Friday, June 10, 2016


History of Newspaper Syndicates by Elmo Scott Watson -- Chapter 4



The Rise of the "Newspaper Unions" 1870-1890

Although the syndicating of newspaper material began rising to its high tide in the seventies, it is interesting to note that the term "newspaper syndicate" did not come into general use until several years later. Kellogg called his enterprise a "newspaper company" and Cramer, Aikens and Cramer introduced the term "newspaper union."

This was a misnomer in that it implied either some connection of ownership among the newspapers taking their service or a cooperative arrangement among those newspapers analagous to that of the Associated Press.1 In neither case was this true, but thenceforth most of the new syndicates, or auxiliary printing concerns, called themselves "newspaper unions." While Kellogg had been extending his operations, Cramer, Aikens and Cramer had not been idle. The energetic Aikens, undiscouraged by his previous attempt to introduce syndicate service into the East, went to New York again in 1870 and this time he found George P. Rowell willing to listen to his plan for establishing a readyprint business in that city. The result was the founding of the New York Newspaper Union by Aikens, Rowell and Samuel French. Col. E. C. Messervy was brought from Milwaukee and placed in charge of the enterprise as editor and superintendent.

On March 21, 1871, the Chicago Newspaper Union was incorporated with a capitalization of $20,000 and the parent house in Milwaukee became a subsidiary of the Chicago office.2 Next Cramer, Aikens and Cramer established the Southern Newspaper Union at Nashville, Tenn. (later moved to Memphis), and in May, 1874 the Aikens Newspaper Union in Cincinnati. These three unions, with the New York Newspaper Union, were operated under the name of the American Newspaper Union, the first syndicate which came near being nationwide in its scope. By 1875 a total of 1,800, or nearly a third of all the country weeklies in the United States, were using syndicate service in the form of printed sheets and of this number the American Newspaper Union claimed to be supplying 1,100.

Cramer, Aikens and Cramer continued to operate the New York Newspaper Union until late in 1876, when James H. Beals, son of the owner of the Boston Post, appeared in syndicate history. Beals had known Rowell when the latter was employed on the Post and when Beals came to New York, Rowell knowing that Cramer, Aikens and Cramer were ready to dispose of the New York Newspaper Union, proposed to Beals that they buy it. The purchase was made in January. 1877, the new owners being Beals, his uncle, Joshua G. Beals of Boston, Rowell and E. W. Foster, an employee of the Rowell Advertising Agency. Young Beals was elected president and active head of the company. Col. Messervy continued as editor, although he resigned a few months later to start a rival business under the name of the Union Printing Company.

Within a year Beals had begun an expansion of the business. His first step was the purchase of a small Philadelphia syndicate, operated under the direction of M. L. Yeager. Beals supplied the papers on this list from his New York office until they protested that transportation costs from New York were too heavy. He then opened a branch house in Baltimore in 1879 with Yeager in charge. At this time the New York Newspaper Union was operating on a narrow financial margin and the service from the Baltimore house was printed on a press which Beals rented from the Baltimore News for a dollar a day. Beals' next step was to open a branch house in Boston in 1880 which operated under the name of the New England Newspaper Union.

By 1883 the competition in the Ohio Valley between Beals' New York house, Kellogg's Cleveland branch and the Aikens Newspaper Union in Cincinnati was so keen that Beals decided to open a branch house in Pittsburgh. He sent Yeager to establish the plant there in his own name, but later made public the real ownership.

Beals became involved in a price-cutting war with the Union Printing Company soon afterwards and in 1884 he bought out this firm, although Messervy continued as editor until his death in 1888. In 1886 Beals proposed to his partner Rowell that one of them buy the other's interest in the business and as a result, Rowell sold out—three-fourths of his interest to Beals and the other fourth to Kent, Rowell's partner in the advertising business. The New York Newspaper Union, now owned by Beals, Kent and Foster, and later by Beals and Foster, was operating two plants in New York, the original Cramer, Aikens and Cramer house and that of the Union Printing company. With its two branches at Baltimore and Boston, it had a virtual monopoly of the readyprint business on the Atlantic coast.

In addition to being the leading figure in the industry in the East, Beals was also influential in its expansion in the South. After the yellow fever plague had forced Brown to discontinue his Memphis house, the "Ram's Horn Paragrapher" moved to Atlanta, Ga., where he and John H. Norwood established a syndicate business under the name of the Publishers' Union of Atlanta. Beals bought this house in 1883, renamed it the Atlanta Newspaper Union, and in 1884 opened another house in Charlotte, N. C, to aid the Baltimore and Atlanta branches in supplying southern newspapers. When Kellogg entered the field the same year with his branch at Memphis, the resulting competition forced Beals to establish a branch in Birmingham, Ala., in 1886.

Although the number of Southern newspapers using printed sheets during the growth of the industry in that section of the country was large, according to the figures of syndicates supplying them, these figures are in reality deceptive and are not an accurate index of the growth of syndicate service in the South. In many cases these newspapers, claimed as users of the service, were publications issued at very irregular intervals and were not syndicate patrons in the same sense as were the patrons of the service in the East and Middle West.

While these developments were taking place in the East and South a new star in the syndicate world was rising in the West. In December, 1872, a group of five men organized the State Printing Company at Des Moines, Iowa, for the purpose of "printing and publishing in cooperation with the newspaper press of Iowa."3 In October, 1873, this company bought the newspaper, book and job printing business of the Des Moines Daily and Weekly Republican but, because of a too rapid expansion of its operations, became heavily involved financially. The result was a reorganization as the Iowa Printing Company in 1876 and its sale two years later to W. E. Andrews and W. H. Welch.

There now appeared on the scene another Easterner who was to become a dominant figure in syndicate history. He was George A. Joslyn who entered the employ of the Iowa Printing company as a shipping clerk in 1878.4 Within a short time he was sent to Omaha to establish a branch of the Iowa Printing Company under the name of the Omaha Newspaper Union. Two years later W. A. Bunker, who was operating the Kansas City Newspaper Union, became associated with Andrews and Welch. On June 11, 1880, the three men reorganized the Iowa Printing company and incorporated it in Des Moines under the name of the Western Newspaper Union.

As its name indicated, the Western Newspaper Union was founded to serve the recently established newspapers in the vast trans-Missouri empire, just then opening up to settlement. With Andrews as manager at Des Moines, Bunker at Kansas City and Joslyn at Omaha the new syndicate started on a program of rapid expansion which was destined to carry it to a position of supremacy in the syndicate field, mainly due to the driving force of Joslyn, the transplanted New Englander.

The first step in this expansion was taken in December, 1880, when the St. Paul Newspaper Union was purchased from N. P. Nail, and A. E. Bunker, a brother of the Kansas City manager, was placed in charge.5 Within the next three years, the new syndicate, by purchasing the Michigan Ready Print List of Detroit from Luther H. Trowbridge and by operating a branch office in New York City, had served notice on its competitors that it was not confining its activities to the Western field.

In 1884 the Western Newspaper Union established a branch office in Denver, Colo., purchased the Texas Newspaper Union at Dallas from H. C. Jones and sold its half-interest in the Kansas Newspaper Union, founded at Topeka in 1880 by F. P. Baker and Sons. In 1886 it bought the St. Louis Newspaper Union from James E. Mumford and in 1888 the Lincoln (Neb.) Newspaper Union from A. D. Hosterman, J. N. Garver and Phil V. Dewey, In 1889 it purchased from Edward P. Greer of Winfield, Kan., and W. D. Boyce of Chicago the Winfield Newspaper Union and in the same year gained a foothold in the "syndicate capital" by purchasing the Mutual Newspaper Publishing company, a small syndicate business which Boyce was operating in Chicago.

During all this time Joslyn had been increasingly active in the affairs of the Western Newspaper Union, serving as a manager of a branch office, director, treasurer and vice president. Finally in 1890 he became president, general manager and principal stockholder, and from that time on the Western Newspaper Union was George A. Joslyn and George A. Joslyn was the Western Newspaper Union.

Had syndicated service been limited to one medium of delivery to the publisher (printed sheets), its scope and its opportunity for usefulness would have necessarily been limited also. But American mechanical genius now stepped forward to make possible its extension into wider fields. Improvements in the art of stereotyping, which dates from the first decade of the Nineteenth century in this country but which did not become general until after 1850, added the plate to the printed sheet as a method of supplying feature service to a greater number of country newspapers, both weekly and daily.


1. Although the early syndicates referred to the advertising which they carried in their printed service as "cooperative advertising," it was cooperative only in a limited sense. The syndicate acted as advertising solicitor for the newspapers taking their service and had the entire responsibility for handling such details as billing and furnishing the advertiser with checking copies. The newspapers carrying this advertising received no direct cash remuneration for it but they were paid for it indirectly by being able to purchase syndicate service which carried the advertising at a lower price than that which carried none. Without this advertising feature, which Aikens did so much to develop, it is doubtful if the early syndicates could have been able to offer this convenient medium of syndicate supply at a cost low enough to have made possible the rapid and widespread growth of the use of syndicate service.

2. The original incorporators were Charles E. Strong, A. J. Aikens, J. F. Cramer, Alonzo L. Kane and Sterling P. Rounds. In 1881 its charter was renewed and the company was reorganized with John F. Cramer as president, William E. Cramer as vice president and C. E. Strong as secretary. Ten years later this company, which had started with a capital stock of $20,000, had increased its capitalization to $250,000.

3. These men were John A. Elliott, P. M. Casady, S. F. Spofford, B. F. Gue and Samuel Merrill, who had been governor of Iowa from 1868 to 1871.

4. Joslyn was born in Lowell, Mass., June 30, 1848. His parents later moved to Vermont and he was reared in the village of Waitsfield. In 1874 he was married to Sarah L. Selleck of Montpelier and four years later the young couple left New England for the greater opportunities offered in the West. They settled in Des Moines, Iowa, where Joslyn got his start with the Iowa Printing Company.

5. Bunker was a native of New Hampshire who had emigrated to Minnesota in 1855, learned the printing trade on the Mantorville (Minn.) Express and then entered the service of the First National Bank at Northfield, Minn. He was a teller in that bank at the time of the famous Northfield bank raid of September 7, 1876, by the James-Younger gang and was shot through the shoulder by one of the Missouri outlaws as he tried to escape to spread the alarm. At the time of his death in 1929 he was the last survivor at those who were in the bank when it was raided.


Joslyn in charge of WNU at age 42, a young success.
Western Newspaper Union, starting to get to syndicates I can identify with comic strips.
Any disclaimer coming about Watson's relationship with WNU?

Finding this extremely interesting.
Hi DD --
Watson admitted that much of his research material came from the archives of WNU, so it is certainly not surprising that they come in for a lot of coverage in the book. The unfortunate thing to me is that this wealth of research material seems to have blinded Watson a bit to the far greater importance of the syndicates we think of as important. Watson will continue to favor the boilerplate syndicates with a great deal of coverage throughout the book -- especially WNU of course.

A perfect book, therefore, it is not. However, it has far more information about syndication presented in one place than you'll ever find anywhere else.

Very glad to hear you're enjoying the ride, and that you're keeping the shortcomings in mind. I'd gladly start work on a (hopefully) better book on syndicate history ... if I thought it would sell more than three copies.

four counting me.
Thanks Eddie, that ought to put us in the zone to have publishers fighting over my services with big fat advance checks!

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