George C. Bragdon, editor, Notable Men of Rochester and the Vicinity: XIX and XX Centuries, (Rochester: Dwight J Stoddard, 1902), p. 283, Frank F. Pulver; digitized in “Notable men of Rochester and vicinity : XIX and XX centuries” database with images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 May 2021), image 329 of 415.
According to the New York Times on 3 October 1902, F.F. Pulver & Co. (advertising and decorative articles) was incorporated in Albany with a starting capital of $200,000. The directors were listed as F.F. Pulver, C.T. Chapin, and F.P. Allen. In the 1902 city directory Charles B. Ernst was listed as the company’s Vice-President and Treasurer.
However, the business was likely started earlier in the year. In March of 1902 the Rochester Newspaper, The Democrat and Chronicle, stated William F. Durnham, a former police clerk, left his position and a promotion in order to join F.F. Pulver in his advertising novelty business. Additionally, there were “Help Wanted” adverts for the F.F. Pulver Company that began as early as May of that same year.
In July of 1902 F.F. Pulver’s Chemical Company was reorganized, putting Franklin’s brother Henry in charge of the operation. The Pulver Chemical Company was formed in 1900 and specialized in gum machines, pectin gum, and breath sprays. This split freed Franklin up to spend his energy on the new novelty company.
Rochester Directory for the year beginning July 1, 1903, (Rochester: Drew Allis Company, 1903), p. 960, F.F. Pulver Co.; digitized in “U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995,” database with images, Ancestry, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 May 2021), New York > Rochester > 1903 > image 552 of 1054.
Their first big break came in February 1903 when they were commissioned to create over 1,000 prize ribbons for the Rochester Kennel Club Dog Show. They were praised for their quality and were deemed “the finest ones used at any show.” With this kind of start it was hard to see how quickly the tides would turn against them.
In their time they were a much needed rival to the Whitehead and Hoag Company that were also selling celluloid advertisements. The company’s major contributions to political campaign buttons came during the 1904 Presidential campaign of Teddy Roosevelt and Alton Parker. That same year they also created buttons for Archibald Wasson’s New York General Assembly run.
The Button Museum, F.F. Pulver Button Back, /buttons/archibald-wasson-assembly/
Additionally, they had cultivated a relationship with the Wrigley Chewing Gum company to produce buttons that were given away with Sweet 16 Gum. These buttons featured the flags of different countries on their faces and were completed by both F.F. Pulver and Whitehead & Hoag, likely due to Pulver’s eventual collapse the same year as the buttons’ release. This relationship, however, may have helped Pulver later in life as he was rumored to have sold his recipe for chewing gum to Wrigley for a reported $1 million dollars.
The first signs of trouble for Pulver’s celluloid company came in 1905. On 9 February 1905, Pulver was interviewed by the Democrat and Chronicle about rumors of trouble within the company. In the article published he goes on record in an attempt to dispel any rumors of financial troubles. He went on to claim that the company was actually quite successful saying, “So far as the company is concerned, I would say that we have on hand $30,000 worth of orders at present and are doing good business.” He also claimed that the company’s liabilities were less than $24,000 and their assets were more than $86,000. In the end, however, these claims would prove false.
A few days later the directors of the company had a meeting and set about dissolving the company. At the time there were a total of five directors. Pulver, as President and Richard J Decker were against the appointing of a receiver. On the other hand, G.A. Carnahan and G.A. Vosburgh were in favor of one. The fifth director George R. Brainard was out of town, but was suspected of siding with Pulver. A “Receivership” is an alternative to bankruptcy where an individual is appointed, by either a company or the courts, to manage the consolidation of debt when a company is considered insolvent. This indecision would ultimately end up in the courts as many creditors, contractors, and investors claimed to have gone unpaid. There was much debate over who would eventually become the company’s Receiver. When a temporary receiver was finally assigned it was William Butler Chittenden who stepped into the role.
In mid-February the company decided to appoint Frank M Goff as referee. The referee would be the point person for whom creditors could petition with reasons that the company should not be dissolved and to settle outstanding debts. A creditors hearing was also set for the 22nd of May.
As part of the court proceedings Pulver submitted an affidavit. In this affidavit the state of the company’s finances were in direct opposition to what he had claimed a few weeks prior to the press. Where he had previously claimed to have less than $24,000 in liabilities he now claimed that the company’s debts totaled $81, 872.32. Likewise, where he had stated that the company’s assets were more than $86,000 the reality according to the affidavit was that there was $84.80 in the safe and no money elsewhere. The inventory showed assets of $109,000 but Pulver argued that this estimate was inflated and would in fact fetch far less money if sold. It also went on to state that payroll for employees was 3-weeks past due.
Sale of Business
In the early morning of February 26th, 1905 calls came in about a fire at a building adjoining the Pulver Plant. This was of great concern on two fronts. First, because of the explosive nature of celluloid and secondly due to the insurance being allowed to partly expire. Due to this a quick sale of the property was allowed by Justice Foote. The following month in March 1905 F.F. Pulver & Company sold to Bastian Brothers, a metal badge maker, for $20,200. Bastion bought the Pulver plant with plans to combine the celluloid and metal badge businesses and invest $12,000 into extending the existing factory. The book value of Pulver’s equipment was listed at $71,000 though it was suspected of being in poor condition/ decreased value.
They also had plans to bring aboard the existing staff saying, “Some of the more difficult and little known Pulver processes [...] are in possession of certain employees, it is understood, who will enter the service of the Bastian Company.” One such individual being William F. Durnham, who had left his job as a police clerk, and had been with the company from the start, working as a secretary and sales manager. After the sale to Bastian he went with the new company eventually being promoted to secretary and finally gaining a seat on the board that he held until his death in 1933.
The Court Battles
In the ensuing court battles some of Pulver’s questionable business practices came to light, Frank Hone, the attorney for the stockholders and creditors stated that Mr. Pulver had locked the secretary and treasurer out of the safe, books, and mailbox, as well as, hired a man, Charles Weston, with no known purpose or experience within the company who was receiving a hefty salary of $10 a day or $100 a week. Hone went on to state that, “The concern must have been grossly mismanaged and the money was worse than wasted. Weston sat around the office, doing nothing [...]” and that he “received more salary than anyone else connected with the company.” It was also stated that if the stockholders and creditors were not paid back that the directors themselves would be subject to further suits. Whether in an attempt to avoid further suits or simply having hit hard financial times after the collapse of F.F. Pulver Co. Franklin F. Pulver filed for bankruptcy by the end of 1905. In the end it wasn’t until September 1906 that F.F. Pulver was finally dissolved in the courts.
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