Back in 1885, when the Russell and Morgan Printing Company was preparing to launch a new line of playing cards, the company asked its employees to suggest a catchy, memorable brand name. The winning suggestion was the name of the popular item that was then sweeping the nation: the bicycle. Today, Bicycle is the top-selling playing card in the country, and its rider back design, shown in the ad above, is so well known that magicians choose it because it is so recognizable as a playing card.
Russell and Morgan, which started out producing circus posters in 1867, is now the United States Playing Card Company. Over the decades, it has produced several unique styles of cards, including a deck made for POWs during World War II: When the faces of these cards were peeled away, the cards could be assembled to reveal an escape map of Germany.
Parlor games come and go, yet playing cards are still in high demand. This year, the U.S. Playing Card Company will manufacture over 80 million decks.
This article is featured in the March/April 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.