What's in a Name?

on May 06, 2021

Historical Original Snow Village Pieces

Over the years we have been asked this question quite a lot? Department 56 is an unusual name for a company, How did you come up with the name for products we have grown to know and love over the years? Where does the name come from?

Let’s take a look at the history of our company and how the name came to be.

Back in the early 1970s a talented floral designer named Ed Bazinet worked for a Minnesota based company called Bachman’s. Bachman’s was a family owned and operated and was started in 1885 by Henry Bachman. At first the Bachman family concentrated on growing vegetables that were raised on a plot of land in south Minneapolis by Henry and his five sons. In about 1914, one of the sons, Albert, decided to raise flowers and within a few years, growing high quality flowers became the basis for the family business.

Fast forward to the 1970s when Ed Bazinet was hired to design some of the unique and gorgeous arrangements that came from Bachman’s. He was the type of person who constantly was thinking outside the box. He was never happy putting flowers in a simple vase or basket. Ed was always looking for unusual ways to make his work stand out – whether it be in an antique fishing creel, a watering can or in an old shoe, and because the types of containers Ed dreamed up weren’t always available, he started looking at designing some himself. He worked with container manufacturers overseas and started a small import company based out of his garage and sourced some of the very first products that we have come to know as Department 56.

But the name, how did that come to be? Bachman’s was a very business savvy company with a system of using numbers to identify the many departments within their ever-growing company. 27 might have been the greenhouse and 35 was Personnel, Department 56 was the Gift Import Department, the department that Ed expanded when he started designing containers for use by the floral design department, the green house and for sale in their expanding giftware departments. When Ed decided to spend all of his time working of the successful gift imports he enjoyed designing, he asked to take the name of the department he headed as the name for his new company, and “Department 56” was born.

A holiday dinner with friends the nearby river town of Stillwater, Minnesota, was the inspiration for the first pieces that we now know as “The Original Snow Village.” As was the tradition, the stores, restored turn of the century homes, churches and inns were always decorated for Christmas with garlands, wreaths and bright lights. As the group of friends drove through town admiring the decorations, they began to reminisce about holiday traditions and how wonderful it would be to capture the nostalgia in something that could be shared from year to year. Immediately, Ed came up with the idea to create ceramic pieces, little lighted houses that were decorated for the season.

In 1976, the first six pieces were introduced, 4 little houses and two churches. Three more were added in 1977 six in 1978. When 1979 came around it was decided to stop production on the buildings from the first two years to make room in the production schedule for the new introductions. And we all know what happens when something is no longer made, it becomes sought after. And that’s what happened. Over the next few years the popularity of the “Snow houses” grew and Department 56 became synonymous with the Christmas holidays.

Ed always enjoyed adding subtle details to the buildings, and suggested that whenever the building had a clock on it, that the time be set to 5 minutes to 6. So to honor of the founder of our company, we still set our clocks to this time.