Commemorating Corporate Anniversaries

Monday, February 17, 2020

As with all institutions, anniversaries represent significant milestones for commercial enterprises. Not only do they provide an occasion to celebrate their longevity, they also allow employees and owners to reflect upon the history of their business. My research at the Hagley Library sought to look in more depth at the ways in which American corporations have commemorated their anniversaries by looking at the rich material held in the Helen Baker Cushman Collection.

The daughter of Westinghouse vice-president Ivan F. Baker, Helen Baker Cushman was a pioneering businesswoman with a passion for American business history. Her firm — H. M. Baker Associates — specialised in helping businesses commemorate their corporate anniversaries, as well as offering assistance to those companies looking to set up their own in-house corporate archives. In addition, her company (which was active from 1958 through to 1993) was also commissioned to write a number of book-length histories for businesses such as The Butterick Publishing Company and Earler Gear and Machine Company.

From a personal perspective, the documents that I found most fascinating were the Remember the Year pamphlets that H. M. Baker Associates produced, on commission, for companies looking to mark particular corporate anniversaries. In a nutshell, these publications were essentially two-sided pamphlets that blended details about the formation of the relevant company alongside general events that took place in the year of their founding (see Figure 1 for an example). In order to produce these pamphlets, Helen Baker would provide the company with a list of (what she considered to be) the major social, political, cultural, and sporting events that took place in the year of the founding and the company would then decide which events they wanted to include in the pamphlet. Typical events in this respect would include details such as which team had won the MLB World Series that year, what pop songs had topped the charts, and any notable domestic appliances that had been invented in that year.

'Remember the Year' pamphlet produced for Admiral Steel's 40th anniversary (1989)

In many ways, therefore these documents not only demonstrate how American companies sought to use their corporate anniversaries as marketing opportunities to promote themselves to clients, they also provide a fascinating insight into the ways in which US corporations actively sought to reshape the past so as to integrate and embed their histories into popular American culture.

Dr. Matthew Hollow is Senior Lecturer in Strategy at the University of York Management School​

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