WWI: United States Playing Card Company’s Red Cross Unit
Posted On: 06/14/2017 - 10:02am, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Director of History Collections and Library
April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
On January 16, 1919, six hundred female employees of the Russell-Morgan Plants of Norwood (United States Playing Card Company and the United States Printing Company) gathered in the corporate dining hall to be honored for their service in WWI as members of the company’s Red Cross Unit. The honorees, dressed in their Red Cross uniforms, enjoyed a full program of music by Esberger’s Orchestra, speeches and reports by various dignitaries including Mr. John Omwake, president of U.S. Playing Card, and a fine dinner of fried spring chicken, green peas, and scalloped potatoes.
Fold-out illustration from pamphlet “Red Cross Dinner and Entertainment Tendered to the Red Cross Unit….of The United States Playing Card Co., The United States Printing & Lithograph Co.” 1919. CMC Printed Works Collection.
These six hundred women had volunteered for their company’s Red Cross Unit during the war and had worked at least one evening per week, after completing their normal work shifts. They made socks, sweaters, surgical dressings, scarfs, wristlets, and other articles badly needed by the Red Cross. The women also participated in wartime fundraising activities including the Liberty Loan Drives, War Chest Drives, Roll of Honor Service Clubs, and other war charities.
At the dinner, Mrs. Virginia Lee Roessler, Chairman of Woman’s Work for the Norwood Branch of the Red Cross, expressed her feelings about the sacrifices made by the women volunteers at U.S. Playing Card and U. S. Printing when she said “In my estimation six days a week given by someone who really had nothing else to do was not one-half so great a sacrifice nor showed one-half the loyal, real American spirit as the girls who were employed all day and devoted one evening a week to the service.”
Mr. H. E. Engelhardt, the Mayor of Norwood, endorsed this sentiment during his remarks when he stated “I can safely say, without drawing invidious comparisons, that the Unit that met in this building, after spending hours at its daily tasks, and gave extra hours not of toil, not of hatred or revenge, but of labor of love, to relieve suffering, have not only set an example to others, but have ennobled themselves.” The mayor urged those in attendance to finds ways to continue to exercise the lessons of kindness, helpfulness, and love for others that they had demonstrated during the war.
Cover and title page of pamphlet “Red Cross Dinner and Entertainment Tendered to the Red Cross Unit….of The United States Playing Card Co., The United States Printing & Lithograph Co.” 1919. CMC Printed Works Collection.
At the banquet, the women of the Red Cross Unit presented an engraved silver tray to Mr. Omwake expressing their good wishes. The presentation apparently took Omwake by surprise and left him struggling to find the words to properly thank the women.
The Russell-Morgan Printing Company was established in Cincinnati in 1867 and got into the printing of playing cards in 1881. The company changed its name to The United States Printing and Lithograph Company in 1891. The playing card business became so successful that the decision was made in 1894 to incorporate that part of the business separately as The United States Playing Card Company. In 1900 U.S. Playing Card moved from downtown Cincinnati to new facilities on Beech Street in Norwood. United States Printing and Lithograph also had a building at Robertson and Beech in Norwood. In 1919, John Omwake was the president of both companies.
(Top) U.S. Playing Card Company, Norwood, Ohio, 1900. Image SC#296-1510, (Bottom) U.S. Printing and Lithograph Co., Norwood, Ohio, 1916. Image SC#296-1517. Both images from the Rombach and Groene Photograph Collection at CMC.
At the banquet, Mr. Omwake also noted the contributions of employees who served in the military during the war. He said “there were from The United States Playing Card Company, and The United States Printing and Lithograph Company a total of three hundred and ninety-five men in the Army and Navy. One hundred and sixty of them went overseas; ten of whom lost their lives on the battlefields of France. All Honor and Glory to their memories.”