The Story of Pitney Bowes: Bringing Skill Sets Together and the Problems That Can Arise

Even a company that is over a century old has start-up lessons that are relevant in the modern day. Take Pitney Bowes for example. Today it is a multi-billion dollar company with a brand that is synonymous with their product: the franking machine. The postal product that the company invented back in the early 20th Century is now an everyday item for many businesses. So it might surprise you to know that the story of the founders, Arthur Pitney and Walter Bowes, is an exceptional example of the pros – and potential problems – that blossom from collaboration within business.

1902: Arthur Pitney Patents His Postage Meter Device

Arthur Pitney is an example of a serious hobbyist creating a business when he discovered a gap in the market. He worked as a clerk and noticed that affixing stamps within a professional environment was surprisingly time consuming when hundreds of envelopes would need to be dealt with. Stamps were misplaced or stolen, leading Mr Pitney to begin tinkering with a replacement.

The result was the postage meter device, which he successfully patented and began to promote amongst his peers. However traction for his invention was slow and by 1919 Arthur was selling insurance. His belief that the machine he’d created could help people was undiminished but had failed to produce any monetary value for its creator, he needed help to make his dream a reality.

1919: Arthur Pitney and Walter Bowes Meet

Walter Bowes was also a salesman, but a salesman who had successfully created ties within the postal industry. By the time he met Mr Pitney he was already selling postal permit and stamp cancelling machines internationally. Just like Mr Pitney 20 years previously, he felt that stamps were inefficient for business use and were easy to misplace or steal. He believed that the stamp would become redundant altogether and sought a new way to automate the postal service. A friend recommended Mr Pitney as a potential business partner.

Complementary Strengths Brought To Their Business

The duo of Arthur Pitney and Walter Bowes can be seen for its strengths and these are still relevant today. Arthur Pitney had a product that he had invested $90,000 in over the last two decades, created to fill a niche that he had recognised as an employee. Walter Bowes was an industry insider who knew the underlying reasons why his business chose certain postal equipment. He was also a brilliant salesman with a knack for marketing. Their strengths working together would help catapult the Pitney Bowes company into the public mind-set.

Upon the businesses conception, Walter Bowes aimed straight for Washington with the intention of getting the postage meter officially accepted by supportive legislation. In 1920, a bill was passed to allow use of mechanical stamps on First Class Mail and the US Post Office approved of the meter. With the protection of being an official postal method (as well as all the free press that was attributed to the new bill being passed), Pitney Bowes was in a much stronger position as a postal business. Using his contacts within the field, Bowes and Pitney sold more than 400 machines within a year.

Struggles to Work Together Tear Their Partnership Asunder

Just as the Pitney Bowes story shows how two different entrepreneurs with different skillsets can achieve incredible things, this is also a cautionary tale regarding business co-operation. Though his original idea was being used officially and with increasing popularity, Arthur Pitney opted to leave the company in 1924, a mere four years after its inception. Many agree that the problem was an inability to work together with his partner Walter Bowes, despite the fact that both men had created such complimentary machines that served so well together.

These two men, working together for a very brief time, created an entirely new method of sending packages and post for business. Pitney Bowes is still a thriving company, valued today at $6.1 billion.

Lessons for Modern Day Co-operation?

From the beginnings of Pitney Bowes it’s easy to see that finding someone with talents different from your own but in a similar field can offer a great foundation for any business. It also demonstrates that some partnerships offer short bouts of brilliance but are unsustainable over time due to personality conflicts.

Most likely the friction between Mr Pitney and Mr Bowes was due to an untenable business relationship but just think of what else they might have brought us if they had been able to reconcile their differences.

So if marketing, technology or even the engineering behind your brainchild are outside your abilities, be open to the possibility of teamwork. Just ensure that you’re also realistic about when to compromise and when to stand your ground or you may have the same headaches as the founders of Pitney Bowes.

For more information about Pitney Bowes and the mailing supplies that are still sold today visit

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.