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It Began with an Idea & $6: A Brief History of Gaylord Brothers

By Thomas Hunter


Today, branded as Gaylord Archival

A Gaylord Archival employee at work today at the company’s Cicros headquarters. (PHOTO CREDIT: GAYLORD ARCHIVAL)

CICERO — At the end of the 19th century, Willis E. Gaylord and his younger brother, Henry Jay (H. Jay), were employed as bookkeepers at Syracuse Savings Bank. Part of their clerical jobs was to repair torn paper currency. The common repair was simply to pin the torn pieces of paper together using straight pins, which proved to be dangerous to one’s fingers when grabbing a stack of the mended bills. Willis and H. Jay thought they could create a different, and less hazardous, means of restoring the currency. Their solution eventually led to establishing one of the largest library and archival preservation supply industries in the United States.

Historical photo of Gaylord employees outside the building. (PHOTO CREDIT: gaylord archival)

So, in 1896, the two Gaylord brothers, desiring to augment their modest bank salaries, began repairing the bank’s torn bills at home as a fledging side business. They first attempted to repair the currency with a pre-glued tissue paper instead of pins, but this endeavor failed due to the tissue’s flimsy composition. They then consulted with a wholesale paper business, Henry Lindenmeyer & Sons of New York City, and learned that transparent parchment paper might prove to be more durable. However, when the brothers tried to order the parchment paper from Lindenmeyer, company officials rejected their request until they paid for the paper upfront. Only after Willis and H. Jay sent $2 in advance did Lindenmeyer ship the paper to Syracuse. The brothers successfully mended the currency with this new paper. They soon exhausted their supply and ordered more, but the company refused to sell them more paper until they again paid in advance. The Gaylord brothers had to pay in advance a few more times until they finally established business credit with Lindenmeyer.

The brothers also made their own, more reliable, adhesive. Before long, they created their own pre-glued, transparent currency mending paper. Repairing the damaged currency using their product worked well and the brothers recorded their first profit of $6 on Sept. 1, 1896. 

As a marketing strategy, Willis and H. Jay packaged together 24 sheets of their pre-glued mending paper, along with a note extolling its advantages, and sent the packages to several banks. Just 10 days after establishing their nascent business, the brothers received their first order from the Bowery Savings Bank of New York, the largest savings bank in the U.S., amounting to $0.35.

Soon, their side business consumed more of their time. They made the adhesive paper on their 90-minute lunch hour and at night after work. They then mailed those orders at the post office, while picking up any new orders. The brothers soon added pre-glued currency straps and coin wrappers to their inventory. 

Only after about one month in business, the Gaylord brothers received an inquiry from a librarian: Could they cut the adhesive paper into strips to aid in repairing books? The brothers quickly obliged the request and, in effect, created yet another inventory item: pre-glued book-repair parchment. Using the same advertising method as they had used for banks, the brothers sent packages of pre-glued paper strips to libraries and promoted their newly fabricated book-repair paper. Soon afterward, schools inquired about their pre-glued paper and were added to their client lists.

As business steadily increased, the Gaylord brothers moved from their humble basement workshop in 1903 to two small rooms in the Third National Bank Building, located at 108 South Salina St. That same year, the brothers listed Gaylord Brothers as a separate business in the Syracuse City Directory. In 1904, they listed their company as selling office supplies and, in 1905, they first advertised as selling school supplies.

A priest at Canisius College in Buffalo, inquired if the brothers could make a pre-glued binder cover for printed pamphlets. Willis and H. Jay sent to the priest a sample binder cover, which he liked and ordered 100 more. The brothers decided to patent their pamphlet binder cover and it became one of their most popular library products. 

The year 1908 was a turning point for Gaylord Brothers. That year, Syracuse Savings Bank’s new president discovered the brothers’ side hustle and gave them an ultimatum: give it up or leave the bank. Considering their future, they pursued the business. H. Jay left the bank on March 1, 1908, devoting all his time to the business; that year they created the first product catalog, and grossed $23,000 in sales. Almost all of the products were created as a result of librarians’ requests. Willis left the bank on Dec. 1, 1909, to join his brother full-time in their library and school-supply business. Until 1910, Gaylord Brothers made and sold both bank and library supplies. However, library-supply orders soon outnumbered bank orders, so the brothers eliminated the bank products and concentrated solely on library products. 

Gaylord Brothers printed its first customer newsletter, Gaylord’s Triangle Newsletter, in September 1921, commemorating the company’s 25th anniversary. The Triangle offered librarians tips on how to use the products, as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses of Gaylord Brothers, and showcased libraries around the U.S. The monthly publication offered information on how customers could better utilize existing products and introduced new products.

Gaylord Brothers constructed a new three-story building at 155 Gifford St. in Syracuse in 1922. The company also began to ship library products in easily recognizable bright orange boxes with black letters.

With business greatly increasing, Gaylord Brothers opened a western office and factory in Stockton, California on New Year’s Day in 1926. That same year, Alfred H. Gaylord, H. Jay’s son, joined the business upon graduating from Syracuse University. He immediately joined his father and uncle — managing the company as its VP, while his father served as president. H. Jay assigned Alfred to manage the company’s new western facility in California, where he stayed for three years before returning to Syracuse.

The brothers announced their company’s business incorporation as Gaylord Brothers, Inc. in the Syracuse Herald newspaper in February 1927. The Herald declared that the incorporated company issued $300,000 in common stock, along with $100,000 in preferred stock, which was exclusively held by the two brothers. The article noted that Gaylord Brothers had grown from a small mail-order business to a large manufacturer of school and library supplies with a market throughout the United States. The article also noted that Willis Gaylord would retire that March.

Willis sold his company interest to H. Jay and retired on March 1, 1927, at age 62. Prior to his retirement, Willis Gaylord had been ranked among the more prominent and successful businessmen in Syracuse despite not finishing high school, nor graduating from college. In conjunction with his business affairs, Willis was active in civic and social matters. He was a member of the Syracuse Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Bellevue Country Club, the Citizens Club, the Syracuse Rotary Club, the F&AM Lodge No. 955 in Salina, and was active in the Park Central Presbyterian Church. Willis married Blanche Hutchins on Nov. 19, 1891, and had no children. Willis Gaylord died on April 30, 1943, at age 78 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.

In 1930, Gaylord Brothers introduced one of its most significant products: the Model C Book Charger, one of the first automated book-circulation machines. The book charger stamped library-book numbers and return dates on book cards, effectively eliminating indecipherable patron handwriting. Gaylord’s book charger provided libraries across the U.S. with an economical means of controlling their book circulation. Used by libraries for many years, the book charger was made obsolete by computers.

During the Great Depression, Gaylord Brothers promoted good health habits to its employees by inviting the Onondaga Health Association to speak on various health topics at monthly meetings. The topics included eating healthy foods, as well as proper tooth care and personal hygiene. 

In 1949, another unfortunate milestone event occurred when Alfred passed away at the young age of 44. He had four children with his wife, Mary, who all survived him. Alfred fulfilled his civic obligations by serving as a member of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, the Syracuse Rotary Club, and the F&AM Lodge No. 955 in Salina. Alfred also worshiped at Park Central Presbyterian Church, and he enjoyed participating in a variety of water sports. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Alfred’s death left his father, H. Jay, as the sole surviving member of the Gaylord family in management of the business that he founded with his brother.

Gaylord Brothers introduced Magic Mend, the first glue for repairing book bindings and other materials, in 1952; it is now known as PH Neutral Adhesive. Other company progress included advancing the SE-LIN Labeling System and fabricating the first sloped book truck, and other library-circulation furniture.

Henry Jay Gaylord passed away in March 1955 at age 82. Unlike Willis, H. Jay completed high school, but similarly to his older brother, he did not attend college. In September 1897, H. Jay married Cora Hinsdale and they had two children: Alfred and Alice. H. Jay was also involved in civic and social organizations such as the Syracuse Citizens Club, the Syracuse Rotary Club, and the Masons. Like other family members, he worshiped at Park Central Presbyterian Church. At his passing, Henry left the company in control of Marion Stafford, who managed Gaylord Brothers for almost another 20 years, before retiring in 1973.

By 1968, Gaylord Brothers had completed a 205,000-square-foot building expansion on Morgan Road in Clay. Croydon Company, a holding company owned by Morris Bergreen and Martin Blackman, bought Gaylord Brothers in 1974. Soon after purchasing Gaylord Brothers, Bergreen developed Gaylord Information Systems (GIS), the company’s computer-based automation division and a pioneer in early computerized automation systems. Its first integrated library system was the Gaylord System 100, which interacted between individual libraries and a mainframe computer located at Gaylord. A contemporary company publication described the new GIS division as “[bringing] the speed, accuracy, and magic of computers to libraries; enhancing service, saving money, and providing high levels of information detail which were impossible to procure heretofore.” In 1997, Gaylord introduced the Polaris Integrated Library System, which could provide computer support for more than 100 concurrent libraries. 

In 1990, the Syracuse Herald Journal newspaper described Gaylord Brothers as the General Motors Corp. of the library supplies industry. At the time, Gaylord was striving to become not only the largest library supplies company but also was speeding along the information highway with their computerized storage and data-retrieval systems. 

The lobby at Gaylord Archival’s headquarters today. (PHOTO CREDIT: gaylord archival)

Gaylord Brothers also began to advance into the archival-preservation supplies market by forming a preservation advisory committee comprised of preservation professionals whose responsibility was to develop preservation and conservation products. Gaylord published an archival-products catalog in 1992 that focused on providing libraries and museums with products to care for archival material and museum objects. 

Wall Family Enterprise (WFE) acquired Gaylord Brothers in 2003. WFE also owns other companies, such as DEMCO, a onetime Gaylord competitor, which focus on serving educational and cultural organizations. Although once operating facilities in California, Maryland, and North Carolina, Gaylord is now only located in Central New York. 

In 2005, Gaylord Brothers moved from its Clay location to a new office and factory on William Barry Boulevard in Cicero. Gaylord makes many of its archival boxes, file folders, sleeves, and binders at this factory location. Since 2010, Gaylord also has offered an array of museum-display cases. As the demand for traditional library products has decreased, the market for museum-preservation material and display cases and furniture has increased. Appropriately, Gaylord has transitioned to meet the needs of this market. In 2015, the company became Gaylord Archival, and now focuses exclusively on making and selling archival products.

Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2021, “the spark of innovation ignited by the Gaylord brothers…burns on as Gaylord Archival blazes new trails to the future. Just imagine where their journey will take them next.”      

Thomas Hunter is curator of collections at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) (, located at 321 Montgomery St. in Syracuse.