How did the custom of sending Holiday Cards begin in the United States? Sir Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, had so many holiday greetings to send that handwriting them was impossible. He wanted his friends to be aware of the need to help the destitute on Christmas. So in 1843, Cole commissioned John Calcott Horsley to paint holiday greeting cards showing the feeding and clothing of the poor.
The first mainstream holiday card had a center panel showing a happy family embracing one another, sipping wine and enjoying the festivities. This card drew criticism because showing a child enjoying a sip of wine was considered to foster the moral corruption of children. Printed on the inside read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Following the mainstreaming of holiday cards in London, Americans had to import greeting cards from Great Britain for the following 30 years. Then in 1875 Louis Prang, a German man who immigrated to the United States, opened a lithography shop with only $250 and published the first line of personalized Christmas cards for America. This first line of Holiday cards featured flowers and birds…an image not reminiscent of a Christmas scene. But by 1881, Prang was producing more than 5 million Christmas cards per year featuring snow scenes, fir trees, glowing fireplaces, and children playing with toys.