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Bill Gershen Portrait

My grandfather Bernard came to America in 1903. He had been a tailor, as had his father, in a small town in western Poland. Since being a tailor was his only trade, he sought employment in his new home doing something he could do well. A firm located in the southern tip of Manhattan called South Street Seaport hired him. It is important to remember that at this time, the only commerce between America and Europe was by ship, so this was a bustling hub and an ideal spot for my grandfather to make a name for himself.

Working right on the piers, Bernard soon began to specialize in sewing the gold lace onto the jackets of the ship's captain and crew. At the end of WWI, in 1918, a gentleman by the name of Sam Weisberg, whose business was selling buttons to Navy personnel located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, approached my grandfather with the idea of forming their own company. Mr. Weisberg would specialize in buttons and other metal items, and Bernard would specialize in lace and other sewn items.

While the name Vanguard has significant meaning to all of us now, these gentlemen decided they had to pick a name for their company. What they did was simply open the dictionary and point to a word at random. They agreed that if they both knew what the word meant, that would be their company name. Obviously, they flicked the book open to the back where the V's are found, and Vanguard was born. From this small beginning, Vanguard had a very modest and meager start, and up until the onset of WWII in 1941, there were no more than 10 employees, including the two partners, at any one time. With the dramatic growth of the armed forces of WWII, Vanguard marched steadily forward, and began to grow.

My father, Al, joined the company in 1943 and worked at Vanguard until illness forced him to retire in 1976. My first day of work was April 1, 1965, when I joined Vanguard after spending 5 years in the Air Force. I have now had the pleasure of being with Vanguard for over 50 years.

-Bill Gershen