The Early Days of Hippo-Tees
In the 1960s, with only $100, Jeffrey Axelrod started Hip-O-Potamus Tees in his garage with an artist friend, Barry Anderson, who created artwork of Superman, Wiley Coyote, Harley-Davidson, the peace sign and Boone’s Apple Farm. The entire process of putting the artwork on the t-shirts was done by hand. The duo started selling the shirts by going door to door to various businesses, carrying the tees in an old movie case.
Their big break happened when they came upon a head shop in Mill Valley owned by two women, one of which was the wife of the Grateful Dead’s drummer. She asked Axelrod and Anderson if they could have 200 Grateful Dead t-shirts ready for the following Monday when the band was leaving on tour. With that, their entrance into the rock ‘n roll business was created.
Eventually, Hip-O-Potamus became one of the biggest companies in the country for silk screening, morphing into a 50,000-square-foot, $10-million business with anywhere from 40-100 employees at any given time. Clients and brands included the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Santana, Steve Miller, Pablo Cruise, Bill Graham Presents, Jefferson Starship, the Bee Gees, Willie Nelson, CSN&Y, and many more. In between the rock groups, the company also got the licensing for such movies as Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, Amadeus, The English Patient and many others. Hip-O-Potamus was also the first company to do printing for Greenpeace and other organizations to raise money to protect endangered species.
When the California marijuana initiative took place in the 70s, Axelrod and Anderson found themselves smoking hot in the middle of the foray, creating t-shirts to get the vote out and also to raise funds for such groups as Mothers for Marijuana.
Axelrod and Anderson literally pioneered the tee-shirt industry and Hip-O-Potamus gained a reputation as being the only honest printer. As a result the company was picked to be the first in the U.S. to be the guinea pig to experiment with the first automatic silk screen printer.
“People still refer to Barry and I, with our initials B and J, as the Ben & Jerry of marijuana,” says Axelrod. “Hip-O-Potamus Tees is stirring the “pot” once again!”