The Crowell-Collier Publishing Empire: A Chronicle of Rise and Demise

The trajectory of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, an enterprise that ascended to unprecedented dominance before succumbing to market forces, represents a remarkable narrative worthy of examination.

The trajectory of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, an enterprise that ascended to unprecedented dominance before succumbing to market forces, represents a remarkable narrative worthy of examination. Originating from humble beginnings in the print shops of Louisville, it rapidly transformed into the world’s preeminent magazine printing house in Springfield, Ohio, occupying a vast 900,000-square-foot complex.

Mr. Crowell’s foray into publishing commenced modestly, with the printing of Farm and Fireside magazine in a two-story edifice in Springfield. However, the venture’s rapid growth necessitated a series of expansions, culminating in constructing an imposing eight-story structure in 1927, followed by adding a distinctive tower two years later. By the 1940s, the Crowell-Collier facilities had metamorphosed into a sprawling complex spanning two city blocks, a veritable cathedral dedicated to the printed word.

The company’s ascent was marked by strategic acquisitions, such as the purchase of P.F. Collier in 1919, which brought the esteemed Collier’s Weekly under its umbrella. By the late 1920s, Crowell was publishing an astonishing 11.25 million monthly magazines, with flagship titles like Woman’s Home Companion and The American boasting circulations in the millions.

In 1885, Crowell introduced a second periodical titled Ladies Home Companion, which originated in 1873 in Cleveland under the moniker Home Companion. This publication later became known as Woman’s Home Companion and garnered widespread popularity from its inception. In 1911, the company unveiled The American Magazine. Expansions to the facilities in 1873 and 1915 elevated the total manufacturing and office space to exceed 350,000 square feet, employing a workforce of 2,000 individuals.

The year 1919 marked a significant milestone for the company, as it made its first major acquisition by purchasing the book and magazine publisher P.F. Collier. Consequently, Collier’s operations were relocated to Springfield. Collier’s Weekly, initially established in 1888 to promote P.F. Collier’s own book catalog, bore the original title Once a Week. During its formative years, issues of Collier’s Weekly exhibited fluctuations in volume, alternating between thin and bulky editions, owing to the prevailing economic depression and a scarcity of paper. However, under the editorial stewardship of William Chenery, a staff was assembled to report on foreign news, and writers were engaged to contribute on timely and controversial subjects. In 1921, the firm added The Mentor magazine to its portfolio, which, although initially popular, failed to live up to its lofty expectations and was divested nine years later. In the book department, Collier’s attracted a new readership by introducing “short-short” 1,000-word pieces, and by 1924, 1.4 million copies were rolling off the presses each week.

By 1926, Crowell was publishing an impressive 11.25 million magazines per month, with Woman’s Home Companion selling over 2 million copies, The American reaching 2.4 million, and Farm and Fireside maintaining a steady circulation of 1.2 million. The company’s payroll had expanded significantly, increasing from $8,500 per week a mere decade earlier to $46,500.

The company’s rapid growth soon necessitated further expansion beyond its existing facilities, leading to the construction of an eight-story Building J at the intersection of West High Street and South Wittenberg Avenue in 1927, marking its largest expansion at that juncture. Two years later, a western expansion followed, featuring a signature tower known as Building K. The combined floor area of these two structures approximated 726,000 square feet.

As demand surged, in 1931, the company proclaimed itself as holding the largest magazine audience in the nation. The corporation had expanded its presence with offices at 250 Park Avenue in New York City, occupying three entire floors.

In 1930, with a circulation of 1.825 million, Farm and Fireside underwent a rebranding, adopting the name Country Home in an effort to broaden its appeal. However, this endeavor proved unsuccessful, and the publication was ultimately discontinued by 1939. By April 1937, the company boasted an unprecedented magazine audience of 9,496,841, the largest in the world. In that same year, its 122 printing presses produced an astonishing 22,013,225,000 pages, consuming 158,771,000 pounds of paper at a cost of $6,806,500 and utilizing 3,468,000 pounds of ink valued at $745,700.

To reflect the amalgamation of the Crowell and Collier companies, the corporate name was officially changed to the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company in 1939. By 1940, the payroll had reached $160,000, and the company was printing an impressive 20 million magazines per month. Over time, the Crowell-Collier building expanded in size, eventually encompassing two square city blocks, with the last addition, known as Building X, completed in April 1947 at the intersection of Main Street and Wittenberg Avenue.

Upon completing the new facilities, the printing house occupied an expansive 917,000 square feet. The interior of the newly constructed building was graced by the presence of eight high-speed color gravure printing presses, the first two of which commenced operations in April, with the remaining six following suit shortly thereafter. These state-of-the-art presses operated at an impressive rate of 20,000 revolutions per hour, equivalent to 60,000 copies of an issue. The presses functioned for an extensive duration of 22.5 hours per day, consuming paper rolls measuring 68 inches in width at a rate of three per hour, or 72 rolls per day, which, if unrolled, would span the distance between New York and San Francisco.

The expansion of the empire persisted, and the ground was broken for its new offices in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in 1949. The building, constructed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was erected to house Crowell-Collier’s editorial, circulation, advertising, and executive offices. By 1952, the Crowell-Collier plant produced an astonishing 20 million monthly magazines.

Despite distributing millions of magazines monthly, Crowell-Collier was in a precarious situation. At the end of 1952, Clarence Stouch, the head of Crowell-Collier, approached Paul C. Smith, the chief and general manager of the San Francisco Chronicle. Stouch solicited Smith’s assessment of the ailing corporation and sought his counsel on potential measures to restore its value. The decline of Crowell-Collier had been precipitated by the advent of television and the onslaught of newer magazines that appealed to younger audiences from competing publishing houses. While circulation figures were rising, advertising revenue had not increased sufficiently to offset the rapidly escalating printing costs. The operational cash flow was dwindling rapidly, and an unsecured bank loan exceeding one million dollars was due in January 1954. Although the company possessed the capability to make the payments, the bank would undoubtedly be reluctant to renew the deal due to the uncertainties surrounding the company. Crowell-Collier would be compelled to cease operations without securing a new bank loan of $1,750,000.

In 1952, Crowell-Collier achieved a gross revenue of $60 million but incurred a loss of $4 million. Despite having assets exceeding $32 million and total assets surpassing $42 million, the company’s current liabilities approached $32 million, with less than $500,000 in cash reserves. In 1953, Collier’s transitioned to a bi-monthly publication schedule to cut printing costs. The annual $2 million dividend to shareholders, established in 1932, was discontinued. This decision, unpopular among shareholders, halted the diversion of funds away from reinvestment in the plant.

On January 16, 1954, Smith was elected president of Crowell-Collier and optimistically declared the company’s future as bright. Following the switch to bi-monthly publication, Collier’s saw an increase of 800,000 in circulation and added 100 new advertising accounts. By year-end, losses had been reduced by $2 million, a 45% improvement, but an urgent need for $3.5 million in credit emerged. Crowell-Collier’s stock, unlisted by this time, traded between $5.50 and $6 per share. The company secured the required funds from Bankers Trust Company and Chemical Corn Exchange in New York City. However, by spring 1955, the banks demanded long-term financing solutions. After weeks of negotiation, Edward Elliot of Elliott and Co. arranged for the private placement sale of $4 million in 5% debenture bonds, with $3 million allocated for immediate debt repayment and $1 million reserved. The sale on August 10, 1955, provided a critical lifeline for the company.

On October 27, 1955, the company hinted at another plant expansion, showing a net profit of $755,000 for the year. However, January 1956 brought a loss exceeding $1 million. The need for $6 million in subscription renewal expenses arose, but funding was unavailable. Funds from revolving bank credits were diverted to the burgeoning book sales division, which increased from $8 million in 1953 to over $25 million. The book division’s success led to opening a new Crowell-Collier building in Los Angeles on March 4, 1956.

On April 25, a tentative purchase agreement was signed between Crowell-Collier and Consolidated Television and Broadcasting, with financial details worked out over the summer. Crowell-Collier placed $100,000 in earnest money into an escrow account. Concurrently, Crowell-Collier sought $2 million from banks for January 1957, with another $2 million in March and May. Two banks agreed, leaving an $800,000 gap from October to mid-December. Smith requested $500,000 and $300,000 loans from two paper suppliers, which were granted for 90 days.

On the eve of the Consolidated deal signing, it was revealed that Crowell-Collier’s revenue expectations fell short by $2.5 million, leading to the deal’s collapse and the revocation of bank and paper company loan agreements. An attempt was made to sell 400,000 shares of Crowell-Collier common stock to Mike Cowles, president and editor of Look magazine. The $2.4 million from this sale was intended to restructure the magazine division. Smith proposed merging Woman’s Home Companion with McCall’s and Look with Collier’s, maintaining separate identities but alternating bi-weekly publications. Cowles rejected the merger but offered a $2 million loan against the Springfield printing plant. Upon Collier’s suspension, Cowles would pay $1 million for the title, another $1 million for the subscription list, and assume the unfulfilled subscription liability costs.

Cowles’ proposal, though marking the end of Companion and Collier’s, preserved the profitable book division. Despite attempts by a group of directors, bondholders, and stockholders to oust Smith, he presented Cowles’ proposal at a secret meeting. The executive committee recommended acceptance to the full board, which authorized Smith to proceed.

In August, The American was discontinued. On December 14, 1956, after a tense six-hour board meeting, Crowell-Collier decided to cease publication of Woman’s Home Companion and Collier’s to focus solely on books. The magazine division lost $7.5 million annually, leaving 2,275 employees jobless. Announced via an 11 P.M. newscast, the timing caused distress among employees. Severance pay was granted to New York office employees following a lawsuit in March 1957 but not to Springfield plant workers. Smith resigned, forfeiting stock options and future earnings to aid displaced employees.

The final issue of Collier’s, dated January 4, 1957, was released on December 20, ending 68 years of publication without a farewell note due to the rushed closure.

Crowell-Collier’s magazine operations, reduced to six employees handling subscription inquiries, closed on October 1, 1958. The Springfield plant briefly continued printing trade publications and catalogs, but operations eventually relocated. In December 1960, Crowell-Collier’s profitable encyclopedia and book division merged with Macmillan Inc.

In February 1957, the city declined to purchase the Crowell-Collier buildings, viewing them as better suited for industrial use. The buildings comprised over 900,000 square feet, while the city’s needs were less than a quarter of that. At a special shareholders meeting on March 20, the sale of the Crowell-Collier plant for $3,894,374.50 to R.R. Donnelley and Sons of Chicago was approved. Donnelley intended to relocate the printing equipment. Proceeds were used to pay off $1,725,783.51 in secured notes and other liabilities. Donnelley began an “intense sales campaign” in January 1958.

On March 28, 1959, Donnelley donated the building to the University of Chicago, which struggled to find tenants or buyers for over a decade. Despite efforts, including mailing 3,000 brochures and involving industrial realtors, the multi-story structure, lacking rail service, was unappealing to modern manufacturers. The university’s asking price was $1.5 million.

Springfield expressed interest in the property in 1971. Negotiations began in August 1972, and on September 28, the university accepted Springfield’s offer of $250,000. The city planned to demolish the complex for low—and moderate-income housing, pending HUD funding. Initially estimated at $175,000 in 1972, demolition costs rose to $250,000.

On November 6, 1972, Columbus businessman Harry C. Denune expressed interest in purchasing the buildings for $250,000, reimbursing the city for appraisal costs. Denune, who has been involved in the recreational vehicle business since 1948, proposed relocating four companies to the building, requiring 400,000 square feet. Despite Commissioner Max E. Cordle’s preference for city purchase to remove a “negative trademark,” Denune bought the building in December. Renovations began in January 1973, aiming to move operations by spring, with an estimated $500,000 cost for comprehensive repairs.

Former owner Harry C. Denune.

In 1989, the Crowell-Collier property became Denune’s headquarters, serving as a Dixie Distributing’s Harley-Davidson orders distribution center. In November, Crowell-Collier and Macmillan Inc. stockholders voted to rename the company Macmillan, ending the Crowell-Collier legacy.

In 1997, the property was added to Springfield’s “brownfield” redevelopment list. Denune agreed to pay $35,000 to the EPA for chemical mishandling. A May 10, 1999 fire, fueled by stored chemicals, caused significant damage, consuming the eastern front of the complex.

In 2009, loose bricks necessitated street cleanup and repairs. In 2011, a fire led Judge Richard O’Neill to declare the property a public nuisance due to code violations. Denune agreed to remove asbestos by November 20 and clear inventory within a year, facilitating court-ordered demolition of Building F. Facing diminishing prospects, Denune sold the property to Mosier Industrial Services Corp. for $1.5 million in September, initiating inventory removal and asbestos mitigation shortly thereafter.


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Building F has been under the wrecking ball since early 2015. It’s mostly gone as I write this. Buildings J & K are next, apparently – more of a liability than an asset. If you love a building, remember this – it needs a necessary purpose to survive.

Excellent article and wonderful photos. Really great job.

John Crowell was a younger brother to my maternal GGgrandfather, James Andrew Crowell.

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