When it all began in a tiny two-man cork-cutting shop in 1860 in Pittsburgh, our national frontier barely reached beyond the western mountain ranges. Tom Armstrong's first deliveries of hand-carved corks were by wheelbarrow.
The son of ordinary Scotch-Irish immigrants from Londonderry, Tom Armstrong steered his struggling company through the Civil War, financial panics, disastrous factory fires and a cutthroat marketplace. He succeeded because he relied upon a family credo of hard work and faith. He attracted and held dedicated employees who shared the same values. He took pride in the production and sale of quality products that bore his family name. And he was determined that his company always act with fairness and in the "balanced best interests of customers, stockholders, employees, suppliers, community neighbors, government and the general public."
Armstrong was among the first of American entrepreneurs to discard the old business maxim of Caveat emptor--"Let the buyer beware"--and replace it by practicing the principle of "Let the buyer have faith."
He was a branding pioneer, too, stamping "Armstrong" on each cork as early as 1864. And soon he was tucking a written guarantee into the burlap sacks of cork shipped from a big new factory on a Pittsburgh riverbank.
As buyer confidence in the Armstrong brand of product and service grew, so did national sales. In the mid-1890s, Armstrong emerged as the world's largest cork company and was incorporated in 1891.
Early on, the company began to find new uses for cork and let one product lead logically to another. Corkboard led to fiberboard, fiberboard led to ceiling board, cork tile and linoleum insulating corkboard and brick, and then linoleum floors. A new factory rose from a cornfield on the edge of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in 1909, a year after Thomas Armstrong died, the company started making and selling linoleum, the first in a robust flooring product portfolio to come.
The Armstrong formula for success became clear – stick to your core business and your core values but adapt to changing conditions as the market and your customer demand – a philosophy that’s alive and well in the company today.