I often look at "Greenwich Before 2000" (GHS) to get ideas for topics to discuss on this blog. Recently, I was surprised to read that Arthur Pitney - inventor of the postage meter - lived in Cos Cob in 1921. The book also mentioned that his partner, B.H. Bowes, was also a resident of Greenwich. I knew that the Pitney-Bowes Company had an office in Stamford, but had no idea the business partners were local residents.
Arthur Pitney was born in Quincy, Illinois, in 1871. In 1890, his family moved to Chicago. It was here in 1893 that young Arthur toured the World's Columbian Exposition, and became very interested in mechanical inventions. This would prove to be very useful in the future.
While working in a wallpaper store, Arthur thought there had to be a better way to attach postage to the hundreds of letters the store sent out to customers. He felt the manual process was wasteful in terms of time and money. Being interested in mechanical invenrions, he created a machine to simplify business mailing. Arthur built the first postage meter with a manual crank, chain, printing die, counter and lockout device. In 1902, he founded the Pitney Postal Machine Company. By 1912, it was renamed the American Postage Meter Company.
Unfortunately, Pitney wasn't much of a marketer. He had spent $90,000 of his own money on this device, but got little interest from the Post Office Department. His patent was expiring and he had little to show for his investment. Not only did his finances suffer, but his marriage was ruined. He decided to abandon the project, and resorted to selling insurance. Fortunately, someone introduced him to Walter Bowes in 1919.
Walter Bowes was born in England in 1882. His family immigrated to the United States. By 1908, he was selling check endorsing machines to automate processing, and eventually bought the Universal Stamping Company. He started renting stamp cancelling machines to the Post Office Department, and promoted permit printing. Bowes moved his operation to Stamford in 1917.
Bowes believed postage stamps would become obsolete. He thought automation was the way to go. During a discussion with a Postal official, the suggestion was made that he contact Arthur Pitney. Pitney was good at manufacturing, and Bowes was great at marketing. By 1920, the two formed the Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter Company. In September, the Post Office approved the purchase of their Model M Postage Meter Company. This device improved the mailing process tremendously by affixing postage to great volumes of mail at high speed. A main manufacturing office was opened in Stamford, and by 1922, there were branch offices in 12 major American cities as well as Canada and England. Corporations saw the promise of these machines, and started placing orders. Pitney-Bowes became a rousing success.
Despite the success, Pitney and Bowes had personal issues, and Arthur Pitney resigned in 1924 after a dispute with Walter Bowes. Three years later, he had a stroke and in 1933, he passed away at the age of 62. Bowes was not very disciplined. He hated working in the office, and preferred to sail his boat. Bowes retired in 1940, and his stepson, Walter Wheeler, took over. Bowes died in 1957 at the age of 75.
The company flourished from 1930 to 1960 under the leadership of Bowes and Walter Wheeler. In 1950, the company went public with its stock. Pitney-Bowes acquired the Monarch Marking System Company - creator of the retail barcode - in 1960. The decade from 1970 to 1980 saw great expansion, and in 1976 the Pitney-Bowes Credit Corporation was created to offer financing options to PB customers. The company entered the office copy machine an FAX market. PB also acquired the dictation machine giant Dictaphone. In 1990, the company began manufacturing barcode printers. By 2000, Pitney-Bowes had invested a total of $2.5 billion in making 83 acquisitions!
Perhaps as a cost-cutting measure, Pitney-Bowes sold its World Headquarters in Stamford and moved to 3001 Summer Street in 2014. Otherwise, it appears to be flourishing as the economy appears to rebound. If it continues to be on "the cutting edge" of changing technology, it should thrive for years to come.
It's hard to imagine what the world would be like today without the Pitney-Bowes postage meter and business systems. Pitney and Bowes represent the best in business innovation.
The Funding Universe: Pitney-Bowes Inc. History, n.d.: Online website: Accessed 12/12/2014.