Boag Ribboncraft, Boag, Inc., and Boag Studios Story

Book 5

Susan Wildemuth, Atkinson, IL

Boag Ribboncraft Company and Boag, Inc.


Boag Rose Pins

Author's Collection


Meet Ellen B. Roak Boag Porter

Born in Auburn, Maine about 1875 in area of Cumberland and Androscoggin County, Ellen B. Roak was the middle child of florist George M. and Emma Roak. (1) On June 23, 1897, she married Canadian born salesman James Thomas Boag (pronounced Bowguh (long o) – not Baaguh) in Auburn, Maine and the couple made River Forest, Illinois their home. (2)

Two years later, the young couple was blessed with a son on June 2, 1899, naming him George Roak Boag, in honor of Ellen’s father George M. Roak. 3   Another son, James T. Boag, Jr. passed away in infancy from scarlet fever on May 22, 1904. (4)  Tragedy struck the Boag family again, when 37 year old James, Sr. passed away at the family’s River Forest home on February 13, 1913 from pulmonary tuberculosis. (5)   

The Birth of Boag Ribboncraft Company

The daughter of a florist, Ellen Roak Boag had always been a creative soul who “had definite ideas of flower arrangement and was original in her adaptation of such ideas to artificial media.” (6)

The creative spark for her business began before her first husband’s passing when a friend, knowing how clever she was at making things, asked her to make some American Beauty Rose favors for a party she was having. (7)  Created from ribbon, Ellen’s rose favors were such a success that someone at the event suggested she make them to sell. Around this same time, James Boag’s health began to deteriorate and he quietly passed away from tuberculosis on February 13, 1913.  A young widow with a son to raise, Ellen could have taken to her bed and no one would have blamed her, but she rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

With encouragement, she put her handiwork into the Woman’s Exchange in Chicago, Illinois until the Exchange told her she was “so successful that she was really a business in her own rights and didn’t belong in their ranks.” (8)  With the help of Miss Katharine H. Wood, Boag Ribboncraft Company became a reality in River Forest, Illinois, between 1914 and 1916.  According to a newspaper account, “From her small beginning Mrs. Boag (later Porter) organized the Boag Ribboncraft Company and made it grow with the help of a host of friends who believed in her tireless energy and fund of optimism.” (9)

It started out as a home business and would continue to operate in that capacity for a few years.  As her business grew, neighbors helped her and she parceled out the work at piece rates.  “Made almost entirely of silk and satin ribbons with wire, stamens, and other centers, the articles manufactured were made by hand in more than 500 different designs.  Work was done on the assembly line plan.  One person would do all of one kind of petal, another all leaves, yet another, flat-plastron blossoms and finally still another would assemble these into a finished piece.” (10)

She became famous nationwide for her ribbon flowers.  One article states,  “Out of ribbon, wire, and a few other odds and ends she made exquisite ribbon flowers of many kinds and for years not only villagers of River Forest wore them in their hair, on coat lapels, as hat trimming, as corsages, or evening gown trim, but people from coast to coast ‘fell’ for them.”  (11) 

Boag Novelty Item

Author's Collection

Without a doubt, Boag Ribboncraft Company’s specialty was Ellen Boag’s ribbon roses.  All sorts of “ribbon” items such as powder puff sets, camisole straps, garters, lingerie bows, baby pins, pin cushions, opera bags, lingerie sets, silver and gold ribbon corsage, head-bands, brooches, camisole straps, nose gays, puff and mirror sets, boudoir sets, fancy garters, afghan bows, rosettes, bath salts, handkerchiefs, and sachets were available.  Each Boag item, large and small, came elegantly wrapped and boxed.  Some boxed items even came with a sentiment printed on a small card such as, “May every day throughout the year be filled with love, and hope, and cheer!” Boag items became so popular “all the first class stores throughout the United States” had them in the inventory. (12)

It had started as a home business, but it grew so quickly that business associate Henry Waller erected a showroom and factory at 265-269 Lake Street in River Forest, Illinois. (13) Another showroom was established in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and others in the Textile Building in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.” (14)   Eventually there would be ten traveling salesmen covering every state of the Union. Orders were also received for Boag Ribboncraft items from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, and Japan.

With the help of Chicago, Illinois lawyer William R. Medaris who worked at the Merchants Loan and Trust Building at 112 West Adams Street in Chicago, Illinois, Ellen Boag and Katharine Wood incorporated Boag Ribboncraft Company on March 24, 1916.  (15)  Ellen Boag, Miss Katherine H. Wood, and William R. Medaris were the original stockholders and officers; Mr. Medaris also acted as the corporation’s agent.  (16)  A 1916 corporation documents states “Capital paid in property, appraised as follows: $15,000.00 Common Stock and $10,000.00 Preferred Stock paid for by transfer and sale to this company of the business, stock on hand, good will, and accounts of the ribboncraft business now carried on in River Forest Illinois by Mrs. Ellen R. Boag and Miss Katherine H. Wood under the firm name of ‘Boag,’” but would be known henceforth as the Boag Ribboncraft Company. (17)

The Boag logo or trademark was a rose with ribbons which resembles a corsage. An appropriate design for the daughter of a florist, this symbol appeared on business ephemera and gold seals used for shipping. Granddaughter Cathy Beyer describes the logo and gold seals this way “it was a medallion of roses with the name BOAG below them and a cascade of several ribbons below that.  Boag Ribboncraft items were packed in an ivory box, wrapped in cellophane, and secured with a gold Boag seal.” (18)   The last word in ribbon creations, Boag Ribboncraft was noted for “going the extra mile” artistically for their customers even with their shipping presentation.  (19)

Ellen Boag also produced “Boag Studio” mail-order catalogs featuring illustrations of many of her items. These publications were wonderful marketing tools, allowing her to reach consumers in rural areas.  As her business grew the market for her products broadened and her wares sold in myriad shops in large and small communities across the nation. Her granddaughter states, “If you walked into a department store in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, you’d find samples of her products there.” (20) Boag Ribboncraft products even found homes in shops in Paris. (21)

By all accounts Ellen Boag was a wonderful soul who was known by those who knew and loved her as “Aunty Boag.”  As one newspaper article states, “It was hard to find someone who didn’t like Ellen. She was wonderful to work for. Full of love and attracted loyal and dear friends.” (22) Women in her employ worked from their own homes turning in the finished product. (23)  She employed 150 workers in River Forest, Illinois and 2000 more came from the surrounding area.  “During this time period William Gilmore Sr., a ribbon salesman for Johnson Cowden Company, handled most of her ribbon orders.” (24)

By the 1920 census Henry W. Porter (formerly of St. Louis), Ellen’s second husband, had joined the firm.  Mr. Porter played a very active role in the company business and within the community of River Forest. A corporation document filed with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office filed March 16, 1921 lists Henry W. Porter as the Treasurer and Assistant Secretary of the corporation. (25)

Katharine Wood is not listed in any of the 1921 State of Illinois documents or in the 1920 River Forest census under the name Katharine Wood.  It appears she had left the organization by the late 1910s, but there is no primary or secondary information available to back that hypothesis up, so her departure from the company she helped start remains a bit of a mystery.

The Next Generation - George Roak Boag

Single and 19 in 1918, George Roak Boag was working in Shawnee, Kansas as an assistant store manager for F.W. Woolworth Company. (26)   Around 1920, George moved back to Illinois and was a manager of the F.W. Woolworth Co. store in Litchfield, Illinois.  Sometime between 1918 and 1920, he met and married Florence Force in Litchfield. (27)  The couple would have three children: George Roak Boag, Jr., Bett Ellen Boag, and James Thomas Boag. (28)  In 1922, Mr. Boag returned to River Forest with his family where he joined the staff of Boag Ribboncraft Company, eventually working his way up to the position of Vice-President. (29)  His mother and step-father would continue to co-manage Boag Ribboncraft Company with great success throughout the 1920s and by the end of the decade had a sales volume in excess of a million dollars. (30)

April 16, 1929 marked a company name change from Boag Ribboncraft Company to Boag, Inc. and Grace M. Finch was listed as the corporation’s secretary. (31)  In 1929 the street numbering system was changed by the Village of River Forest, and as a consequence the former numbers designating the business address of Boag, Inc. were changed from 265-269 Lake Street to 7775-7781 Lake Street. (32)

Ellen (Boag) Porter Retires

The early 1930s would bring two major changes to the company. With his mother’s blessing and support, George Roak Boag split from Boag, Inc. in about 1932 to pursue a business venture of his own. Ellen shut the doors to her business in 1933.  Why did Ellen close shop?  The family is not sure.  The “speculation” is the Depression took a toll on her business as it did so many others during that time period; others feel that Ellen might have decided to retire, but either way the corporation known as Boag, Incorporated was dissolved in the Spring/Summer of 1933. (33) Ellen and Henry Porter moved from Illinois to Florida where they built a home and established a citrus grove at Howey-in-the-Hills, near Orlando. (34)


Special Note

If anyone has a photograph of George Roak Boag or Ellen Roak Boag Porter or any additonal information please contact the author Susan Wildemuth at quiltingbee73@yahoo.com  I would be happy to hear from you.