O. D. Weldon was a local editor and business manager of the Fort Smith Weekly Elevator. He was born near Cleveland, Ohio, on September 23, 1847. His father, Oliver, was one of the inventors of the spring clock. O. D. Weldon began learning the printer’s trade in 1861, just as the Civil War was breaking out. He worked in the office of the Thirty-fifth Parallel, a weekly paper edited and published by General A. G. Mayers of Fort Smith. This paper only survived a short time due to the hostilities between the North and South. He joined the Confederate lines and remained there until 1863, when the Federals, under command of General Blunt, captured Fort Smith and occupied it until after the close of hostilities. In 1866, he again went to work at the printing business in the office of the Fort Smith Herald, owned by Judge John F. Wheeler, and from that time engaged alternately in the butchering and printing business until 1877. He was previously connected with the New Era newspaper. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Herald, Chicago Times, Globe Democrat, Texas Gazette and Arkansas Gazette. He was the original Vice-President of the Company. George T. Williams was the original Secretary-Treasurer of the Company. After a few years he sold out his interest in the business and returned to the sales profession, which was his occupation prior to the printing business.
Chauncey A. Lick was born May 15, 1868 in Kansas City, Missouri. Shortly afterward his family moved to Springfield, Missouri where his father, a printer, established a weekly paper. Chauncey moved to St. Louis to become a journeyman compositor and was in the employ of Woodward and Tiernan when the general printers strike of 1887 occurred. Despite the admonition that he would have to survive the Indians and the malarial swamps of Arkansas, Lick set out for Fort Smith, Arkansas to answer a help wanted ad. He landed in Fort Smith with a watch and $1.47 in his pocket. He obtained a job in a printing shop and a few years later opened his own business as “Lick, Artist Printer.” A short time after, he formed a partnership with Lawson Thrash under the name “Thrash-Lick” to do general job printing, booklets and a weekly newspaper.
Around this time the manager of the local opera house came to Lick to “save his professional life.” He had ordered his tickets quite sometime ago from an eastern printer but they had not arrived. The advance sale for an important attraction was advertised two days later. “Lick” he said, “you are always bragging that you can print anything. Can you print some reserved seat tickets for me in a hurry?” Lick related that he worked 16 hours the first day on the job and all day and night the next day and had the tickets ready on time and without any mistakes. The die was cast. “Tickets” were to be the specialty.
In 1898, Lick sold his interest in Thrash-Lick and then, with O. D. Weldon and George T. Williams, established the firm of Weldon, Williams & Lick. Lick became President; Weldon, Vice President; and Williams, Secretary-Treasurer. At first they did general printing and, for a time, a weekly newspaper, The Fort Smith Elevator.
The first location was on Garrison Avenue where Regions Bank is now located. The firm occupied the second floor of a 50 x 140 ft. building. A saloon occupied the floor beneath. Fort Smith was still somewhat of a frontier town in those days – a saloon on every corner of Garrison Avenue. Rail lines came in along the Arkansas River at the foot of Garrison Avenue furnishing transportation into Oklahoma Territory and across the state of Arkansas to the capitol in Little Rock. Judge Parker’s days were over, order had been restored in the Indian Territory, and Fort Smith was beginning to develop into a genuine business community. Early on in the firm’s history, the owners could not agree on which markets they would pursue. Weldon liked the newspaper business, Williams saw greener pastures in coal ventures in South Sebastian County, but Lick wished to concentrate on specialty printing and became interested in the manufacturing of admission tickets for theatrical events.
The friendly disagreement was resolved in the early nineteen hundreds when Williams sold his interest and Weldon discontinued an active role in the business. This left Lick with controlling interest and therefore the freedom to follow his own ideas.
The first purchase of land at the corner of 7th and “A” Streets, where the company now stands, was made in 1906 for $5,000.00. The building constructed there contained two stories and 21,000 square feet of floor space. From the beginning, Lick’s idea had been to steer the company toward numbered printing such as reserved seat tickets and coupon books. That he succeeded and then attracted customers of national renown to a place as remote as Fort Smith was as much a tribute to his skills as a leader of men as it was to his ability as a perceptive businessman, craftsman and salesperson.
He had learned from his own work experience as a young man that people are better led than driven, a philosophy not shared by all employers in those days. He was determined to treat the printers, bindery women, office clerks and all as he had wanted to be treated when he worked the shop floor. He believed that the foundation of a successful relationship between employer and employee was built on fairness and honesty.
Lick also set forth with a strong conviction about the importance of good customer relations. “Business goes where it is invited and stays where it is well treated. The customer is, after all, the real boss in any business.” He developed a sense of pride among WW&L’s people in being able to produce and deliver their products in a manner that would create satisfied and loyal customers. He commenced his day promptly at seven o’clock each morning when he greeted each of his 160 plus employees by their first name. The “old man,” as he was respectfully referred to by the WW&L folks, established many of the business principles that guide this company today.
When Ringling Brothers Circus showed under the “Big Top,” WW&L printed about 95 percent of their tickets. Back in the twenties the “old man” went to their headquarters in Wisconsin to talk to the show’s treasurer about the next season’s order. He had brought along some very detailed records from the previous season, showing exactly what our production costs were, since the Ringling people usually did not ask for a price before ordering. He was trying to show the treasurer that the company was being honest. When Charles Ringling overheard the conversation, he walked in, smiled and said “Lick, you can throw all of that stuff away. It wouldn’t mean a thing to me because you could put any kind of figures down on those papers that you wanted to. Remember this, if I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t be doing business with you.”
Under C.A. Lick’s leadership, WW&L grew into a firm that placed great importance on such things as employee relations, honesty in all dealings, conservative financial management, frugality in operations and dedication to serving the customer well. His attitudes and philosophy did indeed lay a solid foundation.
Meeting the changing needs of customers and market demands have played a major role in continued success of WW&L. Being trusted to take care of “Other Peoples’ Money” makes WW&L the best place to buy from and best place to work.