• U.S.

CORPORATIONS: The King of Cockomamies

3 minute read

As president of Chicago’s Meyercord Co., Leonard Henry Knopf, 52, is the world’s decalcomania*king. Housewives use plastic or paper decals to decorate kitchen and nursery walls. Small fry, who call decals “cockomamies,” paste them on their arms to simulate tattoos. Businessmen use them in hundreds of ways: for trademarks on vending machines, store windows and products; for instructions on tractors, life rafts and planes (a 6-29 requires 2,700 decals); for tax stamps on cigarette packages. Even casketmakers use

Meyercord decals to make a pine coffin look like a marble one.

Last week Decalcomaniac Knopf, who calls his product “painting by way of the printing press,” offered a new plastic decal that looks like expensive wood. A dozen furniture makers already plan to use the new decals in their winter lines.

In 1894, when George Meyercord and his brother Henry set up shop in the backroom of a Loop barbershop, only about $100,000 worth of decals a year, mostly German imports, were used in the U.S. Meyercord carved out a domestic market by making decals for bicycle, sled and sewing-machine manufacturers. Len Knopf, whose father was a Meyercord pressman, started working in the plant during the summer as a press wiper when he was 16. After two years of college, he was hired as a salesman, by 1929 had worked up to sales manager. The Depression hit Meyercord hard, knocked sales down from $2,000,000 to $700,000; artists were put to work painting factory walls a different color every month just to keep busy. But Sales Manager Knopf’s ideas for broadening the industrial uses of decals soon had things humming again; when George Meyercord retired in 1937, Knopf took over the presidency.

One of President Knopf’s first acts was to set up a laboratory to test new decals. When lizard shoes became the rage, Meyercord soon produced a decal that imitated the real article. Such innovations have expanded Meyercord’s sales from $1,500,000 when Knopf took over to $9,300,000 last year, more than a third of the world’s decal sales. Net profit rose from $106,139 to $356,500. So widely are his decals used by industry that Knopf thinks his sales are a business barometer, because “we know when tractors are selling like hot cakes, and we know when sales slow down.” With sales expected to hit $10 million this year, Knopf’s barometer reads fair weather ahead.

*Literal meaning: a mania for transferring drawings. Decalcomania designs, made of inks, plastics, lacquers or varnishes, are transferred from coated paper to another surface by moisture, heat, pressure or chemical action.

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