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Bradner Smith & Company

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 11 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 listed 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.

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 the 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; Ladyard 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 Wood Dale, IL; Diameter Paper in Atlanta, and Alto Paper in Dallas, TX). The sales organizations combined are now known as Bradner National, distributing paper to commercial printers in their respective markets, in addition 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 the ever changing and increasingly competitive market. Today, the company is well-positioned to effectively serve its valued customers from its 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 that understand the unique needs of their respective markets and customers.
Friday, October 31, 2014