FEATURE : Adapting to Change

A lifetime of history and over 1.5 million pieces of wood type reside at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. While visiting, GCF discovered the story of a company that has survived in spite of its original product line becoming obsolete.

When the J.E. Hamilton Holly Wood Type Company was founded in 1880, it manufactured wood type for printing. Its Midwest location suited the business well as the population grew and print shops and newspapers flourished. Purchasing wood type from the east and having it shipped was too costly, so these fledgling businesses turned to Hamilton instead.

As metal type began to replace wood type over the years, Hamilton faced a choice: close down or evolve. The company chose the latter and completely transformed its product line to stay in business. They began making medical cabinets, and then medical tables. The company even branched out to metal cabinets for dryers as modern conveniences flooded into homes. Today, the company is still in existence as Thermo Fisher Scientific, a producer of lab equipment.

When museum director Jim Moran told us the Hamilton story, we were struck by the company’s ability to change their brand to fit the times. The museum has taken a page from Hamilton’s book as well. Retail giant Target is planning to release a new line of clothing with images from the museum’s Globe Printing Plate collection. This collaboration could increase the visibility of the museum and open the door for fundraising opportunities that could help preserve the history of wood type—and the Hamilton company—for future generations.