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Retired at 95, Printer Turns 100

August 2003
MILWAUKEE—Five years ago, Arthur Wetzel extended an invitation to Joe Davis, chairman and CEO of Consolidated Graphics.

"Joe, I'd like to invite you to my 100th birthday party," remarked Wetzel.

Davis, who had just purchased Wetzel Brothers from Wetzel, assured him, "I'll be there."

Wetzel joked, "I hope I am."

On August 15, Wetzel got his wish as he arrived at his 100th birthday celebration—attended by family and friends—in a vintage Rolls Royce once owned by the late Shah of Iran.

Wetzel, who retired from the printing industry only five years ago with the sale of his company to Houston-based Consolidated Graphics, has spent 80-plus years as a commercial printer.

Arthur Wetzel grew up in the printing industry. His father and uncle founded Wetzel Brothers in 1885. As German artisans they settled in Wisconsin. Wetzel Brothers began providing printed letterhead and business cards, and eventually became a leading printer of multicolor sheetfed lithography.

Arthur worked part-time in the family business before heading off to college. "I worked part-time during the summer in the typesetting department and would start my day cleaning the floor with an oil mop to keep the dust down. I learned to set type by hand. I really learned the business from the ground up," he recalls.

Wetzel went to work for the family business as a sales rep upon graduation in 1926. In 1938, he began purchasing company stock with an initial investment of $7,000.

"I had a deal with the president of the bank that I would repay the loan at $100 a month. I always made sure that I paid a couple of days ahead so that my credit would be noteworthy."

But, as Wetzel assumed the responsibility of running the company, he realized that he needed help. Wetzel began meeting with other printers to share information on management practices and new technologies at meetings in Washington, DC. Wetzel would often take a "sit-up" train overnight rather than the more expensive Pullman service to Washington, DC, to meet with other like-minded printers.

The group was the forerunner of today's Printing Industries of America (PIA). "I even remember when they illustrated the concept of budgeting at a meeting by setting up milk bottles and dividing change among them," laughs Wetzel.

The networking and plant visits that grew from his interactions inspired Wetzel to grow his business.

At one evening session, Gaylord Donnelley of RR Donnelley told Wetzel, "Remember, when you stand at the end of a four-color press you are examining finished copy. You know at that time that the color is complete and in register." Wetzel was impressed with his analysis. "I went home and ordered the Miehle Co. of Chicago to convert my two-color press into a four-color press, the first in Milwaukee," Wetzel remembers. Always believing there was more to learn, Wetzel continued to attend PIA meetings, even serving as the association's national president in 1952.

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