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1920's & 1930's
Kerley Ink is one of the oldest remaining privately-owned ink manufacturing companies in the United States. It was officially founded in 1947 by Raymond Ambrose Kerley, but the company's roots in the graphic arts go back considerably farther than that. As a matter of fact, they go all the way back to 1909, the year that the famous Indian Chief Geronimo died.
In that same year, the then 16 year-old future founder of Kerley Ink took the New York Central railroad from Schenectady, New York to Chicago to seek his fortune. There he found work as a "printer's devil" near downtown Chicago in a shop named The Regensteiner Press. The rest, as they say, is history.
Even back in the 1920's and 1930's, Ray was quick to understand the significance of the revolution in mass communication that was taking place in America. Ray saw during his career as a printing professional how the business of large-volume printing had been growing at a nearly explosive rate since the late 1800's. By the end of the 1920's, Ray Kerley had risen to the job of pressroom superintendent at The Cuneo Press in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By that time, Ray realized that there were many new pressrooms being constructed all across the nation, and that there was a concurrent boom in the business of companies that supplied those new pressrooms. An opportunity presented itself: start an ink manufacturing company to supply printing and converting firms in Wisconsin. Ray left his job in Milwaukee in 1932 for the town of Menasha, Wisconsin to start up the Lake States Printing Ink Company in an abandoned brewery.
Throughout the early 1930's, Ray sharpened his ink making skills in Menasha, but eventually realized that there were much better opportunities back in the bustling city of Chicago. So he packed up his family and went back there in 1935. Ray's decision to take up the job of ink manufacturing supervisor at W. F. Hall Printing Co. was to prove historic, because while he was there, the brand-new process known as "heatset web letterpress" was just invented. Ray was one of the first adopters of the new process, and was a pioneer in the new skill of formulating the heatset inks needed to run these new, very fast web-fed presses.
Kerley Ink History in Photos
1930's & 1940's
Left: W F Hall Printing Co. in Chicago where Ray Kerley worked making ink.
Right: Interior shot of magazine cover press at W F Hall plant in Chicago
1950's & 1960's
Throughout the 1930's and early 1940's, Ray Kerley led the charge toward the high-speed future of web-fed printing at W F Hall Printing Co. He became such an expert at formulating heatset ink that he was called to be an expert witness at a patent dispute in New York City! By the late 1940's, Ray once again answered the call to be a business owner and incorporated R. A. Kerley Ink Engineers in April of 1947. From his office and factory at 1250 West Van Buren Street on Chicago's Near West Side, Ray did business with such major printing and converting houses as American Colortype, W F Hall, J W Clement, George Banta Co., McCall's, Crowell-Collier, Nabisco, Central Wax Paper and R R Donnelley.
Ray served as President and owner of the company until his death in May of 1956. His daughter and son-in-law Jack Whalen came into the ownership of the company as a result of Ray's passing. During the 1950's and early 1960's, Jack Whalen carried on in the path that Ray had set out, but put special emphasis on the rapidly-growing market for heatset web letterpress and offset inks.
Starting in the late 1960's, Kerley Ink found that it could be successful selling its products to other ink makers for resale, and sell to other ink manufacturers at a price lower than they could make the product themselves. From 1972 to 1984, Kerley ink focused exclusively on making only black inks and black bases – no colors of any kind were manufactured.
Much has transpired in the 30 years since the feature article was published. Most significantly, Kerley Ink re-introduced color printing inks to its clients in 1984. This was a success, and in 1998 a new larger color ink plant was acquired to further serve Kerley's clients. A decades-long price war in the publication and commercial ink industry has steadily eroded Kerley Ink's long-time customer base of other ink makers and ink distributors across the USA. In addition, the arrival of the Internet has reduced the size of Kerley's target market of commercial, publication and book printing quite drastically over the past 20 years.
Presently, Kerley Ink has manufacturing capacity of about 20 million pounds of ink annually in two buildings with a total of about 50,000 square feet on several acres of land. Additionally, off-site warehouses are employed for storing raw materials so that large orders can be filled with minimal wait times, so important for our larger domestic and international clients.