In 1881 the Russell & Morgan Printing Co made the decision to manufacture playing cards and the USPCC was born. Although late to the game, what they lacked in experience was more than made up for in business acumen. They consumed an entire industry, offering the right type of playing cards to a country hungry for more.
The United States Playing Card Co was first conceived in 1880 when longtime partners Anthony O Russell and Robert J Morgan decided to make the move into the manufacture of playing cards. By then, they had spent nearly fifteen years in the printing business, growing from the days of the Cincinnati Enquirer into one of the largest folding box, label, and show card makers in the country. From 1881 forward a comprehensive line of playing cards would accompany their already large and successful business.
Having invested in the use of the most advanced equipment of the day gave the USPCC an early advantage over their competition, and quickly they purchased all other competitors and brought them into the fold. Companies like New York Consolidated and National Card Co, even Andrew Dougherty were acquired eventually. Indeed AO Russell and RJ Morgan, with the help of their incredible staff, can be accredited with creating the largest playing card company in world and housing the lineage of many makers that came before it.
In the beginning Russell & Morgan created a series of core brands that would satisfy four established markets. They made five deck designs that would span those markets perfectly, Tigers 101, Sportsman’s 202, Army 303, Navy 303 and Congress 404. Tigers were the lowest quality option and made to compete with other makers Steamboat decks. Sportsman’s cards were a step up in quality and featured back styles of hunting and animal motifs. Russell & Morgan’s, Army & Navy cards were a hit within the ranks of the military and at first, made as two separate brands both falling under the number 303. This was changed overtime and the two were merged to become an inclusive Army & Navy 303 brand. The last official brand during start-up was Congress 404, it was the highest quality card that the USPCC made and continued as one of the best throughout its long history of entertaining card players across the United States.
Because the story of many early makers ends with USPCC, you can learn the origins of this story by reading Paper Empires Vol I
Bicycle Playing Cards - Clown on Bicycle - Early Advertisement