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Matthews International Corporation Business Information, Profile, and History

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Company Perspectives

Every product that Matthews casts is a handcrafted work of art. Matthews employs a manufacturing process that combines age-old casting techniques with the latest technology to produce superior quality statuary as well as memorialization products for people who prefer traditional ground burial, mausoleum entombment and cremation. Each collection includes a diverse selection of styles and designs.

History of Matthews International Corporation

Matthews International Corporation is a leader in the U.S. death-care industry. In addition to its core memorialization business, Matthews engages brand solutions, including packaging graphics and design and marking products. Among the Matthews Bronze products are flush bronze memorials, cremation urns, and monuments. One of the most famous of the company's bronze memorials marks the grave of Elvis Presley.

Matthews Bronze is also the leading American producer of cremation equipment and a leading builder of mausoleums in the United States. For most of its long history, Matthews International was known for its bronze memorial products, but during the middle and late 1990s management made a concerted effort to strengthen its product base by expanding the brand solutions business through a strategic acquisitions program. Then in 2001, Matthews entered the casket making business through the acquisition of The York Group.

Early History

The founder of the company, John Dixon Matthews, was born and lived most of his early life in Sheffield, England. Although Matthews was not formally educated, he was talented with his hands, and at an early age became an apprentice to learn the intricacies of the engraving profession. The young man learned his trade quickly and soon was designing and making such items as branding irons, stamps for wooden crates, and ornate engravings for small businesses that desired unique signs of identification. As his apprenticeship ended, Matthews decided that the best opportunity for advancement, and for making more money, was to establish his own engraving firm. The likelihood of his achieving this goal in England was minimal, however, because there were many highly skilled engraving firms engaged in intense competition with each other. As a result, Matthews traveled to the United States to establish his own company.

From the time Matthews opened the door of his company for business, it was a thriving concern. Having established his firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a growing metropolis with a burgeoning population, the young man was inundated with requests for identification products. Throughout the first 40 years of his business, from 1850 to 1890, his company focused on manufacturing and distributing various products such as branding irons for cattle ranches in the Great Plains and the South, ornate engravings that were used in the decoration of public buildings, military stamping dies used by the U.S. Army, especially during the Civil War and immediately afterward, and stamps for crates, packaging, and different sorts of large bundles. As the company grew and prospered, revenues continued to increase at a steady pace. When John Dixon Matthews passed away during the waning years of the 19th century, his company was on the verge of a major transformation.

During the 1890s, the company established the Bronze Tablet Department, specifically intended to design and prepare patterns for bronze plaques and other items that later would be cast by other firms. Historically, bronze had been used since 2500 b.c.e. when metalsmiths living in the eastern part of the Mediterranean discovered that an addition of very small amounts of tin to molten copper produced bronze. These metalsmiths soon learned that this new alloy was castable, allowing it to be widely used in casting and creating swords, helmets, and breastplates for war, as well as for statues and decorative articles such as jewelry. As the skills of metalsmiths developed, they found that cast bronze was ideal for artistic expression, since the metal was malleable, easily cast for detail, easy to work with, and exhibited an attractive natural color. As the centuries rolled onward, hollow casting was discovered and used by many artists to produce bronze statues honoring those men who had become heroes to their nation.

Although the use of bronze in art had declined dramatically and was not widespread either in Europe or the United States during the 19th century, the Bronze Tablet Department at Matthews Company was convinced there was a growing market for such items. Thus, as the company finished and detailed the castings done by other suppliers and shipped them to customers around the United States, its reputation for quality bronze workmanship began to grow. By the start of the 20th century, the company had garnered a national reputation for its identification work using bronze.

Growth and Expansion in the Early 20th Century

The company's success continued during the early decades of the 20th century, and revenues steadily increased. Yet in 1927 the company developed a product that not only changed the direction of its business but affected the history of what has become known as "Memorialization."

Throughout the ages people from around the world memorialized the dead by constructing ornate tombs that identified the person as someone of importance. Ground burial and mausoleum entombment were the traditionally preferred methods of disposition and, since the rise of Christianity, cemeteries were created for resting places of the deceased and as a place for the living to seek consolation and peace. Memorialization primarily consisted of stone memorials with the date of birth, date of death, and name of the deceased.

American cemeteries, especially during the 19th and early 20th centuries, were filled with and characterized by memorials of stone carving and sculpture, with only an occasional enhancement of bronze. Memorials encompassed all budgets and a wide variety of tastes, from large, ornate, exquisitely decorated private family mausoleums built for wealthier people to simple upright monuments carved with the person's birth and death dates and the first and last names of the deceased.

One of the most important developments in the history of memorialization occurred in 1906, when Dr. Hubert Eaton designed and built Forest Lawn Cemetery in California. A turning point in memorialization, the cemetery combined stone, bronze, and marble to create a revolution in funerary sculpture. Within a few short years, Forest Lawn had become one of the most famous cemeteries in the United States, known for its works of memorialization in a variety of materials.

In 1927 the employees at Matthews Tablet Department were approached by a family that wanted to exhibit its affection and respect for a deceased member by commissioning an entirely bronze memorial. Matthews accepted the commission and cast the very first flush bronze memorial for a gravesite in Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida. As the first flush bronze memorial designed, cast, and installed in a cemetery within the United States, the piece immediately revolutionized memorialization in American cemeteries. Soon Matthews had garnered a reputation as the preeminent designer and manufacturer of flush bronze memorials for use in cemeteries, and people from across the United States began placing orders with the company.

Developments in Bronze Memorialization: Mid-20th Century Through the Late 1990s

As the company grew, its expertise in bronze memorials grew apace. The men working at Matthews Bronze were recognized as the best in the business for casting bronze for freestanding memorial sculptures. Much more preferable than stone or wood, the durability and lightness of bronze allowed Matthews Bronze a freedom of conception and design that was virtually impossible in stone and other materials. As a natural outgrowth of its work in the field of bronze memorialization, the most important development for the company during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s accompanied the rise of interest in the process of cremation.

Cremation goes back to the prehistoric period. The process developed a large following in the major world cultures of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, India, and Japan. The first documented cremation in the United States was reported in 1792, but it was not until the late 19th century that the number of cremations began to increase. By 1913, there were more than 50 crematories located throughout the United States and, during the 1950s and 1960s, the number grew rapidly.

For Matthews, the rise in the interest in cremation meant that people wanted permanent placements of the remains of their deceased loved ones, and memorializations assisted in preserving the memories of love, devotion, and respect. People were no longer limited in their choices for cremation memorialization, as in the days of the Ancient Greeks and Roman Empire, because of the wide array of memorialization options that Matthews offered to satisfy an individual's taste, including outdoor Cremorials, unique and distinctive columbarium estates, elegant and uniquely designed handcrafted urns, attractive niches, and highly personalized memorial plaques that could be set in gardens or parks. By the end of the 1960s, Matthews Bronze was the leading designer and manufacturer of cremation memorializations throughout the United States.

Starting in 1961, the company began designing and casting some of the most notable bronze memorials in the United States. One of the company's high-profile projects included hand-crafting and casting the plaques used in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Matthews Bronze cast the metal plaque situated on the top of Pike's Peak to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composition of "America the Beautiful." The company cast bronze memorialization tributes for some of the most popular celebrities in the United States, including Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Humphrey Bogart, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Alan Ladd, Michael Landon, Liberace, Groucho Marx, and Selena.

One of the most famous Matthews Bronze pieces is the memorial for one of the most famous singers in the world, Elvis Presley. His bronze memorial, which is situated on the southern end of his estate at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, is considered to be the most visited piece of work ever cast by Matthews Bronze, with more than 700,000 people visiting the site annually. Another one of Matthews Bronze's creations includes the very famous identification plaque cast for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

The company also completed a significant number of bronze memorials for war veterans dating from World War I to the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Among its bronze memorials was the installation of a tribute to the men and women of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment Unit at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, which suffered the most casualties of any unit in the entire Allied Force throughout the duration of the hostilities between the United Nations and Iraq. The memorial included the boots, rifle, and helmet of a fallen soldier, life-sized American soldiers cast in bronze reflecting on the fate of their fallen comrade-in-arms, and an imposing bronze eagle, symbolizing the bravery and honor of American soldiers in battle.

During the 1990s, in addition to its hold on the market for bronze memorializations, Matthews decided to expand its presence in the Graphics Imaging market. Seven acquisitions were made in 1998 alone, the most important including an interest in O.N.E. Color Communications L.L.C., a digital graphics firm located in California, and S+T Gesellschaft fur Reprotechnik mbH, a well respected manufacturer of photopolymer printing plates in Germany. The overseas acquisition, in combination with the bronze casting work done for the Sultan of Brunei and the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority, provided the company with approximately 10 percent of its total revenues for the 1998 fiscal year.

Although Matthews International Corporation was clearly the undisputed leader in the bronze memorialization market, and its dominance likely to continue for years to come, management realized the wisdom in a certain amount of diversity when the markets experience a downturn. Therefore, it implemented a long-term strategic plan to enhance the position of its graphics as well as marking products businesses, both of which were showing signs of growth and expansion.

Graphics Imaging, which comprised approximately 35 percent of company revenues, provided pre-press services, printing plates, and imaging systems to the packing industry. The company's printing plates were used by firms within the packaging industry to print corrugated boxes, for example, with lettering and graphics that assist in selling the packaged product. Marking Products comprised about 15 percent of its revenues, designed and manufactured equipment used to mark and identify such items as industrial products and packaging containers.

As the 20th century wound down, Matthews Bronze produced approximately 50 percent of the firm's revenues, focusing primarily on the design and manufacture of cast bronze products used as memorials in cemeteries. But cost-conscious consumers had put pressure on the death-care industry during the late 1990s. In response to pricing pressures national chains began buying up small independent funeral homes. The changes depressed the stock of even solid operations such as Matthews. On the other hand, the rise in popularity of cremation boded well for growth in that business area.

New Niche: 2000-05

Chairman and CEO David M. Kelly, who joined the company in 1995 and directed Matthews' internal growth and acquisition plan in the late 1990s, took the 150-year-old company into the 21st century. Despite 13 consecutive quarters of double-digit earnings growth, Matthews stock traded in the low $20s during the spring of 2000, down from the upper $20s a year earlier. Matthews had been repurchasing its own stock, buying back three million or 15 percent of its shares since its 1994 IPO and authorized to repurchase as much as one million more.

According to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Kelly planned to maintain the company's growth through new products, new domestic and international markets for old products, and acquisitions. During 1999, Matthews had acquired Italy's Caggiati S.p.A., Europe's leading supplier of bronze memorials, expanding the company's mausoleum and statuary offerings.

The U.S. death rate was growing about 1 percent a year as the new millennium began but by 2020, about 53 million Americans would be 65 years of age or older. According to Allentown Pennsylvania's Morning Call, bronze funeral memorials continued to make up about half of Matthews' sales, while bringing in 70 percent of profits.

In May 2001, The York Group, the nation's second largest coffin maker, agreed to merge with Matthews. The $11 per share offer followed York's rejection of another suitor, Wilbert Funeral Services, which held 14 percent of $130 million business. York previously sold its metal vault operation to Doric Products Inc.

The York Group was established in 1892 as York Wagon Gear Co., first as a builder of wooden coaches for horse-drawn carriages and then chassis for Ford Motor Co. The company subsequently entered the burial casket business, selling off the auto equipment division in 1958. Following several incarnations during the next few decades, the company became the York Group in 1989 and made an initial public offering in 1996.

In a separate deal Matthews purchased York's commemorative products division for $45 million. The purchase gave Matthews an estimated 75 percent of the bronze memorial market, thought to be about $280 million; other significant players in the market were privately held and did not reveal sales figures. Matthews controlled 20 percent of the overall memorial market, according to Mergers & Acquisitions.

A bronze statute commissioned by the Firefighters Association of Missouri sat at JFK International Airport en route from Matthews' Italian facility on September 11, 2001. "Our customers started calling us to find out if we had plaques, anything commemorative," Corinne Laboon, Matthews' public relations director told the Pittsburgh Business Times. "We sat down to discuss ideas and someone brought up the firefighter statue. We called the Firefighters Association and without hesitation they decided to dedicate the statue, with Matthews, to the citizens of New York." The memorial was placed in Midtown Manhattan, and New Yorkers graced the base of the statue of a kneeling firefighter with items such as flowers and notes during the weeks following the loss of so many of the city's public servants.

In December 2001, upon closure of a $98 million deal, Houston-based York became a wholly owned subsidiary of Matthews. The purchase of the country's second largest bronze memorial business and second largest casket maker pushed Matthews stock back to the upper $20s, according to an April 2002 National Post article. The high-margin, steady growth bronze memorial business had funded the acquisitions and stock repurchase program.

Fiscal 2002 revenue was expected to reach $400 million, according to the National Post, 50 percent from the bronze segment, 25 percent from caskets, and 25 percent from the graphics and marking products businesses. Recession hurt the cyclical market and graphics portion of the business but added revenue from acquisitions more than balanced that out.

"Matthews' record of buying mediocre businesses and improving performance is considered a key to its growth. It has purchased 23 businesses over the last five years, but it told investors last week the acquisition program has quieted now as the company absorbs last year's additions," Dinah Wisenberg Brin wrote for the National Post in April 2002. The company improved its success rate with acquired companies by culling out underperformers. The leading bronze memorial maker ranked as the second largest producer of caskets in the country, after Hillenbrand Industries. "With pricing power and limited competition Matthews dominates the death-care market--an extremely consistent and predictable industry that earns attractive rates of return, requires very little capital reinvestment and nevertheless is hard to penetrate. Over the longer term the business will benefit from the inevitable demographics of the baby boom (people born between 1946 and 1964). What's more, flat bronze memorials, Matthews' specialty, are increasing in popularity and are making inroads on traditional headstones," John W. Rogers, Jr., wrote for Forbes in April 2003.

As the first decade of the new century approached its midpoint, Matthews worked to grow the business areas rooted in its early history. Matthews acquired a U.S. industrial controls manufacturer in the summer of 2004, as part of its growth strategy for the marking products business. The company supplied Matthews with microprocessor controls. In September 2004, the company purchased a leading European player in packaging graphics origination and brand management.

Matthews' sales increased 25.8 percent year over year for fiscal 2005. Costs related to the establishment of a Mexican-based manufacturing facility, a downturn in the graphics business, and higher material costs in the bronze segment put a drag on earnings. But favorable international currency exchange rates, fiscal 2004 acquisitions, and growth of the bronze and marking products businesses helped increase earnings for the year.

Principal Subsidiaries

The York Group.

Principal Competitors

Eastman Kodak Company; Hillenbrand Industries, Inc.; Service Corporation International.


  • Key Dates
  • 1850 Immigrant John Dixon Matthews establishes engraving business.
  • 1927 Company produces first flush bronze memorial.
  • 1989 Company enters Australian market.
  • 1999 Matthews acquires Italian mausoleum and statuary company.
  • 2001 Matthews enters casket making niche of death-care industry.

Additional topics

Company HistoryMetal Manufacturing & Fabricating

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