History of Bell Trading

the history of bell trading

The system of trading posts in the arid southwest had an enormous impact on how the area was shaped, both economically and in the minds and imaginations of travelers to the area. One such post was established by Jack Michelson and his wife, Mildred, in 1932 in the growing city of Albuquerque.

Mildred’s maiden name was Bell, so the Michelsons chose the name Bell Trading Post for their business. The post was located along the new highway known as Route 66. Michelson hoped this spot would be a boon in establishing his business as a place where tourists could find locally made Native American jewelry.  The beginning years were a struggle but the location did help the trading post hold on, particularly when Roosevelt’s New Deal created the CCC and truckers were hitting the roads to transport goods. Bell Trading Post was in the right location to sell them souvenirs for their family back home.

Jobs were hard to come by then and many Native artisans were willing to make Jack Michelson’s jewelry. But money was scarce as well so the Michelsons looked to earlier entrepreneurs like Fred Harvey for how to make their new business a success. They installed their own machines for making the jewelry and used copper and nickel more than silver and gold to create their pieces. In the initial years, the post marked its jewelry with the image of a bell. Over the years there would be other trademarks they used, such as an arrow with a bell sign hanging from it. Most of these trademarks included a bell in some part of the design. Due to the fact that he had little competition, Jack Michelson decided against paying the cost to file these initial trademarks used during the 1930s.

The years during WWII saw the business boom. The southwest was designated as a military training area and there were many soldiers far from home looking for gifts to send back to their families. Bell Trading Post expanded its business and began to sell their products wholesale to other tourist shops. 

With the death of Jack in 1957, the business of Bell Trading Post passed to his children, Jack, Douglas and Jacquelyn. The change ushered in a new era for the company. The siblings opted to file their first trademark, and to expand their product line. In 1969, they formed Sunbell, a corporation which oversaw their new product lines such as Oglala Lakota moccasins and copperware as well as their jewelry. Sunbell remained in business until the late 1980s.