The IMIA was founded originally as the RSMA (Rubber Stamp Manufacturers Association) in 1910 by a handful of stamp makers who wanted to connect with others like them, for the purpose of learning better techniques for making and selling stamps. It grew fast…… the first meeting was in 1911 and cost $5.00 to attend. They arrived in Chicago, mostly by train. The excitement must have been huge.
Finally a chance to talk to others and see what they were doing! Many had been in business for years like James Cooke Sr. who started in the stamp business in 1867, so it was a big deal.
Trans-continental phone service began in 1915 and after that businesses couldn’t get phones fast enough. The word of the success of the RSMA meetings started to spread and attendance started to grow. The 1917 Meeting in Cleveland had dozens of attendees. (and their spouses)
It was starting to become a business/social meeting where stamp makers made lasting friends that they would look forward to seeing every year. There were business round tables, dinners, and exhibits by suppliers with the latest supplies and equipment plus social events for the spouses.
A newsletter was created to inform stamp makers throughout the year to keep them up to date on new innovations, processes and ideas for selling as well as info on the next annual meeting.
More and more stamp makers appeared in cities as the US and Canadian populations grew. Consequently, attendance at the RSMA shows grew as well. Like now, mostly the medium to large companies could afford to attend. Ironically, also like now, the smaller companies benefit the most from seeing new technology, etc.
Eventually, the name was changed to the Marking Device Association (MDA) and it remained until the 1990s when, at the request of the International members, an “I” was added to the end resulting in the new name, MDAI. (Marking Device Association International) That lasted until 2001 when the Board noted that stamp makers had been diversifying rapidly for several years beginning with plastic engraving for signs, nameplates and name badges, a natural evolution that used similar skills, i.e. typesetting, etc. They then changed the name to IMIA (International Marking & Identification) which addressed both the international members and the diversification that continued and actually continues at a faster rate today with large format printing, sublimation, UV printing, and more.
Association membership hit a high of 430 in the 70’s when “hot type” was being traded for “cold type” which was done on the first Macintosh computers. (1980) Today there are 150 members. The big box stores selling stamps had a big impact on the smaller stamp makers and their customers (office supply stores) forcing many to close their small businesses. Now there are still around 1,000 stamp makers in the US and all have diversified to survive and grow in our 109 year old industry.
There are just a handful of trade associations in the US that have survived over 100 years and we are proud to say that we are one of those.