The original site of The Dorsey Company after the fire on May 27, 1898.
For Williamson Printing Corporation, one of Texas' largest commercial printers, the events of 1983 and 1984 will be easy to find in the company's annals; they will be in bold-face type.
In February 1983 the corporation's plant doubled in size. The Dallas-based concern, which offers full-service advertising, commercial corporate, legal and financial printing, moved from its 100,000 square feet of floor space located in several buildings on Valdina Street, where operations had been since 1969, to a new building on 7.6 acres at 6700 Denton Drive, adjacent to Love Field Airport.
The following September Williamson Printing lost its leader, Bowen Williamson, who had purchased the printing company in 1968. At that time the firm employed forty-five people and had annual sales of approximately $600,000. Today there are some 400 employees and annual sales approaching $100 million.
Bowen Williamson, along with his sons Jerry and Jesse, was chiefly responsible for the company's dramatic growth and its garnering of national recognition. In 1983 the Printing Industries of America (PIA), in its National Awards Competition, gave the second-highest number of awards to Williamson Printing. Again, in 1984, the firm received forty-four awards in PIA's National Awards Competition, thereby tying for second place among all printing firms.
This was the home of The Dorsey Company from 1902 to 1969.
Jerry Williamson, current president of the corporation, believes his father left a lasting impression, not only as a business leader but also as a man of integrity. "He was a very compassionate person toward employees, customers, and suppliers," young Williamson says of his father. "He was honest in all his dealings and expected the same of others, He was reared to respect work in the old-fashion work ethic."
The history of the company extends back 100 years. In 1884 the Dorsey brothers, James A. and Henry, formed a partnership and opened a printing company and office supply store. James, a gregarious, talented and tireless promoter and entrepreneur, handled sales. Henry was quieter than his older brother, but no less talented in his own right. A highly skilled pressman, he ran the print shop on Elm Street.
The Dorsey Company was an immediate success, though it had more than its share of trouble in its early years. The plant was completely destroyed by fire twice between 1884 and 1900.
When the Elm Street building was gutted, the brothers moved a short distance to Main Street, but within a few years the calamity repeated itself. At the time of the second fire, The Dorsey Company was the largest firm of its kind in the region and one of Dallas' major businesses. Its ever expanding territory, which included much of the Southwest, attested to sixteen years of growth.
Disaster. however, did not daunt the Dorsey brothers. They rebuilt with even greater confidence and created their own line of stationery with the phoenix bird as the watermark, symbolic of their rising from the ashes of the fires. In 1902 downtown Dallas saw a six-story red brick factory and office building erected. The Dorsey Building, the second-tallest and one of the city's largest commercial structures in downtown Dallas, was located on the half-block bounded by Commerce, Jackson and Poydras streets. For sixty-seven years this building remained the firm's headquarters.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, The Dorsey Company established itself as "The Business Man's Department Store," one of the nation's premiere printing and office supply operations. Branch offices opened in Houston, Texas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, while salesmen traveled the entire country including the Territory of Arizona and the Indian territory of Oklahoma, selling everything from ledgers to bank vaults. Henry Dorsey led the company's print shop in pioneering the lithography process and in introducing new engraving techniques. Under his direction, The Dorsey Company was among the first in the Southwest to engrave using steel and copper plates.
A Dorsey catalog from November 1912 explained to its customers why the firm had become larger than all its Dallas competitors combined. "The central location of The Dorsey Company, with its mammoth stores, warehouses, and factories at Dallas, Houston, and Muskogee; the exceptional railroad facilities of these cities with direct water-route connections with eastern markets, where raw materials are produced, enable the company to serve its patrons quicker and better than other concerns.
Equipped with the latest improved machinery, the greatest time- and labor-saving methods and systems, and the highest class of workmanship known to the art of printing and kindred craft the company is turning out a class of work that is equaled by the product of but few and surpassed for quality by that of none."
When James Dorsey died in 1913, Henry Dorsey bought his brother's one-half interest and became the sole proprietor. As a charter member of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Henry Dorsey was active in the "150,000 Club." This group was dedicated to building the city's population to that magic number before the 1920 federal census. Dallas went over the top with 8,000 to spare.
Happy days were fewer in number for the firm in the late 1920s. Henry Dorsey died the 1928. Henry Dorsey, Jr., took over the business, and the following year the stock market crashed. During the Great Depression businesses were forced to do without practically everything The Dorsey Company provided. Even the Dorsey-pioneered direct-mail advertising suffered. In order to help keep the concern operating, Henry Dorsey, Jr., cut his salary in half.
From 1969 to 1983 Williamson Printing Corporation was located at 2263 Valdina, Dallas.
The Dorsey Company survived, but it never regained its earlier momentum. Then, in 1940, Bowen Williamson, an Vanderbilt University and SMU alumnus, was hired as a salesman. Having been trained in the printing business by his uncle, W.R. Boyd, owner of the Boyd Printing Company of Dallas, Bowen was a new lifeblood to the foundering organization. He quickly moved up through the ranks, becoming sales manager, vice-president, and, later, a member of the board.
After Henry Dorsey, Jr., died in 1963, the business was placed in a trust administered by the First National Bank of Dallas. The Dorsey Company was divided into an office supply company and a printing company. In 1964, Bowen Williamson became sole proprietor of the printing company when he leased it from the trust.
Then, in 1968, the trust sold the company to a third party. Bowen Williamson bought the printing division from the new owner, and in 1970 changed its name to Williamson Printing Corporation.
In 1969 the company moved to a new 35,000 square-foot facility in the industrial district near the market center. New personnel and improved equipment were added. The plant size doubled in 1972 to make room for additional equipment and a new Legal and Financial Printing Division.
Williamson Printing was the first in the region to have a half-size, heat-set web press in 1975. A full-size, heat-set web press was added in 1978, and a Houston sales office opened in 1979. A color-separations business, Classic Color Corporation, was created in 1980 to provide high-quality color separations to the industry.
In 1977 Williamson Printing became affiliated with the Ticor Printing Group, with offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston, and with affiliates in London, Montreal, and Toronto. This group specialized in legal and financial printing. Two years later Williamson Printing purchased the Legal and Financial Printing Division of Lehigh/Steck Warlick, the Southwest's pioneer in legal and financial printing. While legal and financial printing constitutes approximately 25 percent of the company's business, it is one of the most important segments; and it is aggressively pursuing continued growth in this area.
This has been the home of Williamson Printing Corporation since 1983.
In 1984, celebrating the firm's 100 years of operation, the Williamson family, including the late Mrs. Bowen Williamson, a member of the board; Jesse Williamson, executive vice-president at the time; Becky Williamson, salesperson; and sisters Speight Anderson and Elaine Crain; along with the employees of the corporation, decided to make a contribution to the City of Dallas, Old City Park, and its print shop.
Instead of having a big party in celebration, we decided to show our thanks for the good things that have happened to us over the past century," Jerry Williamson explains. "We commissioned an artist to do two posters depicting Old City Park. We printed and donated them to the park, and they are being sold to help raise money for the park. We are also establishing a trust fund that will finance a person to run the print shop at Old City Park. The print shop had been one of the park's most popular attractions, especially with young schoolchildren, but lack of funds forced the park to close the operation. This fund will allow the park to hire a printer and make it become operational again."
As Williamson Printing Corporation begins its second century of service, its name is indelibly imprinted on both the past and the future.