The humble custom rubber stamp has been with us for a long time. While the continued use of stamps has been enduring, the origins are dubious. As to the first actual use of a rubber stamp… it’s fair to say there’s some room for debate. Yet, no matter which person you credit for creating the custom rubber stamp, there are several key names that deserve mention when discussing it’s history.
1. L.F. Witherell
In a 1916 paper, “How I Came to Discover the Rubber Stamp”, Witherell describes how he discovered custom rubber stamps by accident. According to Witherell, while working in Galesburg, IL, he stumbled upon the idea for the rubber stamp while trying to create a better way for stamping wooden pumps.
The end result was a piece of old bedpost with rubber lettering glued to it. Unfortunately, Witherell could never produce the invention. When asked, Witherell claimed the stamp had been stolen.
2. James Orton Woodruff (our favourite candidate for custom rubber stamp founder!)
Some time between 1864 and 1866, Woodruff became inspired by witnessing washtubs being rubber stamped with rubber letters. According to Woodruff’s cousin, Woodruff came up with the idea of using vulcanized rubber for manufacturing custom rubber stamps by watching the procedure.
To make the stamp, Woodruff used a vulcaniser that was used by dentists for making denture molds. For the mount, Woodruff chose black walnut wood. Woodruff’s factory output of custom rubber stamps hit a snag when the rubber came into contact with the ink. The inks contained a solvent that wreaked havoc on the rubber and caused customer complaints for Woodruff’s business.
3. Henry C. Leland
Even though both Woodruff and Witherell’s claim to invent the rubber stamp remain shaky, Leland’s claim is even more doubtful. According to Leland, he began experimenting with creating custom rubber stamps in a vulcaniser in Pittsfield, MA in 1864. Leland claimed to even go as far as contemplating pursuing a patent for his rubber stamp, but backed out at the last minute.
4. J.F.W. Dorman
While Dorman contributed greatly to the custom rubber stamp business, Dorman’s greatest contribution was in manufacturing vulcanisers. Dorman, a stencil salesman, became interested in rubber stamps in 1866 when introduced to them by an inventor.
5. R.H. Smith Manufacturing Company
By the 1870s, the custom rubber stamp had become an international business. In 1873, the R.H. Smith Manufacturing Company was the first company to export rubber stamp manufacturing. The company opened up a factory in Peru.
6. Fred R. Tannery
Fast forward almost 100 years, and custom rubber stamps finally enters the patent office. In 1959, Tannery, from New York City, applied for a patent for a handheld rubber stamp with interchangeable mounted characters. Tannery’s stamp moved the rubber stamp much closer to the types of custom rubber stamps in use today.
A Dubious Beginning, but a Strong Record of Use
Whomever you choose to believe as the inventor of the rubber stamp, there’s no doubt that custom rubber stamps have made their mark on the world (excuse the pun…). The rubber stamp has come a long way from its humble beginning to become a unique means of branding.
Image credit: fatedenied