Most accounts credit William Carter as the inventor of Carter’s Ink sometime in 1858, however, the seeds of the business date back to the 1820’s and his father, Timothy H. Carter. Born around the turn of the 19th Century, according to the May 1908 edition of Walden’s Stationer and Printer:
Timothy H. Carter, was the progenitor of the large family of that name, who occupy an enviable and influential position in the Boston paper and stationery trades today. He is reputed to have constructed the first power printing press in this city and also to have operated the first type foundry in New England. With a Mr. Hendee, he started in the bookselling and publishing business under the name of Old Corner Book Store, whose former home at Washington & School Streets , is yet standing…
Listed in Boston’s 1823 directory at 5 Beacon Street, a July 13, 1894 Boston Globe item written at the time of his death, reminisced:
The death of T. H. Carter recalls the fact that only 70 years ago he, as well as others, pastured cows on Boston Common.
Throughout the late 1840’s and 1850’s T. H Carter was listed in the Boston directories as a publisher with a Water Street address. It was at some point, likely in the late 1850’s, that his son William joined him at Water Street and Carter’s Ink was born. A September 11,1923 story in the Cambridge Tribune begins the story.
William Carter who was engaged in the wholesale paper business on Water Street, Boston, began manufacturing inks as a side line in 1858. He produced a combined writing and copying ink of the gall and iron type. The ink in general use for office work at the time was not adapted to copying, and Carter’s Combined, which not only gave satisfactory copies but flowed almost as easily as a writing ink, marked an innovation in the history of American ink making
In 1860, both William and his brother Edward had joined their father on Water Street and had apparently taken over the business, listing it for the first time in the Boston directories as Wm. Carter & Bro. It was around this time that they likely commenced the sale of the ink as an offshoot of the paper and publishing business. An August 11, 1887 feature on the Carter business in the American Stationer described the fledgling operation like this:
Although the accommodations for this new line of business were not of larger magnitude than an old loft above their store, where a few casks and barrels served as a laboratory, the daily output of that crude factory filled at that time a needed want; and while the demand of those early days was not equal to the wants of the present time, Carter’s combined writing and copying ink of ante-bellum days, crude as it was, possessed the characteristics which have since, with some improvements, won for it a widespread popularity throughout America.
Not surprisingly, I can’t find any advertising for their inks prior to 1864 and that fact, coupled with this 1862 advertisement in a newspaper called the New England Farmer, provides evidence that publishing continued to be the focus of the business in the early 1860’s.
Sometime around 1868 the business moved from Water Street to 27 Milk Street and by this time, a second brother, John, and a cousin, John W. Carter, had joined the business, changing the listed company name to Carter Bros. & Co. This full page Carter Bros. advertisement for their “Combined Writing and Copying Ink” that appeared in an 1869 Directory of Legal Correspondents certainly suggests that, by decade’s end, the ink manufacturing portion of the business had gained traction.
The business operated under the name Carter Bros. & Co. until 1872. At that point, with William Carter now deceased, it was agreed to split the business into two separate companies. William’s son, John Carter, continued the paper business in partnership with C. T. Pulsifer and J. P. Jordan under the original name of Carter Bros & Co. John W. Carter partnered with James P. Dinsmore and together they formed Carter, Dinsmore & Co. to take over the ink manufacturing part of the business.
Dinsmore was a New York City druggist located at 491 Broadway and later 36 Dey Street for much of the 1860’s. During that period he was associated with a number of patent medicines, most notably Peruvian Syrup..
In 1864 he was also serving as an agent for Carter’s Ink as evidenced by a March 21, 1864 advertisement in the New York Times. Months earlier, in December of 1863, Dinsmore was running the exact same advertisement in the Times sans the word “Carter’s,” so it’s likely that his relationship with the Carter business dated back at least as far as late 1863. Both advertisements are shown below (1863 on the left and 1864 on the right).
By 1870, according to a feature in the September 15, 1884 edition of “The American Bookseller,” Dinsmore had purchased an interest in the Carter Business and, shortly afterwards, this 1871 advertisement in A. Roman & Co.’s Fall Bulletin named him as the manufacturer and proprietor of Carter’s Inks in New York, where he remained listed at his 36 Dey Street address.
Unfortunately, the agreement to split the company coincided with Boston’s great fire of 1872. According to the August 11, 1887 American Stationer feature:
Just on the eve of the great Boston fire of 1872 Messrs. Carter and Dinsmore had concluded negotiations with the other partners in the growing business, and had together secured its control; but on the following night the ink factory, with the paper warehouse of Carter Bos. & Co., shared the fate of all those business houses situated in that part of the city which was for so many years after known only as the “burnt district.” The heavy fire losses of that disastrous conflagration ruined the insurance companies and Carter & Dinsmore were somewhat crippled but their faith in Carter’s Ink was as strong as ever, and so, with commendable enterprise, they secured other quarters and went to work again.
Both companies ultimately survived the fire. The paper business of Carter Bros. & Co resurfaced with a listed address of 45 & 47 Federal Street in Boston’s 1874 directory. Carter, Dinsmore & Co. was temporarily listed at 84 Broad and 34 Plympton in 1873 before establishing a permanent facility at 35 & 37 Batterymarch Street where they were first listed in the 1874 Boston Directory.
Around the time Carter, Dinsmore & Co. was established they were offering several different styled inks in addition to their “Combined Ink.” This November, 1873 advertisement for a Milwaukee, Wisconsin stationery store named several, including a “Perfumed Boudoir Ink.”
This December 2, 1882 advertisement indicated that they packaged and sold their ink in a wide array of bottle sizes and types, some of which were decorative in nature and served the dual purpose of pen holder.
This all contributed to the exponential growth of their ink production in the ten years between 1874 and 1884 A feature on the business published in the September 15, 1884 edition of the American Bookseller quantified the company’s expansion during this period.
The immense growth of the business of Messrs. Carter Dinsmore & Co. will be comprehended when it is known that shortly after the great Boston fire their annual product was 100,000 bottles, while at the present time they manufacture annually between 4,000,ooo and 5,000,000. This necessitates the bottling and sale of about 15,000 bottles daily…
Also contributing to the growth of the business during this period was “Carter’s” Mucilage as well as a high end version of it called “Arabin” that was introduced in 1883. Adhesives, they were described in the May 22, 1884 edition of the American Stationer.
Mucilage is another specialty of this house, and the same standard of excellence found in its inks has made Carter’s mucilage equally as popular. Carter’s Arabin is a later product of the mucilaginous order, and this is a gum preparation that the manufacturers claim can not be equalled for sticking qualities by anything in the market. The Arabin differs from ordinary mucilage in that all of the impurities are extracted from the gum and only its sticking particles are admitted into the preparation.
The 1884 American Bookseller feature went on to mention several ancillary items the company was also producing at the time.
It also manufactures a variety of stationery articles for the desk, such as ink and mucilage stands, adjustable pen-racks, panoramic calendars, etc., the popularity of which has contributed not a little toward the sale of Carter’s Inks.
Ultimately the need for expanded facilities became evident and plans for a new building, also in Boston, were announced in the Real Estate section of the November 25, 1883 edition of the Boston Globe.
A new building is to be erected by Carter, Dinsmore & Co., the ink manufacturers, on Columbus Avenue. The front is to be modeled after that of the New York Produce Exchange, which is highly praised. It will have sixty-six feet frontage on Columbus Avenue and will be five stories high.
The company moved into the new facility in early 1884 and they were first listed with an address of 162 to 172 Columbus Avenue in Boston’s 1885 directory.
Descriptions of the building mentioned that the 7,000 square foot cellar had room to store 5,000,000 bottles.
Over the next ten years the company would lose both of their original founders when Dinsmore retired in the late 1880’s and John W. Carter accidentally drowned in 1895. Shortly after Carter’s death the business was incorporated under the name “The Carter’s Ink Company.” It was managed by the trustees of his estate until 1901 when Carter’s oldest son, Richard B. Carter assumed the presidency. He would continue to serve as president until his death in 1949.
If there was any turmoil during this transitional period it wasn’t evident as the company continued to expand, adding an entirely new line of products. According to the September 11, 1923 Cambridge Chronicle feature:
The Company early turned its attention to products closely related to inks. It’s Photo-Library Paste, introduced in the 90’s when amateur photography first became popular, has become a standard throughout the world. About the same time a line of typewriter ribbons and carbon papers was put on the market and the company has since been a leader in those lines.
The Photo-Library paste, typewriter ribbons and carbon paper were all reflected in the company’s 1899 advertisement in the Boston Directory.
Another Cambridge Chronicle story, this one published in the April 10, 1909 edition, went on to provide a pretty concise description of the company during the first decade of the 20th century.
At no period has the growth of the business been more rapid than in the last eight or ten years. A considerable share of the growth is due to the ribbon and carbon line which was added some years prior to the death of the founder, with the idea that the wonderful growth of the typewriter business might curtail the use of writing and copying inks. No such fear has been realized, as both branches of the business have grown enormously. Everything except the actual manufacturing has been gradually crowded out of the present factory until the move now contemplated became an absolute necessity. The office and factory employees of the company, now located in Boston, number about 200, and there are 35 salesmen with headquarters in the United States who sell the company’s products not only in this country, but in practically every country of the civilized world. The company maintains its own warehouses in New York, Chicago, Montreal (Canada), London (England), and Brussels (Belgium), at which points 50 more hands are employed while various other special agencies and trade connections are scattered all over the globe.
As the above story mentioned, having outgrown their Columbus Avenue factory they were planning another move. The September 11, 1923 Cambridge Tribune picks it up from there.
The company then did as so many others have done. In seeking a location close to the city and yet away from its congestion, where spur track facilities were available and where room for future growth could be acquired at a reasonable figure, the advantages of Kendall Square appeared to the company preeminent. The handsome factory erected on First Street is today, the first building seen in Cambridge when crossing the Cambridge Bridge, and the two huge electric Carter’s Inks signs are now landmarks pointing to Kendall Square.
The building’s location in Cambridge was illustrated in this aerial photograph published in the March 25, 1920 edition of Geyer’s Stationer. Taken from what the photo caption referred to as an airship, the Carter building is located in the left foreground at the end of the bridge (white bldg. on the far side of the bridge).
The company moved into their new factory in early 1910 and shortly afterwards the company began featuring it in their advertisements. The following ad appeared in the 1912 Cambridge directory.
In fact, it’s the building itself that provides one of the best illustrations of just how far the company had come since the “great fire.” Consider this description of the new facility’s bottling and labeling operation:
Throughout the plant every possible operation is done by automatic machines. There are machines which fill eight one-quart bottles simultaneously and others which fill, cork and label small bottles. The battery of labelling machines has a capacity of one hundred thousand bottles per day.
Quite a statement considering that back in 1874, 100,000 bottles was their annual output!
It was in 1913 that Carter’s launched a highly successful advertising campaign that featured Mr. & Mrs. Carter Inx. In an essay written by Fletcher W. Taft, Advertising Manager for the Carter’s Ink Company, that was published in the February 15, 1915 edition of Advertising and Selling, he indicated that the company was endeavoring to inject a “Carter” personality into their product line. According to Taft:
We cast around for some time in our endeavor to secure this and at last solved our problem by the little novelty bottles which we call “Mr. and Mrs. Carter Inx.” They are intended to appeal by their unique appearance and general unusualness to man, woman and child, so that they will be put on the consumer’s desk and connect in the mind of the consumer our publicity with his desk needs.
Taft went on to say:
…while playing up the bottles, we emphasized still more strongly the ink itself, so that the publicity would ultimately associate the word “Inx” as the trade name for our entire line.
This 1919 advertisement listed their entire product menu under the “INX” heading, and also illustrated some of their packaging at the time.
In the the mid-teens, it appears that the company continued to increase their focus on products related to ink. As early as 1915 they were advertising an ink eraser called “Inky Racer,” that would “lift bothersome blots from paper, wood and cloth.
Later, this February 23, 1923 item published in a trade magazine called “Office Appliances,” announced the addition of : “More speedsters in Carter’s Family,” namely, “Spotty Racer” and “Rusty Racer.”
The Carter’s Ink Company, Boston, Mass., has added to its “Racer” family. The “Inky Racer” is already familiar to the trade. The automobile has added greatly to the menace of grease and tar spots in the home. “Spotty Racer” is a new development from the Carter laboratories. It removes grease, road oil, tar, etc., from clothing, rugs, cushions, etc., without leaving a ring, and without a great deal of labor. It is not flammable. There are incidental uses of interest. “Spotty Racer” added in small quantity to the water used for washing windows, paint work, floors and bathroom fixtures will remove grease, oil and grime easily and quickly. A few drops rubbed into the palm of the hands before rinsing with water will quickly excorcise grease grit and grime.
Carters “Rusty Racer” removes rust stains from table and personal linen, whether acquired in the laundry, golf bag or hanging on a hook in humid location. In addition, fruit, coffee and similar stains common to the household can be cleaned away. “Rusty Racer” is provided with a glass rod for applying.
Both of these new Carter products are put up in attractive packages, retailing for twenty-five cents. They are a magnet which the stationer can employ to attract more attention from women.
Sometime in the mid- 1920’s the company began to advertise pens to go along with their inks and by Christmas of 1927 you could give a Careter’s pen and pencil set and desk stand as a gift.
Already producing stamp pad ink, by the end of the decade they were also producing stamp pads, as evidenced by this January 25, 1929 advertisement in Grand Junction, Colorado’s Daily Sentinel.
Twenty five years later, a general product listing of Carter products found in a January 14, 1956 advertisement in the North Adams (Mass) Transcript matched those they were producing in 1930. This suggests that while brand names may have changed from time to time, there was little, if any, additional expansion of their product lines after 1930. The one exception appears to have occurred in the early 1960’s when they introduced the felt marker. This Life Magazine advertisement was published in their March 15, 1963 issue.
Richard B. Carter served as president of the company up until his death in 1949. After which long time employees Samuel G. Wonders (1949 to 1955) and Nathan C. Hubley (1955 to 1976) each served terms as president.
Hubley was still president in 1976 when the company was acquired by the Dennison Manufacturing Co. The acquisition was reported in the July 7, 1976 edition of the Boston Globe.
Dennison Manufacturing Co.of Framingham said it reached an agreement to acquire Carter’s Ink Co., a privately held concern based in Cambridge, for about $17 million in cash. Nelson S. Gifford, Dennison president, said Carter’s will continue to operate under its present management as a separate division…
Dennison Manufacturing merged with Avery International in 1990, forming the Avery-Dennison Corp. Today they continue to market stamp pads and stamp pad ink under the Carter name.
Shortly after Carter’s was acquired by the Dennison Manufacturing Corp., they apparently left Cambridge for Framingham. When exactly is not clear but they had certainly left by the time an October 17,1979 story in the Boston Globe announced the renovation of the Carter Ink building as part of a $200 million redevelopment of East Cambridge. This recent photograph of the building is courtesy of Google Earth.
Now a commercial building at the very top under the “Forsyth” sign there remains a little reminder of its original owner.
Their last Boston building on Columbus Avenue also remains to this day. A February 25, 1979 Boston Globe story announced the building’s $1.5 million renovation.
On Columbus Avenue, the Perini Land & Development Co. and architect Gary Graham, as joint venture, will recycle the building at 162 into 12 racquetball courts, a light dining room, a pro shop, exercise rooms, saunas and whirlpool baths for men and women.
Now a commercial building with a ground floor restaurant, here it is today, again courtesy of Google Earth.
I’ve found three Carter’s Ink bottles over the years, all mouth blown. All three appear in the 1907 Des Moines Drug Company’s 1907 Catalog that references them as the 2oz Cylinder, 2oz Cone and 2oz Panel respectively.
This 1880’s advertisement for Carter’s”Koal Black Ink.” depicts the 2oz Cylinder with a small wire corkscrew at the top.
I’ll end this post with an advertisement disguised as a news item that described the advantages this little detail afforded its user. The somewhat humorous item entitled, “A Yankee Invention,” appeared in the May 20, 1880 edition of the Torborough (North Carolina) Southerner.
On Monday morning we were presented by Mr. H. H. Shaw, our worthy Postmaster, with a bottle of Carter’s Blue-Black Ink. Each quart bottle has a little cork screw attached for withdrawing the stopper. We regard this as a moral invention, as more religion has been lost in removing the cork from ink bottles than any other one thing. It always ended by having to drive the stopper in and then lose your ink by evaporation. The ink is of excellent quality; don’t get thick or stringy, corrode steel pens or freeze. Send to Carter, Dinsmore & Co., Boston.
Whether the corkscrew was actually a Carter, Dinsmore invention or not is open to speculation.