Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sheetrock® Recognition

Home ownership resonates as deeply today as it did a century ago. Even in a digital age, brick and mortar (or plywood and Sheetrock) are what stabilize us and make us feel at home.

How is it that an 80-year-old economist like Alan Greenspan consciously realizes that a word he’s using on page 230 of his new book is a trademark? And thousands of other Americans don’t have clue that he’s writing about a 96-year-old staple of the US marketing scene? With just an initial capital letter “S” the long-time Fed Chairman simply recognized the trademarked status of USG’s gypsum wallboard in the paragraph above…and passed on to other things.

Too many trademarks are lost through inattention – but USG (formerly, the United States Gypsum Company) has very carefully protected its flagship brands, like Sheetrock panels and joint compounds, for years and years of careful attention. How many years?

Blogger Greg notes here that Sheetrock was invented in 1912: At least that’s the earliest patent date I have on the sheetrock that was used in my house in the late teens or 20s. When they added the bathroom to the kitchen they used sheetrock. On the back of each piece was a sticker with instructions for storing and hanging the sheetrock. At the bottom are a series of patent dates and the earliest one is June 11, 1912. The photo on the left is from Greg’s blog. (Wikipedia says 1916 – so be careful of your sources.)

Sheetrock brand gypsum board didn’t catch on broadly until after World War II, when the demand for housing boomed and labor wasn’t available to do complex lath-and-plaster walls quickly enough. It has been almost literally a foundation product of the American housing industry for the past 50+ years.

As I said, though, my attention was caught by Greenspan’s proper use of the brand name right in the middle of his new opus, The Age of Turbulence. When you read the book, you’ll understand why. He spent his early years as an economist closely studying and reporting on a huge range of industrial statistics – as a consultant for giant US corporations. He’s not simply one of the world’s great economic experts, he’s a living compendium of American industrial history. So he knows his Sheetrock – and it ends up as a proper noun in his book. Good on you, Greenspan.

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