Eighty Years of Walker Glass
As anyone who’s run a business will tell you, it’s not easy to keep a company thriving long-term. In fact, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, the average lifespan of S&P 500* companies is only fifteen years. Still, some organizations manage to stay vital and relevant over the long haul. How? The same article studied seven centennial companies and discovered the two traits they all have in common. We’ll get to those traits, but first, we have something important to say. Walker Glass is eighty years old this year!
That’s right; 2022 marks eight decades since Walker was created in 1942. To celebrate the occasion, we’re looking at what the Walker brand represents. Our look has morphed over the years but some things haven’t changed at all, like the values we stand for. From 1942 to today, Walker has striven to embody the same core traits: integrity, innovation, industry, and above all, strong team bonds. Walker Glass started as a family firm and remains a family firm, even after some dramatic growth. In this article, we’ll trace the evolution of Walker’s identity through company history, social context, architectural trends, and the brand’s logo design.
1940s – 1950s
Credit: Archives de la Ville de Montréal
It all started in 1942 when Arthur Walker established his mirror silvering workshop in the Rosemont neighbourhood of Montreal. In those days, the hardship of the Great Depression was slipping away and the city was enjoying a resurgence of commercial and municipal success. Old squares were converted to public parks, businesses were popping up everywhere, and industry was flourishing. Arthur Walker’s hand-silvered mirror glass found a ready market among artisanal mirror makers.
The forties also represented a hinge moment in design. World War One had put an end to the highly detailed, decorative styles that proliferated in late Victorian and Edwardian advertising, replacing them with a utilitarian approach encapsulated in the phrase, “form follows function”. First coined by architect Louis Sullivan in 1896, the idea was fully developed in the 1940s by his mentee Frank Lloyd Wright who re-phrased it as, “Form and function are one”.
With its sturdy lettering and balanced design, Walker’s initial branding was in tune with the straightforward style of this era. The initials WG set into a simple black circle encapsulated the forties’ ideal of a design style driven by its function, without the distractions of decorative elements. It’s a clean, stable, and honest style that mirrors Arthur Walker’s pursuit of unpretentious, high-quality products.
Following the end of World War II, North America experienced a boom in economic activity and technological development. Walker Glass rode this wave by introducing new machinery including a semi-automatic conveyor for silvering glass. This was an indispensable early step toward innovation, automation, and large-scale production, an approach that would serve the company well in the decades to come.
Everything was changing in the sixties. Rock music rolled across the airwaves, feminism and civil rights movements shook the foundations of North American society, and NASA put a man on the moon. In the midst of all this excitement, Montreal hosted Expo ‘67, a World’s Fair designed to unite people from around the globe in a sense of optimism.
Expo 67, Montreal
Credit: Archives de la Ville de Montréal
Walker Glass joined in with our own Expo ‘67 stamp emblazoned with the logo of Wonder Glo, our brand of framed mirrors at the time. The logo and stamp design were playful, optimistic, defined by off-grid lines and organic shapes. They were nothing like the stolid down-to-earth logo of 1942. These designs had more in common with Googie architecture and space-age constructions like the Theme Building at LAX or Seattle’s Space Needle.
Beyond the logo, Walker Glass saw plenty of change and growth during this decade. The company moved from its small Rosemont location to a newly built factory in Anjou (a district in the east of Montreal). The new 22,000 sq. ft. factory was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, which helped Walker expand into new markets and soon made it the number one decorative mirror supplier to major Canadian retailers. Innovation was the name of the game.
By the mid-seventies, Walker Glass was a significant player in North American glass and mirror. The company acquired Universal Glass in Toronto and started manufacturing sheet mirror there, eventually adding Atlantic Glass and forming the merged corporation, Walker Atlantic.
Meanwhile, back in Montreal, Walker’s headquarters doubled in size to accommodate more and more plate glass and mirror production. In a decade marked by rising unemployment and the worst economy in generations, Walker Glass still invested in expanding its horizons. In fact, during these years Walker became the only independent sheet mirror manufacturer in Canada.
The eighties marked a new wave of leadership and development at Walker. The company updated its product offerings and operations with new products and increased automation. All these changes went along with rapid growth. Market share developed quickly, especially in the New York City area.
Walker wasn’t alone in this move toward newness and expansion, of course. The eighties were a big decade: big hair, big buildings, big impact, big flash. It was the era of disco, after all! Van Der Rohe’s dictum “Less is more,” may have defined the minimalism of high modern styles, but by 1980 postmodernism was thumbing its nose at such restrictive attitudes. Robert Venturi summed up the spirit of the decade with his famous quip, “Less is a bore.”
Walker’s logo had a makeover in keeping with this postmodern zeitgeist. Oversized rounded letterforms and a silver foil treatment were bold and a bit cheeky, yet solid and assured.
The look was a natural fit with the disco craze and post-modern structures like New York’s AT&T Building.
In 1998, Walker earned ISO-9002 international certification, which was later updated to ISO 9001-2008. Walker leant on its established strengths to achieve these certifications, building on a foundation of integrity, responsibility and quality. These regulated certifications ensure that clients and partners can trust Walker to deliver high-quality goods with exemplary service.
The late nineties and early 2000s brought a swing back to clean, futuristic design. Once the Y2K crisis (remember that?) was safely over, the new millennium represented a decade of limitless promise. Graphics design played up this sense of possibility and the burgeoning power of computer-generated graphics.
Walker rebranded once again, this time with a sweeping line that ‘swooshed’ around the pared-down letterforms. We won’t confirm or deny anything officially, but that line may have been a nod to a certain athletic brand named after a certain goddess of victory … we’ll leave it to you to decide.
In response to increased pressure from overseas production, Walker initiated a new partnership and the largest research and development project in its history: Walker Textures® full-surface acid-etched glass and mirror. Expert craftsmanship combined with Walker’s production systems meant the company could produce artisanal-quality glass at and industrial scale.
Like Walker’s main logo, the branding for this new endeavour used graphic touches to give the illusion of layered depth. In this case, a partial blur over the right side of the logo’s sun icon hints at the brand’s light-diffusing powers and makes the design read as a multi-layered image.
The Walker Textures® brand came of age in the early 2010s when it made the cover of one of the industry’s powerhouse magazines, Architectural Record, in November 2013. The glass was featured for its place in the University of Pennsylvania’s Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology, which used a custom Walker Textures® pattern on a Starphire Ultra-Clear® substrate from Vitro Architectural Glass.
The past decade brought significant changes to Walker, and to architecture in general. Concern for sustainable development rose along with sea levels, and the industry responded with a move toward green building. Walker introduced a trio of eco-friendly products developed in collaboration with avian researchers and industry partners.
AviProtek® bird-friendly glass became the first bird-friendly glazing solution in North America to use permanent markers on the exterior surface when it was launched in 2013. A few years later, Walker developed AviProtek® E in collaboration with Vitro.
AviProtek®’s logo followed the example of its cousin, Walker Textures®, with a stylized falcon head over the brand name. The falcon is an especially apt choice, as a bird affected by window collisions which, like Walker Glass products, can be found across North America.
The newest Walker Glass logo has a lot in common with the very first one: simple typographic forms in minimalist black and white. In fact, you’ll sometimes see our logo as a single W overlaid onto project photos or tucked into the corner of your browser tab. There’s no denying that living in the age of social media and phone apps has affected how we show up in the world. Sometimes you have to concentrate an entire identity into a few dozen pixels, and the lone W carries the load well.
You might be wondering about that article we mentioned in the beginning, the one from Harvard Business Review. What two qualities did they find that kept companies healthy long-term? The answer: “They’re radically traditional — with a stable core, but a disruptive edge.” These companies know their core values and stick to them. That gives them a solid foundation on which to build, explore, and reinvent. This is the same recipe that’s kept Walker on track through its first eight decades, even while adapting to a changing industrial landscape.
Eighty years ago, Walker Glass was founded as an artisanal mirror workshop. Today, Walker is the leading manufacturer of acid-etched glass, mirror, and bird-deterrent glazing in North America. Much has changed in the intervening years, but a few things remain the same. Our commitment to quality, for instance. Our sense of responsibility toward our customers, staff, and environment. Our familial connection. Our drive to innovate. That’s why we’re trusted by major brands, industry partners, and municipal bodies across North America.
*S&P 500: a stock market index tracking the stock performance of 500 large companies listed on exchanges in the United States. It is one of the most commonly followed equity indices.