The Thomas Family
The picture of Evan Thomas is about what you’d expect from an independent businessman of the early 20th century. Craggy, with a cigar in his mouth, he looks like a tough, determined printer. Evan founded his company, Thomas Press, on the second floor at 316 Broadway in Waukesha. He set high standards for the new company and it succeeded, establishing a name in the Milwaukee area.
In 1936, Evan’s son Gerald (Gerry) joined the business with his father. Like most upstarts of his day, Gerry was focused on modernization, and it’s easy to imagine the arguments he must have had with his crusty Dad. He did succeed in keeping the company up to date, moving the business to it’s present location at 920 Friedman Drive.
In 1959, the company added a new employee. Svend Heinisch was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and attended the Graphical College of Copenhagen. He first came to the US in 1954 as an exchange student, then emigrated from Denmark in 1958. He worked for a time at the United Nations Printing Department in New York, then joined the staff at Thomas Press in 1959.
In 1962, Svend purchased Thomas Press from Gerald’s wife, Thelma, and the Heinisch family has managed the printing business since that time. An old brochure from the period (see below) gives some insight to the modern printing business of the mid-20th century. The brochure features the tagline “creative color craftsmen.” Business forms and stationery were at the top of the product list, but advertising materials and direct mail are also listed, along with checks and vouchers “encoded with magnetic ink.” The company was also producing annual reports for a good many companies in the area, and the brochure reads, “Your stockholders like to be impressed.”
The 1960s and 70s were successful years for the business. Printing technology changed gradually and the old letterpress operations were slowly displaced by offset presses. Thomas Press changed with the industry, adding darkroom, stripping and plating operations, along with several offset presses.
Marion, Dave, and Derrick Heinisch
In the late 1970s, Dave Heinisch joined the staff, followed by his brother Derrick a few years later. The late 1980s brought the advent of technological change that would transform the business over the next 20 years. Dave remembers the first computer coming into the business:
“We were early getting into desktop publishing. The first computer was an Apple and it probably cost more than a car. I went to class at Milwaukee School of Graphic Arts to learn how to use the programs. Computer typesetting made an amazing difference. In those days, it took nearly a week to strip and plate an annual report. Now it could all be done on screen and the negatives came out of a box . . . amazing.”
Rapid advances in print technology brought the company into the new century. Offset printing processes became much faster with the addition of computer-to-plate systems that eliminated the need for darkrooms and tedious printing plate preparation. High speed duplicators for black and white print were augmented by digital color copiers in the late 1990s and digital presses in the early 2000s.
In 2006, after Svend’s death, his wife Marion took over the management of the family business. Marion is semi-retired now, but continues to be involved. Today, Thomas Press is run by sons Dave and Derrick, who continue both the family tradition and the history of a more than a century old Waukesha institution.
Naturally, there have been dramatic changes as the business has progressed through the years. The company certainly looks different than it did in Evan Thomas’ time. Thomas Press continues to produce and source a wide range of print and print-related products, but with a much smaller team. According to Dave,
“We do a lot with a small team. We’re good at it and our customers value the services and products they receive. There’s still a place for a local printing company today. Even as communications channels have changed in the 21st century, there are applications where print just works best. There’s always a place for craftsmanship and for customer-oriented local businesses that provide personal and reliable service. That’s us. That’s the niche that Thomas Press fills. “
Establishing a relationship with a printing company in your area can have significant advantages. Thomas Press is the print provider of choice for many businesses and organizations in southeastern Wisconsin. If your firm is seeking a reliable partner for print, we hope you’ll contact us.