Clarinets to Printing Presses 

Utley Brothers Printing celebrated its 70th Anniversary in 2015. A classic Made-in-Detroit story which actually has it’s beginning in western Kansas when the older of two brothers sold his clarinet to purchase a mail-order table-top printing press.  

1933 was not a good year for Wheeler Utley to start a printing business - after all it was in the midst of the Great Depression. Much to his mother's dismay, Wheeler wanted to make money more than music, selling his clarinet to purchase a mail-order printing press he pushed ahead through high school, gaining printing experience. The hobby turned into a passion at about the time the Utley family moved to Detroit, Michigan. The boys’ father, L.C. Utley, was a preacher and wrote religious tracts. He needed someone to print his publications so he encouraged Wheeler to become a “real” printer. They bought an old hand-fed press that had been stored for years in a chicken coop. Wheeler took the press home, cleaned it up and set up shop in the basement of the family home. Wheeler adopted the name Globe Print Shop for the new business. Small-yet-steady progress eventually led the young entrepreneur to open a “real” print shop on Manchester Street in Detroit, Michigan.

In 1945, World War II was ending and younger brother Bob returned from service with the Marines in the Pacific. Bob joined Wheeler in the business and they formally established Utley Brothers Printing on March 18, 1945. After years of war the country began to shift its focus and Detroit transitioned from being the Arsenal of Democracy to becoming the Motor City.  On a cold winter night in 1952, Bob and Wheeler visited a local car dealer to see the new car models. The cars were beautiful but the business cards they received were awful... really drab-looking!

The brothers went back to their printing shop, designed some colorful cards and sent samples to a selected list of car dealers. That first year they sold 300 orders of cards. Wow! They were sure they had found their niche. For the next 29 years the two brothers worked as a team to build the family printing business.

In 1974, older brother Wheeler, retired from printing to devote more time to preaching – he had a lot of practice praying while running the small printing company. The years had been good to the small family-owned company as the company had become a specialist in designing and producing business cards for automobile dealers nationwide. 


For the next 30 years, Bob Utley continued to grow the business, as the company expanded into other markets with new products and capabilities. While a half-century earlier everything was produced with hand-fed presses, technology was leveraged and efficiencies were gained as the company tripled in size.

In 2004, after nearly 60 years at the company (and at the age of 79) Bob hung up his printer’s apron and retired.  At which time, son-in-law Duane Harrison, took over and grew the business to even newer heights, leading the company as it transitioned into digital printing. Business cards remained an important specialty, but the company began to “grow beyond the cards” as both the economy and technology demanded.

Much has happened in our industry and our family business over the past decade. In addition to experiencing an economic tsunami which reshaped the country and the printing industry, our father and uncle retired from the business. In 2013, older brother Andy and younger brother Ashley, bought the 3rd generation family business, which meant for the first time in 40 years, Utley Brothers was run by brothers again! 

In 2015 the company proudly celebrated it's 70-year milestone, recognizing the hard work and sacrifice that went into the company’s beginning and the vision and creativity that contributed to its growth. We proceeded boldly ahead by continuing the family’s legacy of producing quality branded marketing, backed by solid and personal customer support. 

In 2017 Utley Brothers joined ArborOakland Group of Royal Oak, Michigan. The opportunity to become part of ArborOakland Group meant the 70+ year legacy would be on a solid foundation for years to come while at the same time being able to offer customers an extensive range of marketing capability. 

Stop in the next time you’re in the area, we’re proud of our Made-in-Detroit story and would love to share it with you on a tour of our facility.