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Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, Inc., lived the American dream. Born Aug. 29, 1891, in tiny David City, Neb., Hall overcame both poverty and a lack of a formal education to become the architect of an industry, friend of two presidents and a prime minister, patron of the arts, and recipient of high honors from three nations.
Though J.C. Hall became a wealthy man, profit was never foremost in his thoughts. In his autobiography, When You Care Enough, Hall wrote: “If a man goes into business with only the idea of making a lot of money, chances are he won’t. But if he puts service and quality first, the money will take care of itself. Producing a first-class product that is a real need is a much stronger motivation for success than getting rich.”
Hall never lost his plain-spoken, common sense, man-of-the-plains touch, despite being: Commander of the Order of the British Empire; holder of the French Legion of Honor; winner of the Eisenhower Medallion; first-name intimate of Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman; winner of the first Emmy ever awarded to a television sponsor; recipient of plaques, scrolls and honorary degrees, and the Horatio Alger Award.
A Boy Named Joyce
Joyce Hall was the youngest son of George Nelson Hall and Nancy Dudley Houston Hall. The family was poor. His parents also were religious – a fact that led to the unlikely first name of Joyce. As he recounted in his autobiography, Hall was born on the day a Methodist bishop named Isaac W. Joyce happened to be in David City.
The Hall family moved to Norfolk, Neb., before the turn of the century. Young Joyce, after his initial venture selling perfume to neighbors, clerked in his brother’s bookstore after school.
High Hopes and a Shoe Box of Post Cards
When he was 16, Joyce and his two older brothers, Rollie and William, pooled their money and opened the Norfolk Post Card Company. But the market for imported post cards was limited, and the new business hung on by a thread.
In January 1910, at the age of 18, Joyce dropped out of high school over the objections of his family, crammed two shoe boxes full of postcards, and boarded a train for Kansas City, Mo. At first, he called on drugstores, bookstores and gift shops. As business picked up, he ventured into the outlands, to the towns served by the railroads running in all directions from the burgeoning Midwestern rail center.
Business was promising enough that Rollie joined him the following year. The young men opened a specialty store in downtown Kansas City, dealing in post cards, gifts, books and stationery. In the early days, Hall Brothers bought designs created and manufactured elsewhere and sold them wholesale.
On Jan. 11, 1915 – five years and a day after Hall’s arrival in Kansas City – his entire inventory was wiped out by fire. The brothers floated a loan and bought an engraving firm that had done work for them previously. Thus the stage was set for the creation of the first original Hallmark designs.
In 1921, William Hall, who had stayed in Norfolk to run the bookstore, joined Joyce and Rollie in Kansas City, and in 1923, they formed Hall Brothers, Inc., the predecessor of today’s Hallmark.
The Midas Touch
In his own bailiwick, Hall had the Midas touch. Maybe it was intuition. Maybe it was timing. But whatever it was, it worked.
In the 1920s he wanted to substitute the phrase, “A Hallmark Card,” for “Hall Brothers Company” on the back of greeting cards. “Everybody in the place was against it,” he said, but he made the change.
Later, when everybody told him advertising was a waste of money, he advertised, and established Hallmark as the most recognizable brand name in the industry.
He was warned against sponsoring a television show. After he decided to do it anyway, he was warned against sponsoring classics. “Go for the mass audience,” he was told. Hall ignored that advice, too. Instead of mass-appeal mediocrity, he insisted on quality. He launched the “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” which after more than 50 years is television’s most honored and enduring dramatic series. “I’d rather make 8 million good impressions than 28 million bad ones,” he said.
“Mr. J.C.” was Hallmark Cards for 56 years. “Good taste is good business” was his creed. Until 1966, when he stepped aside as chief executive officer in favor of his son, Donald J. Hall, no Hallmark greeting card reached the marketplace without his “O.K.J.C.” imprimatur.
Bent on Quality
Hall never totally retired. Not one to drop out of sight, he continued as chairman of the board and kept a close watch on quality. “I’m bent on quality,” he used to say. Whether buying or selling, Hall appreciated and demanded value.
In semi-retirement, he spent a part of each summer in Malibu, Calif. But the rest of the year he put in a day’s work just as he had done almost every day of his life since he began selling perfume door-to-door at age 9.
The Kansas City Spirit
When Hall moved to Kansas City in 1910, he had no thought of founding a great company or building a great fortune. He just thought Kansas City would be a good place for a hard-working young man to make a living. He liked the Kansas City spirit. In many ways, Hall was the embodiment of the Kansas City spirit.
As chairman of the board, no longer restricted by the day-to-day responsibility of running the company, Hall kept a close watch on Crown Center, the privately financed city-within-a-city developed by Hallmark adjacent to its international headquarters.
Land development is an unusual venture for a greeting card company. But Hall was an unusual man. The commercial decay that had pervaded his urban neighborhood bothered him. No one else stepped forward with a renewal plan, so he did. “I just don’t like to sit around and wait for something to happen,” he said. “It’s more fun making it happen.” And J.C. Hall made things happen. Today, Crown Center is a bustling residential, office, hotel and entertainment district that not only has turned the tide of decline within its 85-acre boundaries, but also has been the catalyst for development in adjoining neighborhoods.
Joyce C. Hall demanded excellence of himself and others, and he got it. Yet he appraised himself as a man who had achieved success primarily because he had worked harder than others. “I figured I wasn’t as smart as some of the other fellows, so I had to work twice as hard,” he said.
Mr. Hall died Oct. 29, 1982, at the age of 91. Hall and his wife, Elizabeth, who were married in 1921, had three children: Elizabeth Ann Reid, Denton, Texas; Barbara Louise Marshall, Kansas City, Mo.; and Donald Joyce Hall, Mission Hills, Kan., who is chairman of the company his father founded. His grandson, Donald J. Hall, Jr., is now president and CEO.