GREEN BAY – There is no better manifestation of the Packers' uniqueness and connection to their community than their early stock sales.
They were lifesavers. They were ardently provincial to the point they were conducted door to door at some levels. They were rallying cries for survival, and they were answered with an outpouring of generosity.
The big buyers in the sales of 1923, 1935 and 1950 were mostly prominent Green Bay businessmen, but there was also self-sacrificing grassroots support.
Hundreds of little guys figuratively emptied hundreds of piggy banks to keep the Packers alive.
That said, there was always something suspicious about the sale numbers.
They were too rounded-off: $5,000 in sales in 1923, $15,000 in 1935 and "about $118,000" in 1950, which also seemed more like an estimate than an exact number. What's more, the numbers didn't match what was reported in the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the time, and the paper was essentially a partner of the Packers in each sale.
So, I dug into old newspaper clippings and our corporate files to see if those numbers were accurate and, if not, if we could come up with precise figures for a display panel in the new Packers Hall of Fame. Here's what I found.
The Articles of Incorporation of the Green Bay Football Corporation were filed with the state on Aug. 23, 1923.
The stock sale was launched about the same time. The price per share was $5, but $25 would buy someone not only five shares of stock, but also a box seat for every home game.
The Press-Gazette ran a stock coupon on its sports pages and had a representative on hand at its Cherry Street offices week nights from 7-9:30 to answer questions and take subscriptions. Boosters also planned to canvas the entire business district.
"Professional football has put Green Bay on the nation's sport map in capital letters and we must keep it there," the Press-Gazette implored early in the sale.
Almost three weeks later, the paper reported the unspecified goal of the drive was "still far in the distance." Perhaps making sales even more difficult was a fund drive launched by the local baseball team about the same time.
Sales picked up at a football pep rally held at the old Elks Club on Sept. 14, and the first stockholders meeting was held three nights later at the Brown County Courthouse. Local attorney John Kittell presided at both.
In the end, 204 shareholders purchased 1,109 shares and the sale netted $5,545. That's based simply on the number of shareholders recorded in corporate files. However, a corporate balance sheet dated Dec. 31, 1924, itemized Capital Stock Issued at $5,585, a $40 difference.
In 1931, Willard J. Bent, a local fan, fell out of the stands at City Stadium, sued the Packers and was awarded nearly $5,000. The verdict was handed down in late February 1933. Six months later, the Green Bay Football Corporation went into receivership. But behind the scenes, the weekend before the Bent verdict was reached, NFL owners, according to league minutes, moved to protect the Green Bay franchise by voting unanimously to transfer it into the name of Leland H. Joannes, the club's president, and waive the transfer fee in the process.
Another interesting footnote is that Packers attorney and executive committee member Fred Trowbridge wrote in 1958 in a corporate history of the team that "a very careful examination of all the court records fails to disclose that this receivership was ever formally terminated."
The franchise was subsequently reorganized as The Green Bay Packers, Inc., (since amended to drop the "The") and newly created articles of incorporation were filed with the state on Jan. 26, 1935. A fund drive was conducted simultaneously.
No par value for the stock was established in the articles, but it sold for $25 per share or $434 in today's money.
The drive was actually launched Dec. 14, 1934. "Green Bay is not going to lose the Packers!" was the lead to the Press-Gazette's story. It went on to say that 25 business and industrial leaders voted "to raise $10,000 to extricate the Green Bay Football Corporation from its present financial difficulties, make possible a reorganization and to provide a fund to be used in building up the team for the 1935 season."
Officers were elected at a meeting on Jan. 29, 1935, and Joannes, who was again elected president, announced that $11,800 already had been raised. Interestingly, for whatever reason, the newly formed corporation didn't start issuing receipts to stockholders until July 17, 1935.
Calculating the stock sale numbers for the 1935 sale was more difficult for several reasons. There was no commencement date. There are numerous undated shareholder lists in the Packers' files, most showing somewhere between 97-117 names. Some people donated less than $25, not enough to buy a share, and some donated $25 and were never listed as shareholders. Some donated anonymously.
One explanation for some of the confusion might be – and this is just an educated guess – that many donors simply gave out of the kindness of their heart, not even expecting a receipt, much less a stock certificate in return.
By my count, 113 shareholders purchased 484 shares, raising $12,100 by the end of 1935. The Press-Gazette's final tally said total subscriptions had reached $12,416, but the paper also had accounted for $291 of donations of less than $25. Subtract $291 from $12,416 and the total is $12,125, a $25 difference from my total. The 1936 Packers Football Publicity booklet merely stated, "more than $12,000 had been raised."
Facing a possible $90,000 in losses in late 1949, the Packers scheduled a Thanksgiving Day intra-squad game hoping to raise enough money to finish the season. Six days later, at a contentious four-hour meeting of the Packers' board of directors where Curly Lambeau's fate as coach and general manager was debated, the board also recommended the authorization of another stock sale with a goal of raising $200,000. The price per share was eventually set at $25.
After months of more squabbling highlighted by Lambeau's resignation, the drive was launched April 12, 1950, with a breakfast for 400 workers at Green Bay's Beaumont Hotel. In advance of the breakfast, 11-man teams were organized with a goal of calling on 2,500 businesses.
By the end of 1950, my calculations show 4,165½ shares were sold worth $104,137.50. And, yes, the Packers sold nine half-shares at $12.50.
Those figures were derived from ledgers and two separate sets of receipt books in the Packers' files.
How do I explain the nearly $14,000 discrepancy between my number and the often reported figure of "about $118,000"?
A partial answer might lie in a May 23, 1950, Press-Gazette story in which it was reported $105,825 had been pledged as the drive's big push reached its conclusion, but only $89,800 had been collected. That's a difference of $16,025.
Also everything was handwritten so there's at least one discrepancy to be found in the records. Northern Paper Mills purchased 100 shares and three months later transferred 100 shares to the Sullivan-Wallen American Legion Post. Thus, there were two receipts for one purchase.
Toula Akladios, the Packers' executive shareholders services manager, conducted a separate accounting using a different set of receipt books than I did and arrived at a total of $104,187.50, only a $50 difference between us after subtracting the second 100-share entry previously noted. Her tabulations showed there were 1,651 shareholders.
While the drive fell well short of its original goal of $200,000, it certainly didn't dampen the victory party held May 22, 1950, at the Beaumont.
"We've done it again," club president Emil Fischer crowed. "Once again Green Bay has proven to the nation what civic pride means."
For more of Cliff Christl's historical perspectives, click here.