DC air conditioners so it was very hot in the printing department.
- Hand set moveable brass type. (Individual letters, not lines)
- Foot powered punches to make holes in eyeleted ribbons. You needed holes to put the ribbon on the bottom pin of the eyelet machine.
- Foot powered eyelet machines which required the operator to pick up a card, hold it behind the ribbon, fold the ribbon, and set the eyelet.
- All cords were tied to ribbons by hand.
- Ribbon was “pleated”, well ruffled actually, on an attachment on a home Singer sewing machine. Ruffles were then sewn in a circle on a material called buckrum. Pleated rosettes were seldom round. Hence rosettes like the Beauty, sewn much as they are today, were the most popular style.
- Packaging was much as it is today, but no set cards. Packages were weighed, postage was added, and hand carried to the South Station Post Office across Summer Street (one of my jobs). UPS had not yet been invented.
- Orders were hand written.
- Invoices were manually typed.
- Accounts receivable were entered in a “black book” from which a sheet was torn when the customer paid. No one ever knew what total receivables were.
- Sales were added up on an adding machine every day.
- Invoices were paid and put in a shoe box. I kid you not. At the end of the year my father would take two shoe boxes of invoices and a stack of adding machine tapes listing sales to the accountant and they would try to figure out what kind of year it had been. I guess he knew that if the checking balance was healthy it was a good year, and if it wasn’t, it wasn’t.
1959. The First Big Dig in Boston, construction of the Central Artery, results in condemnation of 185 Summer Street. The Company moves to a 6th floor loft at 857 Boylston Street, Boston, taking the whole floor (2200 sq ft). With more room a third printing press is added.
1961. The "Ideal" is redesigned using box pleated ribbon. Until our next move we buy pre-pleated ribbon from Roberts.
1963. Our first “Winter Sale” offering the Ideal at 59 cents each.
1964. Space at Boylston Street is getting tight. We negotiate a build to suit lease on a 5000 sq ft. building at 53 Smith Place, Cambridge, Mass, and move in at the end of the year.
1965. The Company, which has been a partnership of F.J.Hodges, Emaline G.Hodges, and Anna M.Hodges, becomes a Massachusetts Corporation.
1967. We buy our first Ludlow. Aluminum plated leaf on a mylar carrier is becoming common and affordable. We decide to phase out the bronze leaf.
1968. Peerless roll leaf invents the “automatic printing press”. It prints and cuts up to 75 ribbons a minute. We can’t see the need for one. Stineman in Pennsylvania buys one but doesn’t have any orders to run on it. We get an order from Howard Johnsons for 45,000 ribbons. I fly to Stineman to print the order so he can test his press and we get our ribbons. As a result of this test, we order our first automatic press.
1971. Dick Brown, an inventor in Omaha, Nebraska, phones and says he has invented an automatic ribbon eyeleter. Are we interested? I fly to Omaha and after testing we order one. It is controlled by reed switches and relays, and three days a week it eyelets a lot of ribbons. The other two days, you repair it.
1972. We buy our first computer. It stores data on magnetic cards which have to be hand inserted in a slot to read the information about customers - name, address, account balance, etc. For the first time we have a real time, once a month, accounts receivable balance. We no longer need the shoe box.
1974. Our lease at 53 Smith Place expires the end of 1975. We start looking for a new and larger location. After considering many states and venues, we select Newport County, Rhode Island. We negotiate financing for our first Company owned building, buy the lot on Schoolhouse Lane, and enter a construction contract for a 10,000 sq. ft. building to be finished November 1975.
1975. We move to Rhode Island. Some of the first employees hired are BJ, Steve Aguiar and Maria DeMedeiros.
1977. We now have two or three automatic presses and a second Ludlow. We have our own ribbon pleater. Idea engineering invents an automatic ribbon stringer, which is even less reliable than the eyeleter, but we buy one, and find we can’t live with it and we can’t live without it. Idea is redesigning the eyeleter to operate on a cam, which is much better. Our sales are growing so fast, first year over 1 million in sales, that the mag card computer cannot keep up. We buy what Liz K. and BJ refer to as the refrigerator, our first Basic Four computer.
OK. So far I have been free to quote dates and events without contradiction. No one who was there is still around to contradict me. For the rest of the history, I will simply list some significant events and I will let other people with written records supply the dates.
After six or seven years in Portsmouth, we have grown enough that we don’t fit into 10,000 square feet any more, and we add 6,000 square feet of warehouse space to the building. This space is later invaded by an Offset Printing department, and a maintenance department.
Around this time, Jim attends the Entrepreneurial Management Program at Harvard Business School. This is a pivotal event as he learns many things that are essential in allowing the business to take off over the next few years. In particular he learns to delegate, and he learns how important cash flow management is in a rapidly growing company.
1987. Jim and Sheila Hodges, armed with lots of promotional flyers from regional development groups, take a driving tour of the Midwest. Realizing that our rapid growth is not compatible with our limited space and the difficult hiring situation in New England (unemployment was 2.4% in Rhode Island back then!), he signs a deal with the Washington (MO) civic and industrial development board to purchase a 12,000 square foot building in the Town and Country industrial park. Lorraine Lemaire moves from RI to be the plant manager, and we start learning how to deal with multiple plant manufacturing!
1989. Rick Hodges joins the company, coming down from New Hampshire where he had been employed by Digital Equipment Corporation. Out of space again, we sign a lease to occupy 5,000 square feet of office space at 42 Valley Road in Middletown, RI. The empty office space is used by manufacturing. Mike Fedele joins the company, planning to be there ‘for a year or two.’
Armed with Rick’s hardware expertise, and Jim’s software programming skills, we continue developing our own customized software, and begin building state of the art computer systems. It becomes a strategic goal to maintain a computing environment that is the best we can get, and to use this as a competitive weapon.
In addition, we find Voice Systems and purchase the first of many increasingly smarter telephone systems. It is while at Valley Road that we learn what a T1 line is – and we split one 50/50 with Tuition Management – a startup company next door.
1993. The Missouri facility is getting tight on space again, and we expand the building by 10,000 square feet to 22,500 sq. ft. We now have leased data circuits between Washington and RI and are able to keep all shipping and inventory data in real time.
1995. We try to purchase a vacant 45,000 square foot building in Portsmouth – and our offer is rejected. A year later we prevail (at a lower price!) and move our offices and manufacturing together under one roof again at 1170 East Main Road. Rick completes his tour at Harvard’s OPM program. Our Schoolhouse Lane building is sold, and more than a few tears are shed as we move out. For more than one employee, this was the only place they ever worked! Ed Sousa leaves us for Portugal, and we hire Rob Theberge to manage maintenance and engineering.
1996. Rick hires CEO Resources for strategic planning, and while divisive, it gives us a direction to head in for the next few years. One of our goals is for at least 3 employees to have email accounts within a year.
1998. We go online with our first web site .
1999. We redo the web site.
2000. Our sales pass $10,000,000. We have over 150 employees and produce 4 catalogs and 14 flyers (and a new web site).
2001. Frank Roselli contacts Rick and following some negotiation we purchase Russell Badge. Their operation is quickly moved to RI and incorporated into our facility.
2002. We are presented with the opportunity to purchase a 20,000 square foot building in Washington, MO, next door to our existing facility. We buy it and move our warehousing operations to 12 Chamber Drive, keeping our manufacturing operations at 3 Chamber Drive. And we redo the web site.
As 2003 began, we did strategic planning again. We are 170 people strong and planning for a year of growth with the introduction of the Horse Show in a Box and our first foray into silver items.
During the aughts, we continued expanding our line of engraveable items, and started offering a variety of silver, nickel plate and copper items. We purchased four engraving machines and watched sales of engraved products take off. In addition, we developed a line of full color ribbons and began offering colorful ribbons as side streamers (for horse shows), rolls of ribbons (for schools) and promotional ribbons for stores and conventions.
In 2008 Rick decided to explore renewable energy, and sought to put our windy hilltop location to use. A series of consultants and studies later, we applied to the state of Rhode Island for a grant to help with the cost of a wind turbine – and were awarded $225,000 – about ¼ of the projected cost. We also applied for grants under the ARRA (Recovery Act) and were awarded approximately $125,000 there as well. Getting money was probably easier than getting the turbine. Our supplier was unreliable, parts took forever to appear, and the top of the tower was made incorrectly. Despite all of the setbacks, the turbine was completed in May of 2012, and has been generating power ever since. As of September, it had already generated more than 40,000 kilowatt hours of power. We are proud to be the only factory in all of Rhode Island generating a substantial portion of its power from the wind – doing everything that we can for the environment.
During 2009 we skirted the worst of the recession. Wholesale business took the worst hit, but the Equestrian and Dog show markets remained robust. We got into social media with a dog blog, twitter account and facebook pages. We redid the website again. We added two more engravers. Sales of engraved items really began to take off and we completed our eighth 3G printing press for hot stamping ribbon.
2011 saw us purchase MelRose Ribbon of Fresno, CA. Their shop was packed up and quickly incorporated into our Missouri operation. We are happy to have a number of their California customers on our customer list today.
In 2012 we introduced a catalog targeting the Cat Show market. We also mailed our first ever Inspirational flyer to churches across the country. 2012 was also the year that we really embraced UV printing to add color to our product lines. From nothing, we have grown to own 3 Mimaki UV printers in just a year. They are being used to produce full color plaques, acrylic, dog tags and especially medals. Everyone loves a splash of color, and this machine does it better than anything else that I have seen.
As I read over the list I am impressed by the following. Only one of the significant ideas that made Hodges Badge Company grow was mine, and that was the winter sale. Just about everything else was somebody else’s idea that I listened to, expanded upon, or encouraged. To make a Company grow you just have to listen to good ideas and then see that the best ideas are acted upon.