Traveling in J.C.’s footsteps

November 1, 2016 GMT

Editor’s Note: Aug. 29 marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of the late Joyce C. Hall, a David City native who became founder of the Hallmark Cards, Inc., business empire of Kansas City, Mo. To honor that occasion Samantha Bradbeer, historian for Hallmark Cards, Inc., traveled to his hometown and several other Nebraskan cities this summer to learn more about his upbringing and early sales jobs. The following article, originally written for Hallmark employees at the time of the anniversary, was recently provided to the Banner-Press by the Hallmark Archives of Kansas City. It has been edited here for clarity and brevity.

Joyce Clyde Hall, affectionately known as “J.C.” to Hallmark employees, was born Aug. 29, 1891, in David City, Neb., about 60 miles west of Omaha, to George Nelson Hall and Nancy Dudley Houston.

J.C had two older brothers, Rollie and William, who were born in 1882 and 1884 at nearby Brainard. A younger sister, Marie, was also born in David City in 1895. Adam Hall and Nannie Bozarth, J.C.’s grandparents, lived a couple blocks away.

The Hall family lived on the west side of 11th Street in David City, between D and E Streets. The original home is no longer standing, but a new home, built in the 1980s, currently sits on the property.

George Hall, then a traveling minister, was rarely around to assist his family. So, as Nancy’s health gradually declined, J.C. and his brothers worked a number of odd jobs around David City to help support their family. Adam, a livery stable owner until he retired in 1898, provided additional support as needed.

J.C.’s earliest job, at only eight years old, was working after school and on Saturdays around the house – as a kitchen maid and nurse - for a local woman expecting her first baby.

A year later, he began selling cosmetics, lemon extract, lilac cologne and tooth powder to locals and relatives through the California Perfume Company, now known as Avon. J.C. began selling the product in large part due to his grandfather having provided him with the five dollars needed to purchase the sample case.

J.C. also set up an unofficial concession stand – selling fruit, lemonade, magazines, newspapers and sandwiches – near the ballpark and train depot for travelers passing through town. He occasionally helped set up tents, carried water and fed the animals when the circus came here.

On to Columbus

Meanwhile, in 1898, Rollie and William, then 17 and 15 years old respectively, worked after school at L.W. Snow’s millinery and novelty store in town. Not long after that, Snow bought a bookstore about 20 miles away in Columbus and persuaded Rollie to leave school and manage the store full-time for him.

L.W.’s bookstore was originally located at 2502 13th Street in Columbus, and in 1905 was relocated a few doors down to 2507 13th Street. Today, Antiques & Treasures and Allure Salon & Spa are at those locations.

J.C. and William worked as seasonal employees at the store by selling fireworks and helping with the Christmas rush. But by 1900, William also left school early and joined Rollie full-time in Columbus. When Rollie left the bookstore in 1901 to begin selling paper as a traveling salesman for the Marshall Paper Company, William became store manager.

In 1905, a distributing agent for the Nebraska State Journal, who called on the store every two months, asked William if he wanted to own a store of his own. The two quickly created a business plan and scouted locations, eventually purchasing the Uter’s bookstore in Norfolk, about 60 miles from David City, on May 1.

Next, Norfolk

William, then 21 years old, was in business for himself and quickly changed the store name to the Norfolk Book and Stationery Co. (Hall Bros. Proprietors).

In 1905, the Norfolk Book and Stationery Co. was located at 320 Norfolk Ave. Today, Kuper Farms Country Market is located there. Over the past 100 years, a bookstore, publishing company, taverns and several clothing stores have operated at this location.

When school was out, J.C., then 13 years old, went to work in the store and sold books, candy, glassware, magazines, newspapers, pipes, tobacco and other products. The entire family relocated to Norfolk a few months later.

Meanwhile, after a short stint selling paper, Rollie spent most of his time on the road selling candy.

In 1905, the Hall Family lived at 213 N. 11th Street in Norfolk. The exterior of the home, which was built in 1889, has not been altered. (This property has been listed as 213, 214 and 215 in city directories and previous publications.)

In 1915, William and his wife, Olga, moved a couple of streets away to 1103 Koenigstein. The exterior of the home appears to be original.

In addition to working at the store, J.C. took on extra jobs whenever he could. These included selling newspapers and popcorn, and traveling with Rollie to his sales territories in western Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

A few months after opening the Norfolk store, a salesman from Chicago, who represented a New York-based importer of picture postcards, walked into the store hoping to talk to William. The salesman, after finding William gone, explained to J.C. the virtues of postcards and offered to sell his inventory to the brothers.

Later that night, J.C. excitedly told William about the new business opportunity, and offered to put up every penny he had. The next morning the salesman returned and William agreed to invest in postcards. After selecting their initial order, J.C. named the new venture the Norfolk Post Card Company.

Rollie learned of the new business, of which he was a one-third partner, when he returned from working his territory. As the brothers had hoped, Rollie added the postcards to his inventory and sold them on the side.

J.C. and William quickly asked other local salesman to sell their postcards in their territories, while they focused on growing the business in Norfolk.

Four years later, after trying his luck in selling sweeping compound on the side, J.C. began to toy around with the idea of how to expand his growing postcard business. During a sales trip to Omaha, Rollie and J.C. ran into their father, whom they had not seen in more than 10 years, and told him about their business.

George Hall quickly pointed out that Norfolk was too small to support a wholesale business. Although George had very little sales experience (he unsuccessfully ran a hardware store before becoming a traveling minister), the brothers took his advice to heart as J.C. had already been thinking the same thing.

A move to Omaha would have been the next logical step for the company had it not been for a chance encounter with John H. Conway, a cigar salesman from Kansas City.

Kansas City and beyond

Conway called on the store in December of 1909. After discussing products and their mutual love of baseball, J.C. told him of his plans to move the company to Omaha in the coming year. Conway liked the idea, but began pitching Kansas City as a business location instead.

J.C. was impressed with Conway’s “lofty talk” and decided to rethink his move, especially since one of his former classmates, whom J.C. recalled being the prettiest girl in his class, and her family had recently moved to Kansas City.

Whatever the motivation, J.C. arrived in Kansas City on Jan. 10, 1910, with little more than big dreams and two shoeboxes full of postcards.

A year later, Rollie, Marie and their mother Nancy all moved to Kansas City. Rollie continued to sell postcards in his ever-growing sales territories, eventually becoming vice president of sales for the growing company.

William continued to sell postcards and eventually greeting cards at his store in Norfolk. But by 1921, after selling his business, William and his wife also relocated to Kansas City.

For the first time, J.C., Rollie and William were running the growing company, then known simply as Hall Brothers, side-by-side.