Earlier this year, while announcing the Gypsum Association's 75th anniversary, readers were given a thumbnail sketch of how the association was established. Now that we're officially 75 and have had the opportunity to review the organization's archives from start to finish, there are several high points in the association's history that we'd like to share as we continue to celebrate.

The early years

Prior to the formal establishment of the association, several gypsum manufacturers had supported an informal Chicago-based organization known as the Gypsum Industries. The Gypsum Industries developed standards through third-party organizations and supported a research associate at the National Bureau of Standards. It also published several documents on the subject of gypsum tile or block, including one titled "Gypsum Partition Tile," which included a lengthy discussion about the history and proper use of gypsum tile.

In the late 1920s, several constituents of the gypsum industry agreed that creating a formal association offered a number of advantages over continuing to operate as the Gypsum Industries. And in April 1930, representatives of 12 gypsum companies met in Chicago for the first meeting of the association. During that first meeting, the association's constitution and bylaws were drafted, and arrangements were made to lease office space and to hire the association's first secretary, who would serve as its CEO for 17 years.

The first years of the organization saw an emphasis on the promotion of gypsum plaster, gypsum lath, and gypsum block; therefore, early association activity focused on increasing the use and specification of all gypsum products, solving technical problems, and negotiating "rail traffic" agreements on behalf of the plaster industry.

In 1931, the Technical Problems Committee, a carry-over from the Gypsum Industries, requested and received the funding to conduct four fire tests with the National Bureau of Standards, thus beginning a practice that would become the hallmark of the association in developing and providing fire-rated gypsum building systems for the construction industry.

However, these were lean years: the Great Depression was weighing heavily on the country, and the gypsum industry and the association sought economies at every opportunity, negotiating reduced rents, cutting back on staff, and essentially counting every penny. In fact, the early minutes reflect discussions about adjusting assessments to the members by fractions of a cent per ton of gypsum produced at every quarterly meeting. And each meeting listed members resigning for economic reasons.

Code of fair practice

In 1933, the federal government passed the National Industrial Recovery Act in an attempt to revive the economy. The association responded quickly and volunteered to participate in a NIRA program in which it would develop the Code of Fair Practice for the Gypsum Industry. Their offer accepted, the Executive Committee of the association called an emergency meeting with the intent of devising a means to enroll all United States gypsum companies in the association so that every player in the industry would have a voice in the development of the code. To achieve this goal, the committee agreed to lower the membership fee for associate members to $10 to ensure they could participate in the project.

In 1934, the association expanded its criteria for membership eligibility, and included companies that used certain types of "synthetic gypsum" for the production of gypsum products. The majority of gypsum companies were located east of the Rocky Mountains; however, several producers had sprouted up in the west, and by 1935 a Pacific Coast division of the Gypsum Association had emerged.

With membership now approaching 20 members, the Code of Fair Practice project marched on and soon a draft document was submitted to the government.

Advertising and promotional committee

By 1938, the GA began to see its potential to promote gypsum products to a wider audience, and appointed an Advertising and Promotional Committee to work with the association secretary "in the preparation of new literature on Gypsum Products." By 1940, the association had developed a publication titled "The ABC's of Plastering," aimed at the contractor and the architect, and included a list of testing facilities for architects seeking analysis of the plaster used on their projects.

In 1945, anticipating the housing boom, the association sought ways to ensure that gypsum board products were in a position to take full advantage of the pending demand for housing; the Technical Problems Committee and the Promotional Committee were tasked to research acquiring UL labeling for gypsum sheathing and were authorized funds for fire testing of gypsum sheathing.

Promotional films

In 1947, what would become a decade-long public-relations campaign began. The Promotional Committee proposed the production of a series of films and accompanying literature that would be presented to the public and various interest groups, including architects, trade associations, architectural schools, federal agencies, homeowner associations, and community service clubs (e.g. Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary). In response to the proposal, the association's Executive Committee approved $81,000 for the production of three films. The film "White Magic," was the main attraction; it was conceived as a 25-minute film to "dramatize gypsum and show its utility" to all comers. Also produced were a 15-minute film on lath and plaster, and a 15-minute film on gypsum wallboard and gypsum sheathing.

By 1951, "White Magic" had been shown as a film in Paramount and Warner theaters, federal agencies, schools, garden clubs, and all types of gatherings of architects, engineers, and building officials. By the end of its run in 1955, "White Magic" had aired on television to an estimated audience of more than 54 million viewers. But the Promotional Committee did not rest there; seeking to find new markets for gypsum board, the "Add a Room" campaign ran a series of articles in newspapers and magazines, targeting dealers and consumers and reaching a potential readership of 62 million. "Add a Room" also distributed radio scripts to 650 radio stations and distributed scripts and artwork to 475 television program directors. Other PR projects in this period included a brochure titled "Who Me?" which reached 25,000 dealers; "Operation Plaster," which recognized outstanding achievements in the industry; and "Operation School," which reached two million 4-H members and 28,000 trade school lath and plaster students.

The fire resistance data design manual

During this same period, the Technical Problems Committee had continued developing a catalog of fire-resistance rated building systems. During the 1940s, much work had been done on the development of fire resistant gypsum board, which became known as "extra" fire resistant (since gypsum had all along been advertised as fire resistant) or "Type X." In 1947, the committee received funding for the development and fire testing of a system comprised of wood studs and two layers of gypsum wallboard on each side of the studs in an attempt to achieve a 1-hour rating. The tested system received the 1-hour rating in 1949.

By 1959, the committee had conducted enough tests and gathered enough data to recommend producing a complete reference manual on fire resistance. The "Fire Resistance Design Data Manual" quickly became a staple of the GA. It was regularly updated with the latest designs, and was often provided to designers and building officials. In 1966, demand for the manual had grown to the point that 20,000 copies were distributed to architects and another 1,800 were provided to building officials as part of the Design Data Binder.

The use of gypsum board systems in apartment and office buildings had grown substantially during the '60s, in no small part because of their fire-resistant and sound-attenuating properties. In 1968, to meet industry demands, the Technical Committee recommended including sound, structural and assembly information along with the fire safety information in the manual. During this same period, the Building Code Committee, with the help of the membership, presented seminars to groups of building officials to orient them on the scope of the manual. A program using cassette tapes was created to enable architects and building officials to familiarize themselves with the manual. By 1973, a reference to the "Fire Resistance Data Design Manual" as a source of fire resistive designs had been incorporated in all the model building codes.

Manufactured housing

The '70s experienced a downturn in the economy, and as a result the conventional housing and commercial construction markets stalled. The manufactured housing market, offering more affordable homes, grew in popularity. In 1975, the Technical Committee began work on product standards for gypsum products used in manufactured housing. In 1976, the Promotion Committee received approval to develop a film called "Beauty with Safety" that demonstrated the fire resistance advantages of using gypsum board as a replacement for Luan plywood as an interior surfacing material in manufactured housing. The Promotion Committee also received authorization to begin work on a document titled "Manufactured Housing Recommendations." The campaign targeted both the producers of manufactured housing and their potential customers, using a mix of literature and film; an information kit was sent to a total of 728 producers nation wide over the course of the campaign.

An added boost came from the National Institute of Building Sciences, which released a study on manufactured housing in 1979 that rated gypsum products favorably. By 1980, a revised version of "Beauty with Safety," and a similar film titled "Time to Live," which featured gypsum roof underlayment, as well as manufactured housing applications, was aired on cable television to an estimated audience of five million viewers. During that period, the use of gypsum products in manufactured housing had grown from almost nothing to an estimated 50 percent of interior surfaces.

The '80s and '90s

With the broad acceptance of gypsum board products throughout the construction community, association efforts during the past two decades have focused largely on technical education and promotion. Since 1980, the association has broadly expanded its technical publication library through the introduction of many new publications. The association was also a primary force behind the creation of the landmark "GA-214, Levels of Gypsum Board Finish" brochure. When released to the public in 1992, GA-214 was the first document to effectively instruct wallboard finishers on the proper techniques to be employed when achieving specific levels of gypsum board finish quality. Jointly developed by the GA and three other industry organizations, the document was published after a multi-year series of industry meetings and negotiations.

In the '90s, the GA took the concepts contained in the print version of GA-214 and created an educational video and an interactive educational CD-ROM set for use by builders and contractors. Use of the CD-ROM version also allowed an architect to gain Continuing Education credits. During the same period, the association continued to explore and develop ways to promote the use of gypsum products. Since the early '90s, the Home Upgrade Program, and the Grassroots Fire Resistance and Sound Reduction program have been initiated. Both programs sought to expand markets for gypsum board products by encouraging the use of multiple-layer gypsum wallboard applications in residential construction.

In 2002, the association initiated funding for a multi-year program aimed at promoting the use of gypsum board townhouse separation wall and gypsum board roof underlayment systems.

Using a variety of media sources, the organization has sought to educate specifiers, designers, and builders about the options offered by gypsum board townhouse separation wall systems. In 2004, the campaign was a feature advertiser in numerous architectural trade magazines.

During the coming decades, new and different promotion programs and technical documents will be created by association members as market conditions change and new products emerge. Given the broad acceptance of gypsum board as a desirable building material, it is likely that the history of the GA is only partially complete.