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Bobbs-Merrill Bobbs-Merrill i(A56647 works by) (Organisation) assertion (a.k.a. Bobbs-Merrill Company; Bobbs Merrill)
Born: Established: 1903 Indianapolis, Indiana,
United States of America (USA),
; Died: Ceased: 1985
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For the first thirty years of the twentieth century, the Bobbs-Merrill Company was one of America's leading book publishers. Although its trading name was established in 1903, the company's origins actually date back to 1850, when Samuel Merrill Snr bought an Indianapolis bookstore and entered the publishing business. After his death in 1855, his son Samuel Merrill Jr continued the business. Following the end of the Civil War, the business underwent a number of name changes as a consequence of changing partners: first Merrill and Fields, followed by Merrill and Hubbard, then Merrill, Meigs and Company. In 1885, the name was once again changed when the company merged with fellow Indianapolis book and stationary firm Bowen, Stewart and Company. It was subsequently incorporated as the Bowen-Merrill Company.

In 1903, the company became known as the Bobbs-Merrill Company, the name under which it is best remembered. This change reflects the input of long-time director William Conrad Bobbs. Another significant director during the early Bobbs-Merrill years was John Curtis, the director responsible for setting up the company's branch office in New York. The last of the founding family to have any connection with the company was Charles Merrill (grandson of Samuel Merrill Snr), who served as treasurer until shortly before his death in the late 1920s but never assumed any leadership role in Bobbs-Merrill.

Between 1899 and 1909, Bowen-Merrill (and later Bobbs-Merrill) published sixteen novels whose exceptionally large sales placed each of them among the nation's top ten best-selling books of the year for one or more years. It is also known for publishing such authors as Richard Halliburton, David Markson, Ayn Rand, James Whitcomb Riley, Walter Dean Myers, and Irma S. Rombauer. One of the company's most recognisable publications is L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), which is generally regarded as the United States's first home-grown fairy tale. Baum later went on to become the US's first successful writer of fantasy. Bobbs-Merrill was also responsible for publishing numerous trade and philosophy books, as well as the official records of the State of Indiana. Interestingly, Hiram Hayden, one of the company's last editors, revealed in the early 1950s that the contract with the Indiana Law Department amounted to the company's greatest source of revenue (O'Bar p. 32). Aside from being recognised as a leading US publisher, Bobbs-Merrill is recognised in US legal history as the plaintiff in Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus (1908), a case regarded as the origin of copyright's First Sale Doctrine.

Bobbs-Merrill was purchased in 1959 by the Howard W. Sams Company, also based in Indianapolis. Although the company had reported a loss for the previous financial year, the new owner Howard Sams restructured the operations and invested in a large-scale advertising campaign to promote a series of new trade titles. Sams also strengthened Bobbs-Merrill's educational publishing division by acquiring two Cincinnati companies, the Public School Publishing Company and Gregory Publishing Company, along with a number of Scribner's educational lines. In 1961, a newly established Bobbs-Merrill college division took over Liberal Arts Press, a quality publisher of political science, philosophy, history, religion, and fine arts texts. Although this attempt to move into mainstream publishing was ultimately unsuccessful, Bobbs-Merrill's change in direction towards educational publishing allowed the firm to become financially stable by the mid-1960s. Despite no longer being considered one of America's leading publishers, the company still managed to turn over more than US$3 million a year.

In 1966, the Howard W. Sams Company was purchased by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), thus ending both Sams' and Bobbs-Merrill's association with Indianapolis. ITT in turn sold the companies to Macmillan in 1985. By then, general book publishing was a relatively minor aspect of Bobbs-Merrill activities, with the company having turned almost exclusively to technical training manuals, particularly those for the microcomputer industry. The acquisition by Macmillan subsequently brought about the end of Bobbs-Merrill as a publishing house.

(Sources: Jack O'Bar, 'Origins and History of the Bobbs-Merrill Company' and Timothy D. Murray 'The Bobbs-Merrill Company')

Most Referenced Works


  • Further Reference:

    • Bobbs-Merrill MSS. Lilly Library Manuscript Collections. Indiana University, Bloomington, Illinois.
    • 'Bobbs-Merrill Reorganizes New York Trade Office.' Publishers Weekly 215 (14 May 1979), p. 126.
    • Bodenhamer, David J. The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1994, pp. 336-338.
    • Cady, Edwin H, ed. 'Studies in the Bobbs-Merrill Papers.' The Indiana University Bookman 8 (Mar. 1967).
    • Curtis, John J. 'Reminiscences of a Publisher.' Publishers Weekly 117 (10 May 1930), pp. 2419-20.
    • Murray, Timothy D. 'Bobbs-Merrill Company.' In American Literary Publishing Houses, 1900-1980: Trade and Paperback.' Ed. Peter Dzwonkoski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986, p.49-54.
    • O'Bar, Jack. 'The Origins and History of the Bobbs-Merrill Company' (Occasional Papers, 172). Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Publications Office, University of Illinois - available online (sighted 8/11/2010).
    • O'Bar, Jack. 'A History of the Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1850-1940.' Ph D Diss. Indiana University, 1975.
    • 'William C. Bobbs.' [Obituary] Publishers Weekly 109 (20 Feb. 1926), p. 604-606.

Last amended 9 Nov 2010 09:33:01
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