It is perhaps fitting that DWS Printing Associates, a Deer Park company that for generations has used elegant typography and imagery to dress up humble food and drink labels, celebrated its 150th anniversary with a bottle of beer.
Since its founding in the waning days of the Civil War, the company has made a name for itself printing labels for ales, lagers, stouts and other beverages. So when time came to mark DWS’ sesquicentennial, the company asked one of its longtime customers, Brooklyn Brewery, to whip up a special batch of ale for the occasion.
“I guess a bottle of Champagne could have been appropriate,” said DWS vice president Andy Staib, whose family has owned the company for four generations. “But we are a little more into beer.”
This month, DWS is wrapping up its yearlong anniversary celebration. The occasion, which culminated with a gala in October at The Paramount Theatre in Huntington, gave the company a chance to celebrate its history and take a turn in the spotlight.
It’s not every day that a bottle label company draws attention to itself. They are typically the behind-the-scenes fashion designers of the beverage industry, crafting iconic wrappers to breathe personality into otherwise indistinguishable bottles. Their job is to make the customers, rather than themselves, stand out.
“They make me look so good,” said Jeff Damiano, senior director of marketing at Apple &amp; Eve, a Port Washington juice company whose bottles have boasted DWS labels for 15 years. “They have just been amazing partners.”
Over the years, DWS’ handiwork has graced scores of recognizable bottles, including Coca-Cola, Yoo-hoo, Gold’s Horseradish and Snapple. The company employs 40 people and has annual revenue of about $10 million, said Tom Staib, who took over as president in 1996 from his father, Allen Staib.
DWS’ story began in 1865, when David Weil opened a shop off Broadway in lower Manhattan to print labels for food and drink companies. He named it David Weil’s Sons Lithograph Company. The Staibs’ great-grandfather, Charles Staib, joined the company in 1888 as a salesman.
At the time, printers hand-etched or painted designs onto heavy stones, then rolled them with ink and pressed the likenesses onto paper. The technique was crude by today’s standards, but the artisans who etched the stones crafted images that were as lifelike as any postcard.
“Look at the detail,” said Tom Staib, flipping through an aging album his grandfather had compiled of labels the company printed in the 19th century. The pages were yellowed, but the beer and whiskey labels were still vivid as Technicolor.
Weil’s sons apparently were not interested in taking over their father’s business. Charles Staib, however, saw a future in the company. So he bought a stake, and by 1900 he was running the show.
His son Arthur — Tom and Andy Staib’s grandfather — joined in 1919. The company moved to Brooklyn in 1924. And in the 1970s, it changed its name to DWS.
Tom joined the company in 1987, followed by Andy in 1991. Tom, 51, and Andy, 47, are now equal owners.
The business, which moved to Long Island in 1964, has changed tremendously since the days of lithograph stones. The workers who run the presses are more computer technicians than pressmen. Customers are scattered across 40 states instead of being concentrated on the East Coast. And the suits and ties worn to the office by previous generations have given way to polo shirts and jeans.
The Staib family, however, remains a constant. Tom and Andy’s sister Kathy Staib, 53, joined the company in 2013. And each summer, the three siblings’ children work in the office and pressroom.
This fall, the family gathered with employees and clients at the gala in Huntington. They toasted the company’s past. And for party favors, they handed out bottles of their commemorative ale, graced with DWS labels.