“It is no easy matter to make a success of a country newspaper, either financially or otherwise. It requires constant effort which the public fail to appreciate. A newspaper in a town is entirely different from a regular business, it is a thing in which all are interested, and without which nearly all would be lost, especially when they desire to use it as a medium through which to let their wants be known, give special notices, make important announcements, etc. We feel that the Enterprise is entitled to and deserving of your support in all its departments, subscription, advertising and job work…Come and help make it a success in the future as in the past, only more so” (The Wellington Enterprise, 1-4-1899, pg. 4).
When James M. Guthrie first came to Wellington, Ohio with the intention of starting a town newspaper in the late summer of 1867, he was no stranger to the printing business. He was already the publisher of at least three newspapers, namely The Reveille of Westerville, Ohio; and The Student and The Golden Era, both of Delaware, Ohio. Within six months of launching The Wellington Enterprise (first published September 19, 1867), Guthrie was apparently “completing arrangements” for the creation of a fifth newspaper, this one in nearby Oberlin. Though the man seems to have had a talent for starting businesses, his ability to maintain operations long-term is less certain. Guthrie left–perhaps fled–Wellington, reportedly over financial difficulties, in July 1868 and nearly ended the Enterprise before it had reached its first anniversary.
Financial difficulties were virtually “standard operating procedure” for the small town newspaper of the nineteenth century. A limited population of subscribers, who sometimes shared papers with family and neighbors, and sometimes did not bother to pay their subscriptions, was the bane of nearly every rural publisher. (Small-town business advertisers were also notorious for being in arrears on their payments, and adding insult to injury by sending printing jobs to larger, cheaper operations in nearby metropolitan areas.) By one scholarly estimate, a newspaper of the period required about 1,500 subscribers before it could make a modest profit; most rural operations had subscription lists numbering in the low hundreds. The Enterprise reportedly had some two hundred subscribers within a few weeks of its start. When Charles Horr died a quarter-century later, the paper sold three hundred copies of the issue containing his obituary, and commented on that fact in print, suggesting a higher-than-usual volume of weekly business (10-17-1894, pg. 5).
Starting a small-town newspaper “from scratch” could be an expensive undertaking in the 1800s. It is said to have cost anywhere from $400 to $1,500, depending on the size and complexity of the proposed operation. Would-be publishers often did not have that kind of capital, so had to secure loans or offer services in exchange for cash upfront. When Guthrie arrived in the village, he rented a room “over Brainard’s Grocery” and furnished it with “press, type and fixtures” (The Lorain County News, 9-10-1867, pg. 3). Whether Guthrie already had this equipment and relocated it from another of his newspapers, or used borrowed money to purchase it, we do not know. He was said at the time to have “pledges of patronage and…assistance in the way of capital” but what that might entail was not specified (LCN, 9-4-1867, pg. 3). Some thirty years later, in a published reflection on its own history, the Enterprise recorded that Guthrie “succeeded in securing from the business men a loan of some $600 to be paid back in advertising…[he] then moved a part of his newspaper plant from Delaware to Wellington” (1-4-1899, pg. 4).
I don’t know exactly where Brainard’s grocery store was located, nor do I know what type of printing press Guthrie was operating. Very likely it was a cast iron handpress. He had the assistance of at least one employee, John Clippinger Artz, who served as “foreman of the paper.” This meant that in theory Guthrie did the editorial writing and business management, while Artz performed the actual printing. In such a small office, however, both men presumably performed any task necessary to get the paper out on time.
In 1867, the country was still recovering from the recently ended Civil War, and was in profound transformation in many ways. One of the more fascinating (and unsung) changes in progress involved the composition and availability of paper. Historically, Western paper had been made by pulping fabric rags of cotton and other natural fibers, which produced a high-quality, long-lasting, and comparatively expensive paper. Rags–and therefore, rag papers–were becoming increasing hard to procure in early nineteenth-century America, at the same historical moment that national literacy rates were increasing and a demand for printed materials was rising. As thousands of newspapers and magazines began across the U. S., the need for cheap and abundant paper exploded. Manufacturers began experimenting with all sorts of organic materials to try and create such a product; by the 1860s, wood pulp was being widely substituted for rags. The resulting paper was not as aesthetically pleasing nor as long-lived, but it served the immediate needs of publishers. Newspapers that had been densely printed and confined to four pages (in fact, a single large sheet of paper printed with four pages of text and folded in the center to form a so-called “folio”) for want of paper, could now be larger in overall dimension, more numerous in pages, and more spacious in design. Interestingly, a notice in the Lorain County News in 1868 may show Guthrie on the hunt for cheap paper for his most recent periodical: “J. M GUTHRIE, Editor of the Wellington Enterprise, has recently entered into a partnership in order to secure Wood, prefering [sic] that method to taking it on subscription. With his lady he has been sojourning in New York State, and promises on his return to drive the quill with unabated vigor” (2-12-1868, pg. 3).
There is a huge gap in the extant issues of the Enterprise from December 1867 to September 1872. It is unclear exactly when and under what conditions Guthrie departed and Artz took charge. The Lorain County News reported that Guthrie had left Wellington, and three to four hundred dollars in unpaid debts, by July 1868. “Many disappointed creditors…are making uncomplimentary remarks concerning him to the effect that he is a swindler, a rascal, and unworthy the confidence of any community” (7-15-1898, pg. 3). Certainly by 1869, when the first edition of George P. Rowell & Co.’s American Newspaper Directory was published, J. C. Artz was listed as both editor and publisher for the Enterprise, “established 1867” (pg. 91).
Artz’s newspaper office was on the second floor of the so-called Rininger building, the three-story brick Italianate that stood on the corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Exactly what sorts of technological advancements or expansions to the business Artz made, I do not know. He did advertise to hire “Two Girls to learn to set type” in April 1873. It was fairly common after mid-century, particularly in larger urban environments, for women to be employed as compositors, i.e. typesetters, though they were more often engaged to do job or book printing. Newspaper typesetting was considered particularly exacting and stressful work, especially in city papers that had daily publication deadlines to meet. Competition for the newspaper positions was therefore more intense, as they were better paid than job and book work (Rummonds, pg. 44).
On September 28, 1876, J. C. Artz announced via editorial that “our connection with the paper and office is severed,” because he had just sold the operation to Dr. John W. Houghton and D. A. Smith, “a practical printer, who graduated from the ENTERPRISE office some half-dozen years ago” (pg. 2). Artz received an appointment to the railway mail service and therefore left the newspaper under positive circumstances. No evidence of financial difficulties surrounds his departure, despite the fact that the reduced cost of wood-pulp paper and subsequent increased competition from regional and urban newssheets had driven the Enterprise’s subscription price down from $2.00 per year under Guthrie to $1.50 per year under Artz. It would drop another third by century’s end.
In Part II, I will examine the “golden era” of the Enterprise under the ownership of John and Mary Hayes Houghton; the tenure of John Britton Smith; and the brief and sadly unsuccessful attempt of the French Printing Company to make the newspaper and job printing office profitable, an experiment that resulted in bankruptcy and the sale of the paper at the turn of the twentieth century.