Friday, June 03, 2016
A History of Newspaper Syndicates by Elmo Scott Watson -- Chapter 3
Competition and Catastrophe 1870-1880
The next decade was one of the most important in syndicate history. New companies came into existence and there began an era of sharp competition which was destined to extend the use of syndicate service over fully two-thirds of the United States.
As the business of Cramer, Aikens and Cramer expanded they began to realize that they needed a better distributing point than Milwaukee. The rapid growth of Chicago and Kellogg's success there clearly indicated that it was the logical headquarters for the new industry. Therefore early in 1870 the Milwaukee publishers opened an office in the Illinois city and began their operations under the name of the Chicago Newspaper Union with Charles E. Strong in charge.1
By the beginning of the next year the activities of the two companies had made Chicago the syndicate capital of the American newspaper world. Kellogg's list of papers had mounted to a total of 240 and the Chicago Newspaper Union's was as large, if not larger. Kellogg had moved his headquarters again—this time to 110-112 West Madison street, on the second floor of a building occupied by the Bradner, Smith and Company's paper business.2
Then came the catastrophe which almost wiped the new industry out of existence. This was the great Chicago Fire of October 8 and 9, 1871. Before the flames reached the Bradner, Smith and Company building Schock and two other faithful Kellogg employees, the Stevens brothers, carried several forms of type out of the pressroom and loaded them into a handcart (perhaps the same handcart with which Schock had made his historic journey along Clark Street in August, 1865) and pushed it down to the lake. Tom Stevens, who was placed in charge, has left this account of what followed:
I stayed and watched them for two days. No one came to relieve me so I had to run the cart into the lake in order to try to save the type and chases.
When I returned two days later I found Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Schock and my brother standing over the body of a man who had been burned up on the lakefront, and they thought the remains were what were left of me. They were all so glad to see me alive and safe they forgot all about the cart and type.
When I took them over to the place where I had run the cart into the water, we found some one had pulled out the cart and taken away the contents. A few type were still on the ground and a man and some boys were picking them up.
One of the boys looked up to Mr. Kellogg and asked: "Do they belong to you?" Mr. Kellogg said: "Yes, but you can have what is left." Thus was taken away one of the last hopes of Mr. Kellogg, as most of the type in Chicago had been burnt up. (Edson mss.)
But even worse was the situation which confronted the syndicate pioneer when he went back to where his office had been. Schock has recorded the scene there as follows:
This building was full of paper stock in packages and bundles which of course made a slow-burning, terribly fierce fire. Our entire plant was dumped into and buried in this red-hot furnace.
There were several days of anxious waiting before anything could be done towards removing the debris so that we could get to our safe and when it was opened only a charred mass of paper was found, which, when the doors were opened, blew into the air. (Edson mss.)
Undaunted by the calamity, Kellogg sent Schock to Philadelphia and New York to purchase new presses, type and other material. Every train out of Chicago was packed with refugees from the stricken city, most of whom believed that it would never be rebuilt. Schock made the long journey east "dividing the time sitting on the coal box and on the steps of the smoker." But he brought back the necessary machinery and found that Kellogg, after a long search, had finally found a new location for his business—an old macaroni factory at 63-65 South Canal Street. There he started the rehabilitation of his wrecked business.
His difficulty was all the greater because his competitor, the Chicago Newspaper Union, had come through the conflagration unscathed. Originally located at 13 North Jefferson Street, a short time before the fire, its equipment had been moved to South Division Street. When the fire was over it was one of the few printing houses in Chicago that had escaped destruction.
"Thither burned-out publishers flocked," says Andreas in his "History of Chicago." "Additional shafting and presses were put in. Mr. Strong gave up his own office to those in distress and with a pile of paper for an editorial and cashier's desk, he operated five presses and two gangs of men day and night, publishing the Republican, the Post, the Staats Zeitung, the Union and numerous others." Moreover the Chicago Newspaper Union was able to continue supplying service to its country newspaper patrons. So while it was "business as usual" for the Cramer, Aikens and Cramer company, Kellogg had to start from scratch in carrying on his operations.
That the Chicago Fire had its effect upon newspapers far removed from the scene is indicated in the following comment in the Scientific American for November 11, 1871:
The fire in Chicago had the curious effect of spoiling the "outsides" of nearly two hundred weekly newspapers which are published hundreds of miles from that city, in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. One of the leading printers of Chicago did a large business in printing these "outsides" in duplicate and sending them to different places, where the local publishers printed the news on the other side. The farmers who depended upon these sheets for their weekly news must have been puzzled to know how the Chicago fire could have deprived them of their village newspaper while the home office remained intact.
This situation even attracted notice across the Atlantic, as witness the following from London correspondence in the Chicago Evening Journal for November 18, 1871:
Some of the London papers are making merry over the discovery that a large number of local newspapers were formerly furnished with their "outsides" by certain enterprising printers in Chicago, and describe in humorous language the dismay that must have ensued throughout Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota when the Great Fire deprived them of this resource. I happen to know that the same thing has been, and is, still done in this country, only here it is the "insides" and not the "outsides" which the London contractors furnish to the country press. These "insides" are made up of the current general news of the day, cribbed editorials, tales, essays, poetry, etc., while the "outsides" are reserved for home advertisements, local news, etc. There is no harm in the system. On the contrary, the country people get a much better local newspaper than they could obtain in any other way.
Although the two pioneer newspaper syndicates in Chicago rallied swiftly from the disaster, a new threat to the growing industry arose. A postal bill passed by the congress of 1872-73 contained in its original form the following provision: "Weekly newspapers within the respective counties where the same are actually and wholly printed and published, none other, may pass through the mails free of postage, as provided in the eighth clause of Section 184 of the 'Act to revise, consolidate, and amend the statutes relating to the Post Office Department.'"
This bill was aimed directly at the new auxiliary newspaper service. Representative Farnsworth of Illinois, chairman of the postal committee that framed the bill, stated that its object was to cut off weekly newspapers using readyprint from the benefits of free postage. The joker in it was the phrase "actually and wholly printed and published, none other."
The publishers of more than 1,300 country newspapers using the service were aroused by this bill. They flooded congress with their letters of protest. As a result Farnsworth, upon instructions from the committee, struck out the offending phrase and congress passed the bill with that provision thus amended. All ambiguity in the matter was removed by the postal law of 1874 which provided: "That newspapers, one copy to each actual subscriber residing within the county where the same are printed, in whole or in part, and published, shall go free through the mails."
No sooner was this danger to the syndicate business averted than another threatened it. In 1867 Kellogg, in an effort to meet the competition of Cramer, Aikens and Cramer, had reduced the price of his printed sheets to 50 cents a quire. In 1869 he cut it down to 40 cents and the next year to 36 cents. His price dropped to 20 cents in 1872 but the business stagnation which followed the panic year of 1873 halted any further radical downward trend because the scarcity of advertising made it impossible for any of the companies to cheapen the price of their product.
Another factor in making it difficult for them to secure advertising was the competition from magazines and periodicals whose circulations were increasing rapidly in this period. Advertisers compared the per thousand rates of these publications with the per thousand rate of the syndicate service and insisted upon an adjustment which would make them more nearly equal.
In the early days of the business, production costs were comparatively low but when the syndicates began improving their services, costs mounted. At first Kellogg and Schock, equipped with scissors and paste-pot, were able to take care of the editorial needs of their syndicate. But as the business and mechanical details began to require more and more attention, Kellogg saw that it was necessary to have a regular editorial staff to supply the constantly growing demands of publishers for a greater quantity and variety of literary, news and political matter. Accordingly he engaged J. M. Edson, a former middle western country publisher, who in 1867 became the first syndicate editor in the history of American journalism. Four years later I. F. Guiwits, who had started in the syndicate business with his Franklin Printing Company at Middletown, N.Y., in 1869, was added to the editorial staff and from that time on its personnel was increased steadily.
In 1871 Kellogg offered the first continued story in his printed sheets and the next year, the first illustrated articles. In 1873 the Chicago Newspaper Union took the first step toward making the "insides" more than a mere collection of "time copy" by offering state news to their subscribers. Thereafter, improvements and changes in making up the pages for different clients were numerous. All of these alterations occurring in the same forms almost doubled the cost of production. But it was these innovations which made the syndicate service popular and aided in its rapid growth.
Despite-the tribulations of fire, panic and sharp competition which Kellogg had encountered, he continued to expand his business. In May, 1872, he bought the syndicate business of Sheffield and Stone, St. Louis advertising agents, who had been supplying 116 papers, and soon thereafter he also acquired the business of Kimball and Taylor at Belleville, Ill. Placing Fernando C. Wood in charge, he began supplying the newspapers on both lists from the branch office which he established in St. Louis.
In connection with the St. Louis acquisition Kellogg did another bit of pioneering in the newspaper business worthy of mention. In the sixties there was no uniform measure for column widths in the country press. Every publisher was a "rugged individualist" who took pride in making his paper as different as possible from that of his neighbor. Sheffield and Stone had been issuing their printed sheets in two measures—12 1/2 ems and 13 1/2 ems—so that two sizes of paper had to be used in supplying their customers.
As an economy measure Kellogg and Wood decided to use only one measure, 13 ems, and a standard size for the print paper. By offering to assist their patrons in making the change by exchanging leads and rules cut to the new measure, the Kellogg company converted the newspapers on their St.Louis list to the uniform measure. Later it was extended to general use in the country field, where it has been the standard until recent years when the 12-em column width began to supplant it.
In 1874 Kellogg opened branch offices in St.Paul, Minn., and Cincinnati, Ohio, and two years later he started another in Cleveland. By 1880 his five offices were serving more than 800 papers with printed sheets. In 1882 he took over the syndicate business of the Western Auxiliary Publishing House, a subsidiary of the Kansas City Times which was serving 55 papers, and placed Guiwits, who had become editor at his St. Louis office, in charge of the new Kansas City branch. In the same year he bought the Aikens Newspaper Union in Cincinnati and combined its list of 115 papers with those on his own Cincinnati list.3
During this year an epidemic of yellow fever swept the South and forced the suspension of many businesses, among them a small syndicate in Memphis, Tenn. When it did not resume business, Kellogg saw his opportunity to invade the southern field and he did so by establishing a branch office in Memphis in 1884 with a list of 15 papers.
Kellogg died in Thomasville, Ga., on March 23, 1886. In 20 years his syndicate had grown from a "shoestring venture" supplying eight small country weeklies to a $200,000 corporation4 serving nearly 1,400 papers with printed sheets and several thousand more with stereotyped plates (a medium of service which he added in 1875). Kellogg was not only an astute business man and an organizer and administrator of unusual ability, but, according to the testimony of his contemporaries, he was also a cultured "gentleman of the old school" and a journalist of high ideals. Among the precepts which he laid down for his editorial staff were these:
"Spare no pains nor expense to get the best and freshest of news and literary matter."
"It is as much the mark of a good editor to know what not to print as to be able to select good and appropriate matter."
"When in doubt about the propriety of printing an article, leave it out; there is plenty of that which is unquestionably good and desirable."
"In the news columns avoid, as far as possible, the giving of details of scandals and crimes—confining the accounts to mere statements of facts of general interest or importance."
"There is always room for improvement and betterment. The best is none too good for the Kellogg service."
In 1922 a historian in the Middle West, writing of the beginnings of the newspaper syndicate in that part of the country, declared: "It worked a revolution in the rural press of America, the far-reaching consequences of which defy measurement. Yet our formal hstories of the press, while devoting ample space to such matters as the general idiosyncrasies of certain famous New York editors, utterly ignore this development and one will search them in vain for any mention of the name of the man to whom above any other it is due."5
That man was Ansel Nash Kellogg, "The Father of the Newspaper Syndicate."
1. Strong had entered the office of the Evening' Wisconsin in 1860 as a compositor and two years later he was made foreman. The first printed sheets issued by Cramer, Aikens and Cramer in 1864 were made up under his direction.
2. Bradner, Smith and Company is still in business in Chicago, only a short distance away from the offices of the successors to Kellogg's company—Western Newspaper Union.
3. This company had been established originally in 1874 by Elijah Brown, the famous "Ram's Horn Paragrapher."
4. The A. N. Kellogg Newspaper company was Incorporated in Illinois on March 5, 1881, with a capital stock of $200,000. The stockholders were Kellogg, Edwin E. Pratt, William H. Thomson, J. M. Edson, James J. Schock, F. C. Wood, H. B. Speed and W. W. Hallock. Schock, who set the first type for Kellogg's syndicate service, was mechanical superintendent for many years and later became treasurer of the company. His son, Frank Schock, is now (1935) foreman of the composing room for Western Newspaper Union. Hallock, who entered Kellogg's employ soon after the Chicago fire, became an advertising expert and in 1878 established the eastern advertising office for Kellogg, is at present eastern advertising manager for Western Newspaper Union.
5. M. M. Quaife—"How A. N. Kellogg Revolutionized America's Country Press," in the National Printer-Journalist, February, 1922.