Friday, March 9, 2012

Walter, I Need to Warn You...

Young Walter Gemmill received these cards in 1907. Based on what I found on the Family History Library and Census records, Walter was born in 1904. Later Census records show him working in a clerical position and then as a purchasing agent in 1930. Walter was three years old when he received these cards. I would like to have added a note on the cards, a word of caution for Walter. It might have saved him a lot of grief.

It seems that at the age of eighteen Walter started working as an office boy for the Milton C. Johnson Company, a New York corporation that printed and supplied stationery for banks. Over the years he worked his way up the corporate ladder to become president.

At some point in about 1960 the company made an investment of three or four million dollars in new equipment. As a result, the company was a little strapped for cash, and Walter started factoring accounts. In other words, as soon as the company submitted bills to its customers, a factoring company would advance Milton. C. Johnson Co. 85% of that amount, so the company could meet payroll. When the customers paid their bills, the factoring company received the full amount, i.e. a 15% fee. However, in October, 1970 the factoring company notified Walter that they would not meet the day's payroll, nor would they do so in the future. They had no contractual obligation, so there's not much Walter or Milton C. Johnson Co. could do.

Walter himself hadn't received a salary in over a month and was owed back wages. He called the employees in and told them the company was out of business and that there was no money to pay their wages.  A lawsuit followed, which held Walter, as an office of the corporation, liable for putting the employees at risk and violating the Labor Law.  I don't know what became of Walter after that, although he died in 1988. It would appear that he never married or had children. It's sad to think that the company was his life. To read the text of the legal case, click here.

Here are the backs of the cards, missing the note that I would have added.


  1. Quite the story! How interesting.

  2. what sweet images!!
    what a sad outcome for "Master Walter"!

  3. Crazy story, 48 years at a business basically ruined by one bad decision... The cards are fairly odd, and I find the second one especially mournful, the black background doesn't help- I imagine that is Walter with his back to us watching his little boat sail away to eventually sink. OK, maybe I'm reading into it a bit much...

  4. It seems to me the factoring company, Armstrong, was the one at fault. I feel so sorry for Walter.
    But they sure are cute postcards!

  5. Lovely cards. Walter could have done with that warning!

  6. Die sind ja richtig toll.
    Wie süß die sind.
    Liebe Grüße und einen guten Start in die Woche

  7. Wow! I'm always impressed with your research, Christine. Now, I'm impressed and depressed:) What a sad story ... Poor Master Walter...



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