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Bradner Smith Celebrates over 150 Years of Success
In 2008, Bradner Smith & Company will be celebrating its 156th year of profitable paper distribution. Established in Chicago in 1852, it remains an independent, family-owned, wholesale distributor of high performance printing and office papers. As a privately held company, majority ownership remains today with the Bull family, descendants of founders, Josiah H. Bradner and George Cotton Smith. Richard S. Bull, III is chairman of the board and CEO of Bradner Central Company, the parent company.

A Long Time Ago
1852 was a long time ago! It was almost 25 years before the telephone, 50 years before motion pictures, and 9 years before the Civil War. The population of Chicago was 38,700, and the United States had only 31 states. Bradner Smith & Company started in a one-room storefront at 12 LaSalle Street in the heart of Chicago. In those early days, large orders were delivered by horse-drawn drays and smaller orders with personal service from the company's delivery boys. By 1856, deliveries were made to most surrounding states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Salesmen traveling from city to city by train, developed strong relationships with their clients in each market. The company survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. An edition of the Chicago Weekly Post, two weeks after the fire, carried a large ad announcing that Bradner Smith & Company had set up an office at 619 State Street. According to the article, Bradner Smith had "two mills working and large stock of Manilla, Wrapping, Print, and other Paper and goods arriving constantly. Orders filled as usual."

An Innovator for Its Time
Bradner Smith & Company was one of the earliest subscribers to the Bell Telephone System. In 1877, less than a year after the invention of the telephone, Bradner Smith & Company, installed a wall phone. The October 1, 1878 directory of the Chicago Telephone Exchange lists only 291 installations. The Company's number was 132, three rings. Early in 1881, the passing evening crowds inspected with amazement a single incandescent bulb hung at the entrance to the Adelphi Theatre at Madison and Dearborn Streets. Current for the lamp was furnished by Bradner Smith & Company which had installed a steam engine to generate lighting in their office and warehouse. Later, current was supplied for the vaults of the First National Bank of Chicago. The Bradner product catalog of 1885 began to resemble the conventional paper merchant catalog of today, as far as grade structure is concerned, although still listed were items such as: papers for match, candle, and cigar box manufacturers; tailors' pattern paper; flax candy paper; rag fly paper; carpet felt; roofing paper; tobacco, fruit, and ham papers; flour sacks; wooden butter plates; and oyster buckets. Five different lines of newsprint were offered, including an all-rag news at 7 ? cents per pound.

A History of Long-Standing Relationships
The paper grades and product lines of the country's major mills have been carried by Bradner Smith, in many cases since the mills' founding. The company's general ledger of 1899 lists a number of mills whose products are still sold today, although many have new ownership themselves. They are: Champion Coated Paper Company, Crane and Company, Curtis Brothers, Fox River Paper Company, P.H. Glatfelter, Flambeau Paper Company, International Paper Company, St. Regis Paper Company, and Wausau Paper Mills. Doing business with some of the same outstanding mills and successor manufacturers for over 100 years is a unique record to hold. It has provided Bradner's customers with a variety of stable and continuing sources of supply for their paper needs through a single distributor. In the early 1900's Bradner's sales territory included 20 states and part of Canada. Over the years establishment of local paper merchants in the more distant areas, increases in freight rates, and general changes in market conditions resulted in the company's activities being confined to a progressively smaller area. An article published in the Chicago Evening Post in 1902 discussed some of the long-standing firms in the city. The article highlights Bradner Smith: "Bradner Smith & Company has the longest period of existence under one firm name of any house now in business in Chicago. Since 1852, it has had its present firm style." This still holds true today.

Growing & Changing with the Times
The company moved in 1902, their 50th Anniversary year, when the property they occupied was sold to build the First National Bank building. The offices were then transferred to Monroe Street. At that time, two warehouse buildings and stables for delivery horses were maintained on Desplaines Street on the Near West Side. In 1922, construction started on a modern seven-story office and warehouse at 333 South Desplaines Street. When completed, this facility contained over 240,000 square feet - at that time heralded as the largest paper warehouse in the world. This was the sixth location of Bradner Smith & Company and provided easy access to all sections of Chicago, its suburbs, and adjoining states.

Bradner Smith Today
Over the years, Bradner Smith & Company had ownership in paper mills (Winnebago Paper Mill in Rockton, IL; Tippecanoe Paper Mill at Monticello, IN; Ledyard Paper and Pulp Company in Kaukauna, WI); converters (Southern Central in Memphis and Lakeside Central in Chicago); and started sales organizations focused on the forms industry (Rotary Paper Manifold in Schiller Park, IL; Diameter Paper in Atlanta, GA; and Alto Paper in Dallas, TX). These sales organizations combined are now known as Bradner National, distributing paper to forms and direct mail printers. In September 2000, Bradner Smith & Company moved its corporate offices and main warehouse to Elk Grove Village, IL, after more than 75 years of business at their 333 Desplaines Street address. For more than 150 years, Bradner Smith & Company has prospered as an independent distributor by successfully satisfying their customers' needs. As one of the few remaining privately owned enterprises in its field, the company continues to provide quality products and services in an ever changing and increasingly competitive market. In September of 2005, the company purchased the assets of Quimby Walstrom, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, increasing their presence in the upper Midwest. Today, the company is well-positioned to effectively serve its valued customers from new and efficient warehouses in Elk Grove Village, IL and Butler, WI. All locations, which include sales offices in Appleton, WI, are staffed with local professionals who understand the unique needs of their respective markets and customers. The company continues to invest and build on its historical strengths which include: the ability to develop and maintain long-standing client and mill relationships; its financial stability; a professional, highly motivated sales team supported by a dedicated staff; superior logistics and technologies; a fully equipped paper testing laboratory; full sampling services; and an experienced management team.

Looking to the Future
Tim Shannon, president of Bradner Smith & Company, foresees continued opportunities for the independent, full-service, fine paper merchant in today's challenging market place. "Over the past several years, we have relocated each of our facilities, upgraded our information technology system, and significantly improved our customer services at our new distribution centers," says Shannon. "These endeavors represented a considerable investment on our part and were undertaken with one purpose in mind - to provide our valued customers with better service, quality products, and technical assistance. Our longevity and success to date could not have been achieved without the patronage and support of our loyal customers and mill partners."
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