JOLIET – Once one of the largest employers in Joliet, the Gerlach-Barklow Company was a fixture on South Richards Street for more than 60 years.
Plainfield residents Tim and Michelle Smith began collecting art produced by the Gerlach-Barklow Company in 1997, with their focus on calendar art prints. Today, they own an impressive collection of original paintings by artists including Adelaide Hiebel and Zula Kenyon.
As they collected art, they also amassed facts about the Gerlach-Barklow Company, which prompted the Smiths to author a book. Joliet’s Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company, published by Arcadia Publishing, was released on Dec. 7, and contains more than 200 vintage images from the Gerlach-Barklow calendars.
The Smiths will be signing their new book from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St., Joliet. Books will be available for purchase.
For information about the book signing or other programs at the Museum, phone 815-723-5201 or visit www.jolietmuseum.org.
The Gerlach-Barklow Company opened in Joliet, at Washington and Richards streets, in January1908, when its sales force of 65 men began selling its printed calendars throughout the United States and Canada.
The company also manufactured and printed greeting cards, post cards, booklets, blotters, fans and other advertising items.
In 1924, the P.F. Volland Com-pany of Chicago merged with Gerlach-Barklow. In the 1920s, Raggedy Ann books were printed in Joliet.
When Theodore Gerlach died in 1933, the company was worth $30 million.
In the 1940s, Gerlach-Barklow merged with P.F. Volland’s greeting card division, and a third division, Rust Craft Publishers, was created. The company was finally 10 times the size of its original building, and covered nine acres. The last manufacturing occurred at the Joliet plant in 1971.
In the early to mid-1900s, the Gerlach-Barklow Company bucked tradition and hired a large number of female workers. The Smiths said that many of the female artists working for the company would sign their work with only their last name, because calendars with illustrations by female artists wouldn’t be ordered by business owners.
“We frequently have visitors that say they had a grandmother or aunt that worked at Gerlach-Barklow,” Kim Shehorn, education director at the Joliet Area Historical Museum said.
“Once in a while, a guest will recognize one of their relatives in a factory photo on our display.”