The greeting card industry may be older than you think. The custom of sending a colorful, thoughtful, short message on paper is as old as printing itself. Europeans began exchanging paper greetings in the 1400s, and long before that, the ancient Chinese sent each other New Year's greetings on small pieces of paper.
The man credited with bringing the greeting card industry to Americans is Louis Prang, a German lithographer and wood engraver. He immigrated from Breslau, Germany to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1850s. In 1856 he, along with a man named Julius Meyer, founded a lithography business, Prang & Meyer, in Boston. The business, which later became L. Prang & Co., produced illustrations for various publications, business cards, announcements, picture cards, and even maps of the Civil War. However, after a trip to Germany to learn the latest techniques in lithography, Louis Prang returned with a new product idea - greeting cards. At first his main market was in England, but in 1875 he introduced the Christmas card to Americans. It was a huge hit. Prang soon became known as the "Father of the American Christmas Card."
Prang's greeting cards peaked in popularity in the 1890s after which the greeting card entered a slight decline. Following World War I, the greeting card industry again began to thrive as publishers made use of new innovations in printing and coloring. By the 1950s, the greeting card in its present form was established firmly as part of American social culture.
While browsing in our collections this week, my colleagues and I came across several large and varied collections of greeting cards from the late 19th and early 20th century in The Filson Library. These were cards received and saved in large colorful scrapbook by Kentucky women. These scrapbooks contain a variety of cards for every occasion - from birthdays to New Years. We enjoyed examining these pieces of the past, and thought you would as well. Please enjoy the samples below from the scrapbooks of Ruby A. Henry, Josephine Longest, E.V. Naylor, and Elvira Tompkins Williams.
Information taken from:
Greeting Card Association, "The History of Greeting Cards" (http://www.greetingcard.org/AbouttheIndustry/History/tabid/72/Default.aspx)
Archive of American Art, "Louis Prang Papers, 1848-1932" (http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/louis-prang-papers-9709/more)