Interview with Charlie Kittredge, Chairman of Crane & Co., United States of America
Located in Dalton Massachusetts, Crane & Co. can trace its roots back to the American Revolutionary War, when their paper mill printed the very first colonial bank notes. After its official founding in 1801, the 19th Century saw the family business sign a contract with the government to produce the United States’ currency paper which they retain until today.
Charlie Kittredge is a member of the sixth generation of the Crane family and currently, serves as the Chairman of the Board. Today the company is primarily a producer of bank notes and currency. As well, they develop and manufacture security features that go into bank notes, passports and other products.
It is Kittredge’s responsibility to oversee the company as it navigates a modern world. But evolving with the ever-changing times is how Crane & Co. has been able to remain in business all these years. There was a time when a good chunk of their business came from printing stationery and stock certificates. So when both personal correspondence and Wall Street went electronic, Crane & Co. had to adapt to survive.
Tharawat Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Charlie Kittredge to discuss his family’s close ties to American History and how they are adapting to being a paper company in an increasingly paperless world.
Is it true that your company’s roots go back to the start of the American Revolutionary War?
If you go way back to our roots, Zenas Crane operated a paper mill outside of Boston called The Liberty Mill. It was right at the epicentre of the American Revolution. They made paper that was used to print The Massachusetts Spy which was a revolutionary paper that circulated during the occupation of Boston by the British. And they sold paper to a man named Paul Revere, who used it to print the first colonial currency.
Later the family built a mill on the Housatonic River in Dalton, Massachusetts, and we sold our first product in 1801. That’s when we credit the start of Crane & Company. I can look out my office window and still see the foundation of that first mill from my office.
Was it always clear to you that you would join the family business?
I didn’t think when I was growing up that I would play a significant role in the business. I worked in the company when I was young, growing up as a teenager. But, I had a career outside of Crane. However, every generation before me was an active part of the business. My father was involved, my uncles, my grandfather and great-grandfather worked in the business too. Crane & Company was who we were and is who we are. I came to the business from the top, you might say, as I was asked to be on the Board at some point. I stayed on the Board for a while, then I became Chief Executive Officer and now I am Chairman.
Can you give us a snapshot of Crane & Co.’s operation today?
We have operations in Dalton, Massachusetts. Six paper mills, four of which are still quite active. We have executive offices in Boston, Massachusetts. We have a security technology plant in New Hampshire and an R&D facility in Georgia. We now have a paper mill and currency print plant in Sweden. And we’re building another print plant in Malta. It’s quite different from the small domestic business we were before.
Tell us more about the evolution of paper as a technology product. What is the R&D and innovation that your family is looking to achieve?
There used to be 90 paper mills in Massachusetts in the last century. And now there is one, outside of Crane. So, we have tried to build on our expertise and to be relevant in the marketplace. If you look to our past, you can see a variety of different products that we designed, ranging from carbon paper to graphing paper, stationery, ledger paper, and even men’s shirt collars. We went into more high-tech water filtration applications. And we actually have a product on the Mars Rover.
But currency, where our focus is, today is much more focused on security. Anti-counterfeiting features are at the core of our production. We’ve had the United States currency contract for 150 years. And even the first time we bid for that contract, part of the specification was weaving a silk thread into the paper as an anti-counterfeiting device. We spend a lot of money on a lot of research figuring out how to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters. We either make the paper or print the bank notes for over 12 to 15 billion bank notes per year.