The inventor of the first commercially feasible self-adhesive label machine, R. Stanton Avery founded Avery International which, since merging with Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1990, is known today as Avery Dennison, a Fortune 500 company.
Despite his quiet demeanor, Stan was something of a rebel in his youth. Unlike his brother who followed their father into the ministry, Stan chose to study liberal arts at Pomona College. There, he befriended a student of Chinese background. Eager for adventure, they and a group of friends took a year off from their studies to travel in China. The year was 1929 and Stan was 22 years old.
The trip, which he called his introduction to the real world, left an indelible mark on his life. Along the way he encountered a revolution in progress, saw firsthand the terrible poverty of the masses, and observed the lack of civil liberties. Withstanding the hardships of travel in a country with few amenities boosted his self-confidence to handle whatever situations might come his way. It also fueled his interest in social organizations and in effective ways of motivating people to accomplish goals.
Returning to California at the beginning of the Depression, Stan paid for his last year of college by working at the Midnight Mission, a nonprofit organization that aided people living on the streets of Los Angeles and which still operates in the same location to this day. After graduation, he spent two years working for the Los Angeles County Department of Charities collecting statistics on poverty.
His career in the public sector ended in 1933 when the father of a college classmate, the owner of the Adhere Paper Company, offered him a job. The company made bumper stickers for cars driven in funeral processions and, ironically, provided the fertile soil for Stan’s Yankee ingenuity to flourish.
A descendant of nine generations of New England farmers and clockmakers, Stan inherited his ancestors’ restless curiosity and bent for tinkering. When he was a boy, his father taught him to operate the church’s printing press and throughout his high school and college years, he earned pocket money by printing dance programs for campus socials.
His experience running a printing press provided a bridge to the technology of making adhesive labels. His tinkering paid off: within two years he had developed a new technology for producing self-adhesive labels. Stan recognized the potential of his invention but needed capital to start a business.
His new bride, Dorothy Durfee, came to his rescue. She secured a $50 bank loan using as collateral the Ford Model “A” she had paid for with her earnings as a school teacher, leading to the long-running family joke that Stan married Dorothy for her money. In 1935 the couple launched Kum-Kleen Adhesive Products, which they ran as co-owners and equal partners.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Excerpted from The Durfee Foundation, the First 50 Years, by Deanne Stone