An Unofficial History of the
Mail-Well Envelope Company
Back in the golden age of American business, companies were not all about perverted numbers.* They actually cared about and cared for their employees. Executive leadership knew that it was the employees that made or broke a business.
Mail-Well is the company that my father worked for throughout his whole career. It is the company that I grew up around and I feel like I am part of its extended family. After all, it paid our family's bills and provided us with a nice middle-class lifestyle.
I have great memories of Mail-Well's headquarters in Milwaukie, Oregon. Unfortunately, like so many things in our world, the age of honorable business principles and practices fell casualty to the modern practices of the hostile take-over (corporate rape and pillage) era that began in the 70s. I saw how all of the corporate politics and garbage affected my Dad.
I have a vivid memory of sitting at our round, black & simulated wood-grained Formica kitchen table one night for dinner about when I was in the 7th grade. The conversation turned to me commenting on my Dad's attitude. I can picture him, recently arriving home from a stressful day and long commute, his coat and tie off. He replied something to the effect that I would get my chance to experience corporate America soon enough. To which I replied that I would never work in an office nor commute.
Although that was my intention, I had to eat my words. I labored through a nearly twenty year professional career in offices and with horrific commutes. But unlike my Dad, it was an ends to a means and as soon as I was debt free, I jumped ship to start my own company.
Mail-Well eventually became a typical American corporation with an "F-U" attitude towards its employees. Dad stuck to his principles and was not compromised throughout his forty plus year career. He still keeps in touch with some of the old-timers of the old (real) Mail-Well.
The following are bits and pieces of information that I have snagged from various sources. Time permitting, I will try and flesh this out with personal information, memories and images.
Rocky Mountain Roots
The history begins with the 1919 founding in Denver, Colorado, of the Rocky Mountain Envelope Co. It was the first consumer envelope manufacturer in that city. The cofounders were Carl L. Tucker and Willett R. Lake (1897-1985), transplanted Missourians, who led the company into the 1960s. During the 1920s, when Denver experienced rapid growth, the company changed its name to Rockmont Envelope Co. in order to distinguish itself from the growing number of firms that had included "Rocky Mountain" in their names.
Rockmont grew steadily over the years, and by the late 1950s had a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Denver, as well as seven warehouses around the country that served their customers throughout the U.S. market. With a workforce exceeding 500, Rockmont made all manner of envelopes, ranging from an inch square to a yard wide by 45 inches long. The company had also made modest moves into the manufacture of low-cost stationery, which was sold in supermarkets and drugstores, and of specially designed paper bags for department stores.
company was one of the largest manufacturers of envelopes in the United States. The company structure had also changed by the early 1960s, as Rockmont Envelope became a subsidiary of Pak-Well Paper Industries, Inc., a Colorado holding corporation headed by Tucker and Lake.
In early 1963 Pak-Well was taken public through the sale of 153,620 shares of common stock at $11.50 per share. Pak-Well had revenues of more than $13 million in 1962, and operated plants in Denver [Rockmont Envelope], Portland [Mail-Well Envelope], Houston [Mail-Well Envelope], Phoenix [Mail-Well Envelope], San Gabriel, CA [Mail-Well Envelope], Salt Lake City [Mail-Well Envelope], and Honolulu [Mail-Well Envelope].
By the early 1970s, sons of the cofounders had taken over management of Pak-Well, with Richard B. Tucker serving as president and Willett R. Lake, Jr., in the position of chairman. The company posted net earnings of $1.74 million on sales of $53.8 million in 1973.
Throughout the 1970s, my Dad held the Northern California territory and when not traveling, worked from small offices in our homes. The matchbook to the left was from when we lived in Terra Linda, California.
The road from the early 1970s to the emergence of Mail-Well, Inc. in 1994 is a rather sketchy one.
In 1975, Pak-Well was purchased by the paper company Great Northern Nekoosa Corporation. Pak-Well then became part of Georgia-Pacific Corporation when that giant acquired Great Northern for $4.5 billion in 1990. By the early 1990s what was once the diversified Pak-Well had become strictly an envelope manufacturer operating under the Mail-Well Envelopes and Wisco Envelopes names.
* - Back in the day (now rarely at some organization), numbers were simply black and red numbers on the bottom line of the ledger book and annual report. The goal was to make a profit, reward and keep good employees, and to grow the business where appropriate but all the while, knowing that they were serving the customer. In modern corporate America, it seems that more importance is placed on headcount, R&D dollars per employee, etc. It is all about keeping the shareholders happy.
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