Historical Textbook Collection

Textbook Publishing in Cincinnati

As the United States expanded westward, Cincinnati was poised as a key center of art and commerce of the Midwest, and the need for a sense of independence from the east coast’s (industries/culture) was gaining momentum. Publishing being a key element of that self-sufficiency, through creating and producing their own localized news sources, literature and educational materials. Steam paper mills and stereotyping, as well as availability of power presses 1834, made large scale publishing feasible. Helping to drive this further was the Common School Law of 1825, that allowed tax to be collected to pay for public schools, with the district separated into wards that were each represented by an elected official by the popular vote of the public.


Nathan Guilford, a state senator and major proponent for passing the Common School Law of 1825, later went on to become the first superintendent of “The Common Schools of Cincinnati”. He also owned controlling interest in the Ohio and Cincinnati Type Foundries, and operated and managed, with the help of his brother George, the publishing house N. & G. Guilford Company. He continued to publish well into the late 1850s, and his included a revised version of Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book, the first authorized Cincinnati edition published in 1828.


One of the first and oldest publishers and bookstore owners present in the city were the James Brothers, who learned the trade in Newark, New Jersey and Harper’s stereotyping department. After moving to Cincinnati in 1831, Uriah P. James & Joseph A. James began a partnership as general publishers that would wax and wain in formality from the early 1830s, publishing until 1854, with the bookstore surviving into the 1980s as the oldest surviving Appalachian bookstore of the time.


A major pioneering figure in Cincinnati textbook publishing was Winthrop B. Smith, who opened a printing establishment and book store at 59 Main Street, with Edward Sargent (bookkeeper) and Louis Van Antwerp (assistant bookkeeper), and head of the book bindery department was Anthony H. Hinkle. Smith contracted William Holmes McGuffey (who lived in Oxford, Oh at the time and on recommendation of Harriet Beecher Stowe) to compile the McGuffey Readers “Eclectic Series”, the first of which was published in 1836. The fifth and sixth Readers in the series were actually written by his brother Alexander McGuffey. The Readers included stories, essays, poems and speeches excerpted from English and American writers & politicians including John Milton, Lord Byron, and Daniel Webster.


After partnering with William T. Truman in 1834 to create Truman & Smith (between 4th & 5th on Main Street). The partnership dissolved in 1843, with Smith returning the name to W. B. Smith & Co. The “Eclectic Series” eventually expanded to include arithmetic and grammar  textbooks written by Dr. Joseph Ray and Thomas Harvey respectively. Selling over a million volumes, including those in the “eclectic series," during the 1840s made it one of if not the largest publisher in the area.


By 1856, the peak of general publishing in Cincinnati had been reached (some number to qualify this as being it), and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 coupled with the advent of railroad expansion caused a large shift in Midwest general publishing concentration to Chicago. It was more difficult to secure funding for large scale business ventures  in Cincinnati after the Panic of 1857, a short-lived depression primarily limited to the Midwest that caused the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company to collapse. When European market demand for western goods began to fall, investors and bankers were cautious when offering loans and often refused them to businesses—the economy not fully recovering until after the Civil War had begun. Specialized publishers, however, still had the opportunity to thrive if given a chance.


After Winthrop B. Smith retired in 1863, his remaining partners changed the name to Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle. As the remaining members of the original partnership retired gradually, the firm’s name changed to Wilson, Hinkle & Co, and then Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. What was eventually to become the American Book Company* was by the early 1880s the worlds largest schoolbook publishing house in the world, producing 4.5 million a year in 1883; its market share extending as far as Japan to whom they supplied English Grammars.


By 1910, the market for Cincinnati published textbooks began to decline, but waned until the 1972, when the American Book Company closed the American Book Binding Building completely.





Sutton, Walter. The Western Book Trade: Cincinnati as a Nineteenth-century Publishing and       Booktrade Center. Columbus: Ohio State Univ. for the Ohio Historical Society, 1961. Print.


"The Early History of Cincinnati Public Schools." Cincinnati Public Schools. Cincinnati Public         Schools. Web. 10 June 2011. <http://www.cpsboe.k12.oh.us/general/History/             History.php>.


Kerns, Kathy. "McGuffey Readers." Venezky Exhibit. Cubberley Education Library, Stanford          University. Web. 10 June 2011. <http://venezky.stanford.edu/themes/mcguffey-readers/>.



Jakle, John A. "Cincinnati in the 1830's: A Cognitive Map of Traveler's Landscape Impressions." Environmental Review: ER Spring 3.3 (1979): 2-10. JStor. Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3984039>.


Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Ohio. Cincinnati; a Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. Cincinnati: Wiesen-Hart, 1943. Print.


Shotwell, John B. "Miscellaneous." A History of the Schools of Cincinnati. Cincinnati: School Life, 1902. 556-59. Print.


Venezky, Richard L. 1990a. "The American Reading Script and Its Nineteenth-Century Origins." Book Research Quarterly, 6 (2), 16-28.


Kenny, Daniel J. Illustrated Cincinnati; a Pictorial Hand-book of the Queen City, Comprising Its Architecture, Manufacture, Trade. Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1875. Print.