The era of colorful, eye-catching product labels began with the development of lithography. Lithographic printing processes were originally used to produce art prints, maps, and for book illustrations like Currier and Ives prints and Audubon's Birds of America.
Large scale commercial application of lithography became possible with the introduction of the high-speed rotary offset press in 1875 and half-tone photolithography in 1890. These lithographic processes allowed printers to produce high-quality color images at a reasonable cost. Creating colorful lables for pre-packaged and brand name goods quickly grew to be a major segment of the printing industry.
Fruit Crate labels were commonly printed unsigned by the designer or artist, and without a date. However, an approximate span of years when a label was printed can sometimes be discovered when the company that designed and printed the label is indicated on the label (known as a "printer's bug.")
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H. S. Crocker Co. was founded in 1856 in Sacramento, CA. Union Lithograph Company was a printing firm established in San Francisco in 1888, originally under the name J.C. Hall & Company. After its plant was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, the company purchased the Los Angeles Lithographic Company. H.S. Crocker & Co. acquired that firm in 1922. From 1936 to 1946 the business operated as Crocker-Union.
Louis Roesch Co.
Based in San Francisco, CA, Louis Roesch Co. was established in 1879 and is still in operation.
Based in Seattle, Washington, Ridgway Litho operated from 1921 to sometime in the 1970s.
Schmidt Lithograph Company
Schmidt Lithograph Company operated under numberous names during its long history. First established as M. Schmidt & Co. in 1872, it was incorporated as the Schmidt Label & Lithographic Company in 1883. In 1899 Schmidt joined with other printers in the region to form the Mutual Label & Lithographic Company. When the business was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it reopened as the Schmidt Lithograph Company.
Simpson & Doeller
John Simpson began business in Baltimore, MD as a label printer in 1886. He was in business with Jacob Ringsdorf from 1890 to 1895 and with Henry Doeller after 1896. The company was known for creating stock labels. It was was acquired by the United States Printing Company in 1954
Stecher Lithograph opened in Rochester, New York in 1887. The company was acquired in 1936 by the Traung Lithographic Company of San Francisco to form Stecher-Traung and operated under that name until 1966, when the company was purchased by International Paper.
Traung Label and Lithography Co.
Founded in San Francisco, CA as Pingree Traung Company in 1911, the firm was renamed Traung Label and Lithography in 1916. It operated under that name until 1936 when the name was changed to Stecher-Traung.
United States Printing and Lithograph Co.
A printing collaborative formed in 1891 from a number of printing firms located in the northeastern United States. Operated under this name until 1959.
Western Litho Co.
Established in 1899 in Los Angeles, CA. , Western Litho was acquired by Warren Gilbert and William Jones in 1907 and renamed the Gilbert-Jones-Rugg Co. In 1908 the name reverted Western Lithograph. Western was bought by Brown-Bigelow in 1953.