‘WHO gets up this column, “Woman and Home”?’ asked Mrs. Cyrus H. K. Curtis of her husband, one evening. He had brought home to his wife the last number of a weekly, The Tribune and Farmer, which he was publishing in Philadelphia.
‘I do,’ answered the husband, as he looked up from his newspaper. His wife was smiling. ‘You seem to think it funny,’ he added.
‘Not only funny, but absurd,’ was the answer. And then she broke into a hearty laugh.
Now no man exactly enjoys having his effort laughed at, particularly by his wife. Little did Mr. Curtis realize at that moment, however, the hidden potentialities which lay in his wife’s laugh. The turning-points in our lives are sometimes very curiously brought about!
‘Excuse me, dear,’ said the wife quickly; ‘but really you do not know, as a man, how ridiculous this is.’
Mr. Curtis’s eyes now twinkled with amusement, as he remarked: ‘Well, if you think my effort is so ridiculous, why don’t you try it, and do better?'
‘I will,’ cheerfully answered the wife. But little did she herself dream of what her laugh was to bring about in the life of her husband and family.
The next evening, Mr. Curtis brought home to his wife a bundle of domestic periodicals from which, he explained, he had ‘clipped’ the offending column, and now they were for her to use.
‘Oh, no,’ replied the wife, ‘that is not the way to do it. By that method you will never have material of your own. You must have original matter; you must present ideas which others do not. present.’
‘All very well,’ was the husband’s answer; ‘but I can’t afford it.’
‘Oh, yes, you can,’ persisted the wife. ‘You can always better afford to be yourself than to be someone else.’
With this sage remark, Mrs. Curtis wrote the column herself that week. For the following week she enlisted the help of others; and it was not long before the column grew to a page. Comments about this page began now to be more frequent than about any other in the paper; correspondence began to come in; and Mr. Curtis began to regard his wife’s page with increasing interest.
‘Why not give me more space?’ she asked one evening. ‘Make the department into a supplement.'
Mr. Curtis concluded to follow where his wife led, and a supplement was decided upon, which, while it would be supplemental to the paper, would also have an identity of its own. It was to be free to the subscribers of the Tribune and Farmer, but Mr. Curtis decided to offer it also as a separate publication, at fifty cents a year.
When Mrs. Curtis had prepared the material for the first number of the supplement, and her husband had taken it to the office to be put into type, the head of the composing room asked him what he wanted to call the supplement. If it was to be a separate unit, he argued, it should have a means of identification.
Mr. Curtis was busy, and could not let his mind rest on this detail. So he answered: ‘Call it anything you like. I don’t care. It’s a sort of ladies’ journal.’
The composition head carried this thought to an engraver, whom he asked to draw a heading for the supplement. He did so, engraving the words, The Ladies’ Journal, as a title; and then, to indicate the character of the contents of the supplement, added between the second and third words of the title a picture of a home, and engraved the word ‘Home’ under it. The first subscription which came in for the supplement asked for The Ladies’ Home Journal, and all subscriptions named the periodical in like form.
The success of the ‘supplement’ was instantaneous. While in five years the Tribune and Farmer had accumulated forty-eight thousand subscriptions, the newcomer received twenty-five thousand separate subscriptions of its own in its first year.
Mr. Curtis had a partner in his Tribune and Farmer enterprise who was not favorably disposed toward the supplement; and it was proposed that this partner should take the weekly paper as his own, and Mr. Curtis should assume the woman’s supplement as his property. This was agreed to, the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Curtis was left with the Ladies’ Home Journal as his sole property, and he decided to translate his faith in the new supplement into action. He felt instinctively that he had a periodical with a fundamental principle, which, with exploitation, would enter the domestic publication field, which was not overcrowded and could be occupied by the right sort of a magazine. He had, in his wife, a naturally sympathetic editor, who stood ready to do all that she could to make the sort of magazine that was wanted by the average woman, with her household problems. Everything seemed propitious for a systematic tryout of the proposition.
He figured out that, while he was making the effort and spending the money to secure single subscriptions, he could just as well get them coming in groups. So he announced that, while the nominal subscription price of the magazine was fifty cents a year, where a group of four women would band together and send in their subscription in clubs of four he would accept all four for one dollar for twelve numbers. His discernment proved to be sound, for ninety per cent of his subscriptions came in clubs of four; and after six months of effort he found his circulation of twenty-five thousand doubled to fifty thousand copies.
He wanted now to start a moderate advertising campaign. He consulted the advertising agency of N. W. Ayer and Son, and was met with the suggestion that the firm would like to experiment with an advertisement to be placed by it in three periodicals, the total cost to be four hundred dollars. Mr. Curtis assented to the idea, the advertisement was placed, and the result was good. The appropriation was now conservatively enlarged, and again the results justified the investment. For, according to Mr. Curtis’s view, then as now, an advertising appropriation is not an expense, but an investment: it creates an asset in the business in name and good-will, and, as such, cannot be charged as expense.
In another six months, the circulation again doubled to one hundred thousand copies.
More advertising now followed, and once more, within another six months, the circulation of the new paper had doubled to two hundred thousand copies.
True to his method of giving the public the best he could secure, Mr. Curtis determined to solidify his proposition by obtaining the writings of some of the best-known authors in the domestic field of that day, and then use these names in a large way in his advertisements. Mrs. Curtis was doing all the editing at home; but with her home duties and the care of a little daughter she naturally could not travel to the homes of the authors whose interest her husband wanted to enlist. She had been securing the best material she could by correspondence, but the more famous authors would have to be seen personally and persuaded into the pages of the newcomer in the periodical field.
Mr. Curtis now set out on his quest for authors, and decided first to see Marion Harland, who was then at the zenith of her reputation as a domestic writer. She lived at Springfield, Massachusetts, where her husband had a church parish. She received Mr. Curtis pleasantly, but assured him that she was committed to other periodicals whose editors kept her busy. The new publisher finally persuaded her to let him have a story she had under her hand, and promised to pay her ninety dollars for it.
When he arrived home, elated with his success, his wife met his recital with a look of alarm.
‘Ninety dollars for how many stories?’ she asked.
‘One,’ replied her husband.
‘One?’ echoed the wife. ‘Do you want to bankrupt the concern? You cannot afford to pay such prices.'
Mr. Curtis had to acknowledge the justice of his wife’s remonstrance. He was barely able to pay his printing bills and overhead expenses and to meet the accounts for the advertising he was doin. No one knew better than the wife and mother how little there remained for household expenses, and the husband realized the weight of the argument that there was no money left for ‘high-priced authors,’who demanded ninety dollars for a single story!
‘Well,’ he decided, ‘we’ll have to finance it in some way.’ And straightway he did. There was a manufacturer of an egg-beater who was an enthusiastic admirer of Marion Harland’s writings, and was always ready to advertise in those periodicals for which she wrote. Mr. Curtis went to him, told him that he had secured the manufacturer’s favorite domestic expert to write for his magazine and that he ought to advertise in that periodical. The manufacturer agreed; Mr. Curtis sold him ninety dollars’ worth of advertising space — ‘And so,’ he explains, ‘I financed my first big editorial outlay.’
Having a well-known name to advertise, Mr. Curtis advertised it; and another six months told once more the same story: the circulation again doubled from two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand copies per month.
Flushed with his success, the publisher-editor set out on another quest for authors, and this time tried to secure such popular writers of the day as Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney, Rose Terry Cooke, Robert J. Burdette, Josiah Allen’s Wife, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Louisa M. Alcott. But the road was not easy. He was courteously received by the writers, and they politely listened to him. But the fame of the Ladies’ Home Journal had not reached these writers; all that they wrote was eagerly taken by other editors and Mr. Curtis had ‘poor pickings.’ He acknowledges that it was ‘a hard chase.’ But he went back to each writer and persevered.
He heard incidentally that Louisa M. Alcott had a charity in which she was vitally interested. So to Miss Alcott the energetic author-chaser returned with the proposition that he would pay one hundred dollars for a thousandword column article for her charity. This proved too strong a temptation for the woman with a pet charity. She sent Mr. Curtis an article, and he sent her a check for one hundred dollars. Some time later, when he saw the article in the magazine, he discovered that it exceeded a column in length: it was almost two columns. He wrote Miss Alcott, reminding her that he had promised her one hundred dollars per column: he had just discovered the length of her article, and enclosed another check for one hundred dollars to make good his word to her.
Miss Alcott was so pleased at this that she told of her experience to other authors, who, in turn, decided that a publisher so conscientious should be encouraged. Thereafter his proposals fell on ears not quite so deaf.
All this time, Mr. Curtis had increased his advertising rates to keep pace with his rapidly growing circulation; but even with this income he realized that his growth was too fast for a proper financial balance, and he decided upon the unusual course of checking his circulation. He announced that thereafter his club-offer of four subscriptions for one dollar would be discontinued, and that the subscription price would be a straight fifty cents a year.
Concurrently with this decision, he announced the list of famous authors who had been engaged to write for the magazine, and promised the public a full fifty cents’ worth during a year. The public took him at his word, and increased his circulation to seven hundred thousand copies.
Once more Mr. Curtis saw that he had to check his circulation, particularly as he had difficulty in increasing his advertising rates fast enough to keep up with the growth.
He now decided to enlarge his magazine by doubling its size, and to raise the subscription price to one dollar per year. No one to whom he spoke of his plan approved it. The printing establishment where the paper was being printed had ordered some new machinery to keep pace with the fastgrowing magazine; but when the owner heard of Mr. Curtis’s determination he cancelled the order for the additional machinery.
‘You have a wonderful business, growing fine,’ he said to Mr. Curtis. ‘Now you’re going to spoil the whole thing. Your public won’t follow you at the higher price.’ And to a friend the printer opined: ‘Curtis’s success has gone to his head. Now he’s going to blow his whole outfit to pieces.’
Mr. Curtis well knew that if he pursued the course he had laid out for his periodical it meant a shrinkage of income until he could convince his public that his magazine was worth the new price, or could induce a new public to come to him. He realized that it would require a large expenditure of money for advertising and overhead capital to tide him over his lean period.
He laid his plan before F. Wayland Ayer, of N. W. Ayer and Son, and sought his opinion.
‘Good,’ was the verdict.
Mr. Curtis was encouraged. This was the first favorable word his plan had evoked.
‘But I shall have to advertise widely,’he argued, ‘and I shall have to get credit for it until I can demonstrate the wisdom of my plan to the public.’
‘How much credit do you think you will want?’ asked Mr. Ayer.
‘I hesitated to tell him,’ Mr. Curtis says, in recounting the conversation now, ‘but I thought I might as well give it to him straight.’
‘Two hundred thousand dollars,’answered the publisher.
‘That does n’t scare me,’ replied the advertising chief. ‘But,’ he added, ‘if you’re going to build up your business on such a scale you will need two other essentials: credit at some of the banks, and credit from your paper-makers. I think I can arrange both for you.’
An adequate line of financial credit was arranged at three depositories, and then it was arranged that Mr. Ayer and Mr. Curtis should take a trip to New England and obtain credit from Crocker, Burbank and Company, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who were supplying the white paper for the Ladies’ Home Journal.
Mr. Curtis had dealt only for a brief period with this firm, and its members knew little or nothing of the man or his plans. A personal visit and favorable impression, therefore, were essential.
The paper firm had been notified of the visit and its purpose, and the visitors were met courteously; but they were firmly told at the beginning that their journey was futile, as the firm had decided that it could not possibly extend the desired credit of one hundred thousand dollars to the publisher. Mr. Ayer suggested that Mr. Curtis be allowed at least to unfold his plan, which might change their point of view. This was done. But the paper-manufacturers remained obdurate: they were very sorry; they would be glad to go on as at present on a cash basis, but they could not consider for one moment the extension of so large a credit based on any plan.
The conference took place in a Boston hotel, and Mr. Ayer suggested that Mr. Curtis retire for a few moments and leave him for a private talk with the unwilling manufacturers. Mr. Curtis went downstairs to the hotel lobby, lighted a cigar and sat there for ‘what I thought was hours. Then I was asked to come upstairs, and when I entered the room the demeanor of the men had entirely changed to a most cheerful mood, and I was greeted with: “Well, Mr. Curtis, you have a good friend here. We have decided to give you the credit of one hundred thousand dollars that you want.”
’I certainly was surprised,’ says Mr. Curtis. ‘No one ventured to tell me the reason for the change of front, and Mr. Ayer said nothing on the way home. In fact, I never knew what happened, although I often wondered, until, only a short while ago, in talking with a member of the Ayer firm, the incident happened to come up, and I asked what had really happened while I was absent from the room.
‘“Well,” answered the man, “now that is so long ago, there is no reason why I should not tell you. Mr. Ayer guaranteed your notes.” ’
But without that knowledge, Mr. Curtis never failed in his feeling of gratitude to Mr. Ayer. Since that eventful time, Mr. Curtis has spent millions of dollars in advertising with the Ayer firm, while, incidentally, the Crocker, Burbank firm, which still furnishes the main supply of the Curtis paper, ‘carries’ Mr. Curtis month by month for sums that they never dreamed of, on a business amounting to millions of dollars each year.
While several banks have from time to time carried Mr. Curtis when he needed it, for years he was principally carried by the advertising and papermaking concerns, the banks figuring only in a secondary way. His experience differed in this respect from that of the business man who, being told that his end was near, asked that only bankers be asked to officiate as pallbearers at his funeral, explaining that, as they had carried him practically all his life, he should like to have them finish the job.
Mr. Curtis had announced that the increase of the subscription price of the Ladies’ Home Journal to one dollar per year would take effect on July first (1889). ‘I fixed that date,’ he explains, ‘because the summer months were always meagre in income, and I figured they might just as well be a little thinner.’
And the receipts during that summer certainly were. They fully met every expectation that Mr. Curtis may have had of being ‘a little thinner,’ as the summer progressed. They grew so thin, in fact, that at times they became imperceptible. Mr. Curtis would journey over to Philadelphia in the evenings and on Sundays, go to the Post Office, open the mail box, and see what there was in the mail. There was not much, no more than he could conveniently count, and in a A very few moments. It was evident that his expiring subscribers hesitated to pay double the farmer price, and he had not yet had time to reach a new clientèle. The critical days met by every enterprise were upon him.
‘Many a time,’ he says now, ‘during that period, I would go home and walk under the trees and try to figure it out.’
‘Did you ever doubt the wisdom of your course?’ he was asked once.
‘Oh, no, not for a moment. My wonder was whether my credit would hold out until the turn came. I knew it would come; I was sure of that; but naturally I could n’t be sure when it would come. That was the problem.’
It also came about, at the same time, that the increasing care of a larger house and the attention necessary to a growing daughter, now thirteen years of age, began to weigh upon Mrs. Curtis and make her wonder whether she could continue with her editorship, especially in view of her husband’s decision to double the size of the magazine. She pondered over the pros and cons of the situation. Then one day she said to her husband: ‘I shall have to give up this editorial work.’
‘Why?’ asked the husband in undisguised surprise.
‘Daughter said to me this morning, “Mother, whenever I see you, or want you, you have a pen in your hand. You are always busy writing.”’
‘That settles it,’ was Mr. Curtis’s instant reply.
Mrs. Curtis felt that her husband was now well enough on his way to do without her direct assistance, and that she would be equally valuable with her counsel, if not more so, if in the future she were freed from the details of incessant editing which she had conducted for six years. Her daughter had corroborated her own instinct that she was the mother of an observing little girl; and she was glad to turn toward a closer relation with her child.
Then began a quest for an editor who could take charge of the enlarged magazine. This was accomplished in the following October (1889), when Mrs. Curtishanded over the editorship to Edward W. Bok, who was destined to hold the position continuously for thirty years.
With the opening autumn, Mr. Curtis started the advertising campaign for which he secured the two-hundredthousand-dollar credit, only to exceed it and spend three hundred and ten thousand dollars before the winter was over. The banks allowed the publisher full credit; the paper-manufacturers kept their contract; but even then it was a busy time for the next year for Mr. Curtis, in meeting his different obligations and his increasing overhead. Slowly, but surely, however, he began to see his vision realized; and before long he had the satisfaction of knowing that his subscription list was on the substantial basis of a dollar per year. He discontinued his entire premium department; he refused all ‘cut’ rates on his magazine; and from that time he determined to stand out for the full value of the magazine, giving full value in its contents for the money. He pared down his advertising commissions, and literally put his house in order for a simplified business of value asked for value given.
Early in 1891, he decided to transfer the business to a stock company, with a capital stock of $500,000, retain a controlling interest and, with the amount received for the balance of the stock, erect his own printing plant of presses in a new building, of which the business was sorely in need. So, on June 25, 1891, the Curtis Publishing Company was organized, with Mr. Curtis as President. Shortly afterward the first presses were purchased and installed on properties leased; and the first executive Curtis building, under lease, was erected for the company in 1893.
The business now had room to grow and grow it did. The circulation of the magazine steadily increased, until it reached the figure, unheard of in those days, of one million copies per month. More properties were acquired, additional machinery was bought, and it was not long before every foot of thenew publication building was occupied and additional quarters had to be found outside.
Mr. Curtis now decided that he would find a site and erect a building which would meet all his future needs; and with unerring instinct, he selected the square bounded by Walnut, Sixth, Seventh, and Sansom Streets in Philadelphia. The building was to face Independence Square and flank on Washington Square—historic city squares, which would never be built up and would afford adequate light and air for a large publication business. It took a long time to acquire all the properties and erect a suitable building; but in 1911 the present impressive Curtis Building was finished and the business was transferred to it, only to find a few years later that it had once more expanded beyond the capacity of an entire city square. Enlargements and extensions were once more in order; and these again have all been occupied, with every cubic foot of space in use.
For, as the Ladies’ Home Journal became more widely known, its circulation began to increase beyond the million mark with greater speed than it had attained in reaching that figure.
Its subsequent growth is familiar to the public. It may seem phenomenal, until the hard and incessant work that was put into it is understood, and the increasing amounts of money, which Mr. Curtis has always been ready to invest in making the magazine better, or in keeping not only abreast of its growth with new machinery but invariably a little ahead of it, so that the public demand should always be met in full. This was not always possible, but the attempt was consistent and insistent.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to put upon paper, so that it will carry conviction to the reader, an adequate picture of the intensity of the struggle that Mr. Curtis went through in his establishment of the Ladies’ Home Journal. He had no means: he financed solely on credit. Success, viewed in the retrospect, is dangerous in that one sees only the spectacular moments and the high spots in the battle: the daily strain is lost sight of. It is easy now to say that one month the Ladies’ Home Journal had a four-hundred-thousand circulation, and a few months thereafter it had a circulation of one million copies. It sounds as if success had come overnight, so to speak; as if Mr. Curtis had sown in the morning and reaped in the evening. But in legitimate business success is never so achieved. Happily so, for the exhilaration is in the fight: in the feeling not so much of the length of the step as that the step is in the right direction. The hazards of business were on every side of Mr. Curtis in those days, but he never showed undue anxiety. Filled with the zest and love of the game, confident that his vision was true and the goal attainable, he fought on valiantly and straight to his mark. There were days when it required the keenest financial acumen to meet notes falling due at the bank, current bills, and a growing weekly pay-roll.
It is not so simple as some may think to impress a large public through the types and get the conviction into the public mind that it should buy something which it does not need. For one does not need a magazine: lives are lived without its influence. Food, clothes, coal, a public must have. It is not a bodily want that the publisher satisfies: it is a mental want. And before the want can be proved, the need for it must be created. Hence Mr. Curtis’s path in those pioneer days was not simple. ‘That made it so interesting,’ he says, ‘because it was n’t easy.’
Thus, born of a woman’s laugh, has come about the present-day Ladies’ Home Journal, with its astounding circulation of over two million copies each month, and its peculiar position as an institution in the American familylife of to-day.
During all his busy days establishing the Ladies’ Home Journal, Mr. Curtis never lost sight of his pet idea, to create a paper for men. That idea had been firmly implanted in his mind with the reading of Richard B. Kimball s business stories in his boyhood. The chief interest in a man’s life, he argued, was the fight for a livelihood; in other words, business. It naturally followed, in his mind, that men would read about what vitally interested them, provided they were given a true reflection of their problems. He read business story after business story, only to be disgusted with their inaccuracies and their false reflection of business methods. He found the same inaccurate representation of the business world in the plays he saw. All this the more strongly convinced him that there was a field, wide open and waiting, for the man who would put into the hands of business men business stories and business articles, which they would recognize as being written by men who knew the machinery of business affairs.
He would explain his idea to men, and, almost unanimously, they would disagree with him. ‘Men don’t want to read about business,’ they argued. ‘When their business day is over, they want to read about something else.’
’But the romance in business!’ Mr. Curtis argued.
‘There is none,’ he would be told.
But he knew better. Had not his own life demonstrated the marvelous adventurous and romantic elements in business?
So he clung tenaciously to his idea. No argument discouraged him. ‘Some day,’ he thought to himself, ’I will show them the thrill and romance there is in business rightly written about.’
Patiently he bided his time.
Why, or how, he came to fix upon the Saturday Evening Post as the medium through which he was to realize his pet dream, he does not remember, except that, as he says, the paper had always attracted him as he met it each week in his exchanges, as a legacy left to Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. It was Franklin who, in 1728, founded the paper under the title of the Pennsylvania Gazette. He edited and published it for a number of years, and then sold it to his grandson. Meanwhile six other papers of all sorts had been born in Philadelphia, all having as part of their title the word ‘Gazette.’ So, in 1821, to avoid a constant confusion of names, the name was changed to the Saturday Evening Post. The spirit of enterprise of that day must have been put into the venture, for in 1839 it had a circulation of thirty-five thousand copies, the largest circulation of that day of all the weeklies in the United States. The most famous statesmen and writers of the time were among its contributors, and it ranked as the most important publication of the day.
The weekly passed through various ownerships in Philadelphia; then it came into the hands of a resident of Brooklyn, New York, although the place of publication remained in Philadelphia; and finally it was purchased by Albert Smyth, of Philadelphia, whose property it was when Mr. Curtis came to the Quaker City.
The paper had never missed an issue since the evacuation of Philadelphia in the War of the Revolution, and its ownership was a matter of pride with Smyth. He and Mr. Curtis would often talk about the history and tradition of the paper, and it was from these chats, Mr. Curtis believes, that his interest in the weekly began and grew. From curiosity rather than from design, Mr. Curtis had the history of the paper looked up, and it was not long before Smyth acknowledged that his friend knew more about it than he himself.
Its circulation was slowly dwindling. No one gave it any special attention. A newspaper reporter, in his odd moments, was supposed to be its editor, at a salary of ten dollars per week, and he ‘scissored’ its contents or purchased material published years before.
Mr. Curtis could not help feeling regret that a paper with such traditions should be allowed to run down, and he began at last to speculate on what Smyth intended doing with it, if anything; or, if he would sell it, what it was worth. It was only a shell, but there was the tradition back of it. After all, Benjamin Franklin had founded it, and that was an asset which could be built upon.
Smyth now transferred what little personal interest he had manifested in the Saturday Evening Post to a gas project in Chicago, and went there, leaving the paper in charge of a friend named Brady, to be looked after until he returned. He was to make ‘his pile’ in Chicago, and then come back to Philadelphia and revivify the weekly.
One day in 1897, Brady walked into Mr. Curtis’s office, and with him was a lawyer.
‘Smyth has passed away,’ Brady announced. ‘His only heir is a sister. She will-not put up any money to get out this week’s issue. You are the only man I can turn to for money.’
Then Mr. Curtis told his two visitors something they had not known. No copyright covered the name ‘Saturday Evening Post.’ The owners had neglected to register it. If an issue was missed, if the heir did not furnish the money to get it out, anyone could take up the name.
The lawyer confirmed this.
Mr. Curtis said that of course he would not do anything like that.
‘But, you see, you really have n’t anything to sell,’ he remarked. ’However, I ’ll give you one thousand dollars for the paper — type and all.’
After some discussion, he paid one hundred dollars down, the other nine hundred dollars to be paid when he got clear title.
One of the young men in the Curtis establishment was sent down with a wagon to the printing office, to bring up the stock of battered type; and as soon as it arrived that week’s issue was thrown together and the paper put out, so as to save the right to the title by continuous publication.
The imprint of the Curtis Publishing Company was placed on this number. About two thousand names were found to represent the subscription list; and so accustomed were these readers to the reprinted material which had been offered them that, when Mr. Curtis substituted original matter, they promptly allowed their subscriptions to lapse! Thus he had almost a clean slate to begin with: no subscribers and no advertisers. He had paid one thousand dollars for a title and the name of Benjamin Franklin.
From the day when it was announced that Mr. Curtis had bought Benjamin Franklin’s paper, and was to transform it into a weekly for business men, lamentations were heard on every side. One after another of his friends deplored his purchase and his plan. Inside his own establishment it became known as the ‘singed cat,’ and it received anything but a warm welcome. The Ladies’ Home Journal was steadily mounting in its accumulation of profits, and why should these hard-earned profits be eaten up by a weekly that, according to unanimous opinion, was destined to be a dire failure?
The ‘singed cat’ was fit only for the process of chloroforming!
Mr. Curtis was not unaware of the opposition to his new venture, both within and without his establishment; but he kept his own counsel, and went on a quest for an editor. That was the first thing. Meanwhile, one of the editors on the Ladies’ Home Journal staff was delegated to look after the editorial fortunes of the weekly until a regular editor could be found.
Mr. Curtis had, some time before, watched the editorship of Arthur Sherburne Hardy on the Cosmopolitan Magazine, and had made a mental note of his capacity in case he should at any time need an editor. The editor-novelist had made a readable magazine of the Cosmopolitan, and had built up the circulation. Mr. Curtis now recalled this impression that he had registered, and looked up Hardy, who, he found, had gone into the diplomatic service, and was United States Minister to Persia.
Nothing daunted, Mr. Curtis got into communication with the minister, told him of his purchase and his plans, and asked if Hardy was to be anywhere in the near future where he would be more accessible and they could have a talk. The minister replied that he planned to be in Paris shortly; could Mr. Curtis meet him there? Mr. Curtis said he would, and prepared to sail.
Meanwhile, a mutual friend spoke to Mr. Curtis about a young man in Boston who, he believed, had editorial possibilities within him. His name was George Horace Lorimer; he was a son of the Reverend George C. Lorimer, who preached in Tremont Temple, in Boston, for some years. Mr. Curtis was going to Boston on other business, promised to look the young man over, and wrote to him asking him to come to see him.
When Mr. Curtis met Lorimer, the young man told him he had a business experience with the Armours in Chicago, but had left there, although at twentytwo he was receiving the unusual salary of five thousand dollars per year, because he wanted to go into journalism. The pork merchant had demurred at the young man’s ‘rainbow aspirations,’ but young Lorimer persisted, went to Colby College, in Maine, where he took a two years’ course in the study of general literature, and then became a reporter for another two years on the Boston Post, which he had then recently left to devote himself to free-lance literary work. He was, therefore, in a receptive mood to listen to a proposition from Mr. Curtis, who, favorably impressed with the young man, offered him a position ‘as a young man on the staff of the Post, to do anything he could,’at a thousand dollars per year.
Never for a moment did Mr. Curtis dream that he had found his editor. Lorimer went to Philadelphia, took hold of what he could find to do on the Post staff, and showed such clearheaded common sense in his suggestions, in the three weeks that he had in which to show his work before Mr. Curtis sailed to Europe to meet Minister Hardy in Paris, that Mr. Curtis began to wonder whether Lorimer was not an editor. The thought grew upon him, and when he sailed he put Lorimer in full editorial charge of the paper until he could determine whether he could make arrangements with Hardy. ‘But by the time I sailed,’ said Mr. Curtis, ‘I did n’t much care whether I got Hardy or not. I was convinced by this time that Lorimer had all the makings of an editor in him.’
It turned out that Mr. Curtis and Minister Hardy were not to meet as arranged. The State Department at Washington had ordered the Persian Minister’s transfer to Athens, as Minister to Greece. Mr. Curtis was perfectly satisfied. He felt that he had the man in Lorimer; at all events he had given Lorimer his chance to show what he could do, and he determined to wait until his return to Philadelphia to see what the young man had done.
He found his brightest expectations not only realized but exceeded. Lorimer had shown exceedingly good editorial acumen. The Post was beginning to get and print the material which Mr. Curtis wanted to see in it, and he told Lorimer that he could consider himself the editor.
Mr. Curtis now got back of his editor and his pet project. He did not have to secure financial credit for the Saturday Evening Post, as he had had to do for the Ladies’ Home Journal, because the latter publication was netting a profit, and on this the Post could be carried.
But it was a hard and thorny path, nevertheless. No one believed in the outcome of the venture except Mr. Curtis and his editor. Business men shook their heads, advertising men predicted absolute failure; the organ of the publishing trade, Printers’ Ink, editorially bewailed the fact that Mr. Curtis had ‘established a wonderful property in the Ladies’ Home Journal, and now he was blowing in all the profits on an impossible venture.’ Journalists assured Mr. Curtis that the day of the weekly was long past; that the mental attitude of the public was against it; that he was ‘bucking the current of public opinion.’ The New York representative of the paper-manufacturers declared that he would have to give up the Post, or it would break his own back and that of the entire establishment.
Mr. Curtis listened, and regretted that nowhere could he get support for his idea, which he felt so convinced was sound.
‘Did you ever doubt yourself?' a friend asked him.
‘Not for a single moment; I knew exactly what I was trying to do — or I thought I did,’ he answered.
‘You were never discouraged?’
‘Never discouraged. The constant reiteration of “It can’t be done" acted like a red rag to a bull. It made me all the more determined. The opposition stiffened my backbone. I said to myself, “I’ll show them who is right”; because I knew all the time that I was thinking right. It was simply that I could n’t get anybody to see it as I saw it, or to believe in it.'
The worst of it was that the public did not see it. A quarter of a million dollars was spent in advertising the periodical with little result.
‘All right,’ said Air. Curtis, ‘I’ll send another quarter of a million after it, to bring it back.’
The time came when the books showed a loss of eight hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Curtis’s perturbed treasurer had gone to great pains to prepare these figures, and showed them to him, hoping that the large total would halt any further expenditure.
‘Eight hundred thousand dollars loss thus far, you say?’ asked Mr. Curtis, looking at the bottom of the statement.
‘That’s the tremendous figure,’ said the treasurer impressively.
‘Well,’ rejoined Mr. Curtis, ‘that gives us a margin of two hundred thousand more to make a round million.’
The treasurer was depressed; in fact, he was almost broken-hearted when on the following day Mr. Curtis began to put out copy for a two-hundred-thousand-dollar advertising campaign.
‘That’ll bring it up to the million,’ the publisher joyfully announced. ’Then we’ll know where we are at!'
Meanwhile, Lorimer had been working, days and evenings, helping Mr. Curtis to realize his ambition as to the kind of paper he wanted, and was beginning to make so strong a paper that men commenced to take notice of it and wonder whether there was n’t something in the ‘wild idea’ after all. Advertisers were chary; but when the circulation reached five hundred thousand copies they thought they would Try it for an issue or two.’
With the public attitude changing, Mr. Curtis knew, of course, that he was winning. But he wanted to make it a fact. So, to the utter despair of his treasurer, he spent another quarter of a million of dollars on the paper. Fortunately, the profits of the Ladies’ Home Journal made this possible.
The ledger now showed a loss of a million and a quarter dollars on the weekly. When would the turning-point be reached? It could n’t be far off, if it was ever to come! Mr. Curtis knew that it was in sight, but he was not quite prepared for what did happen.
He had now ‘fertilized the soil’ for five years, and the harvest must soon follow, he argued.
And then public opinion changed, as it were, overnight. Support came with such a rush that the presses could scarcely keep up with the demand for the paper. The efforts of publisher and editor were to bear fruit. The circulation leaped, and it was not long before the announcement, ‘With a circulation of one million copies,’ was blazoned forth from a cover of the Post.
The first round of the fight had been won! Publisher and editor now agreed to solidify the first million with the second, and confound records and doubters. A succession of the livest editorial features; authoritative business articles; business stories reflective of actual business conditions, followed in rapid succession. It came now to be a common desire to write for the Post. Unknown authors began to have their first efforts published, and their reputations made. It was not long before the Post had the first call on all material within its field. Its contents, week by week, were kept fresh and reflective of the moment. The circulation fairly bowled along. The advertising rates could scarcely be increased rapidly enough to keep pace with the circulation. And in an incredibly brief space of time the two-million mark was not only reached but quickly passed.
From this point, the Saturday Evening Post has gone on until now it is passing the two-and-a-half-million circulation mark, and is apparently headed straight for the third million.
And this is the ‘singed cat’ that the best business minds tried their best to kill in the unsuccessful attempt to discourage Cyrus H. K. Curtis!
(In the next Atlantic, Mr. Bok will conclude his series of informal sketches, by outlining some of the personal methods followed by Mr. Curtis in his successful handling of men and problems.)