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Dayton, the Home of Religious Literature

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, August 7, 1932


Dayton, the Home of Religious Literature

By Howard Burba


Few things have served to carry Dayton’s name into every corner of the United States more than the religious publications which have for almost eighty years been pouring from the presses of publishing houses located in this city.

Away back before the Civil War, and while religious denominations now boasting hundreds of thousands of members were struggling for a place in the sun crude old flat-bed presses were turning out messages of hope and cheer for those who sought the real road to happiness. As each tiny congregation grew to the point where it could boast a Sunday school, it was from Dayton that there went forward each Sunday lesson leaflets and other printed supplies necessary to the conduct of such an organization. Each and every piece of this literature bore the imprint of “Dayton, Ohio,” and in the course of 80 years that imprint has reached into the billions, and has made the name of Dayton familiar to four generations. There is a story, and most interesting one, connected with the location here of two of the largest church publications plants in the world. In a way, it is a romantic story, for modern publishing houses have not had to surmount the obstacles encountered by the United Brethren and the Christian Publishing companies in the early years of their existence. Neither have they been forced to struggle against the opposition faced by these two pioneer religious publishing plants as they sought to prove that there was a place on this continent for Christian literature.

The publishing house of the United Brethren in Christ may be said to have had its origin in an effort of Rev. Aaron Farmer, pioneer convert to that faith, to establish a journal that would carry the tenets of this doctrine into all parts of the country. At a meeting of the Miami Conference in 1829, Dayton being situated in the territory embraced by that organization, Rev. Farmer made known his plan, and pleaded for its endorsement.

Quick to sense the need for extending doctrines, and enterprising enough to realize that no better method could be found than through the printed word, the churchmen indorsed the proposition, and made a small appropriation of a few hundred dollars toward the establishment of what is now recorded as the first religious publication in the middle west devoted to the promulgation of the United Brethren faith. Rev. Farmer went to the little town of Salem, Ind., and began work on the first issue of a paper called “Zion’s Herald.” That was away back in 1829.

He struggled to place the little publication on a paying basis, but there was no widespread interest in such an innovation. Its field was extremely limited; its supporters were not over-blessed with wealth; its subscribers were few and the securing of new ones almost a hopeless task. After a few issues Rev. Farmer gave up the venture. But he had planted in fertile soil, and had established in the minds of his co-workers in the religious world a realization of the importance of such an enterprise.

Time passed, and Rev. Farmer still clung to his belief that this part of the world needed religious literature. In 1833, at a meeting of the general conference held in Pickaway co., he again succeeded in interesting the leaders of the church in his proposition. On May 14 of that year the conference adopted a resolution providing for the circulation of subscription papers in each of the annual conference districts, one to raise a fund for the founding of a religious publication; the other providing for individual yearly subscriptions to such a publication.

It was ordered that a printing establishment be erected at Circleville, O., for the purpose of publishing such a journal, and also for “doing a general job printing business.” The name selected for the paper was “The Religious Telescope.” It was to be published monthly, “on a large, imperial sheet, with good type, at the price of $1.50 a year if paid in advance or $2 if paid within the year.” That was exclusive of postage. The trustees appointed to guide the destinies of this first publishing house were John Russell, John Dresbach and George Dresbach.

These gentleman solicited funds, and on April 12, 1834, they purchased at a public sale in Circleville an old flat-bed press, a few cases of type and a meager array of fixtures and equipment. The total cost was $400. A month later they bought a lot and two dwelling houses for the sum of $550, and in these they established their plant.

Early in the same year William R. Rhinehart, of the Virginia Conference, began the publication at Hagerstown, Md., of a religious paper called “The Mountain Messenger.” The trustees, anxious to gather into one body all the power of the church, purchased The Messenger and all of its material for $825, and employed Mr. Rhinehart as editor of The Telescope. the first issue of which appeared on Dec. 31, 1834, at Circleville.

It started with a subscription list of 1200 and a debt of $1600. But few of the subscriptions were ever collected. The paper continued as a semi-monthly until July 30, 1845, when it was changed to a weekly. It has continued as such over a period of 77 years without missing an issue. The publishing house soon became a considerable liability, and more than once its fate hung in the balance as the gray-bearded church fathers hesitated at each annual meeting of the general conference to continue appropriating finances for its support.

In 1845 Rev. William Hanby was made business manager, and by 1849 he had not only succeeded in paying off the debts of the publishing house, but had banked net assets of $6928.36 above all liabilities. In 1853, at the end of the first 20 years the actual value of the assets was $9514.36 and the liabilities only $3759.90. The growth of the establishment was steady, though slow. But faith had been established in it, and no longer were the trustees forced to approach each gathering of the general conference with an appeal for funds.

It was in the conference of 1853 that a resolution was adopted providing for the removal of the publishing house from Circleville to Dayton. The trustees announced the purchase of a lot facing 59 ½ feet on Main and 152 feet on Fourth st. in the city of Dayton, for the sum of $11,000. At the time of the purchase the lot was occupied by a large two-story brick residence, which for some time served as the publishing house. On the corner of this lot the trustees caused to be erected in 1854 a large, substantial brick building, four stories high, with a basement under the entire structure. The total cost of this building, including the steam engine, gas and water pipes and the necessary apparatus for heating the building with steam amounted to $15,000. It was also found imperative to purchase new printing equipment, and though it was necessary to borrow money to do this, the credit of the publishing house was maintained.


At the beginning of the enterprise in 1834 only one periodical was issued. That was the Religious Telescope. At that time only one editor was employed. Comparisons are always interesting, so it may be noted in passing that today the United Brethren Publishing House, one of the largest printing establishments of its kind in the world, publishes regularly for the church alone a total of 17 publications and maintains a staff of more than a dozen editors and associate editors.

Following the launching of The Telescope in 1834, the publishing house began these publications in the order named: The Froehliche Botshafter, a religious weekly in the German language, in 1840; Children’s Friend, semi-monthly, in 1854; Missionary Visitor, semi-monthly in 1865; Jugend Pilger, semi-monthly in the German language, in 1870; Our Bible Teacher, monthly in 1873; Lessons For the Little Ones, weekly, in 1876; Our Bible Lessons Quarterly, in 1878; Women’s Evangel, monthly, in 1881; Intermediate Bible Lesson Quarterly, in 1882. Within more recent years there has been added to the list The Watchword, with a weekly circulation of more than 60,000; Our Little Folks; Otterbein Teacher; Lesson Leaves; Pupils’ Lesson Stories, in addition to a series of picture wall maps and Bible picture cards, issued at regular intervals during the year. Today the total combined circulation of all religious publications issued by the U. B. plant has reached the enormous total of 12,000,000 yearly.

While the groundwork for a great publishing business was being laid during the first 50 years of the institution, it was not in reality until more recent times that the actual work of building began.  It may be said to have definitely started with the arrival here in 1897 of Rev. W. R. Funk, who had just been named as agent. For 35 years he had directed the operations of the plant, in addition to supervising the erection of the church’s handsome 20-story office building at Fourth and Main and the mammoth printing works on W. Fifth st.

Rev. Funk brought the publishing plant thorough some troubulous times and severe financial squalls, but stuck firmly to his original intention to make it a leader in its field. He is to retire in 1933, at the close of his 36th year as agent, and his retirement marks the culmination of his original aim. The U. B. publishing house is today in the front rank of religious publication plants of the world.

Up at Ebenezer chapel in Clark co., in 1843, there gathered a little group of enterprising members of the religious denomination now known as Christians. In this group were Jacob G. Reeder, Derastus F. Radby, Arthur W. Sanford, Robert McCoy and Elijah Williamson. They had assembled to discuss the need of a religious publication representing their faith, and to work out such plans as would insure the establishment of a publishing plant owned and operated by the Christian church of the middle west. They entered into a lengthy discussion of the subject, and reaching no definite agreement, adjourned to meet in the little town of New Carlisle on Oct. 23 of the same year.

At this time an organization was perfected, and given the title of Christian Publishing Association. The executive committee appointed here continued with the plans until Elder I. N. Walters was appointed publishing agent. In January, 1854, these officers were elected: J. C. Reeder, president; A. W. Sanford, secretary; J. R. Miller, treasurer. The incorporation of the association was authorized at the same time.

On Sept. 14, 1863, the executive committee met at Eaton, O., and on Dec. 14, 1864, at Ogden, Ind. The first meeting of the committee in Dayton was held at the home of Elder P. McCullough on Jan. 17, 1865, at which time it was decided to establish a publishing plant and general religious book company. Quarters were secured at Sixth and Main in 1868, through the purchase by William Worley, for the association, of the property of J. L. Falkner. The price paid for the building and site was $11,500. The location was not entirely satisfactory to the promoters, so in September, 1869, it was decided to erect a new publishing plant. The plant at Sixth and Main was sold.

One June 21, 1870, the trustees met at Marion, Ind. Here a new executive board was chosen, consisting of N. Summerbell, J. T. Lynn, William Worley, W. A. Gross and A. R. Heath. This board was authorized to close a contract with such builders as they might select to erect a publishing house in Dayton. It was voted that the first floor of the main building be at least two feet above the sidewalk and the basement have “a wide entrance and good and sufficient windows.”

The new structure was started in 1871 at the southeast corner of Fifth and Main, and on Dec. 4, 1872, authority was given to paint in large letters on the building the words “Christian Publishing House.” The board of trustees met in the new building for the first time on Jan. 2, 1873. A resolution was adopted to the effect that a large and fine engraving of the new publishing plant be made and circulated, with certificates of donation and stock, and the following four sentiments of the Christian church:

                        1-The Bible our only creed.

                        2-Christian our only name.

                        3-Christian character our only test of fellowship.

                        4-Liberty of private interpretation in faith and obedience to God.

One of these engravings was offered to each church, or person who paid $100, either as a donation or stock subscription, and each minister was urged to push the sale of certificates in his church.

On Jan. 1, 1870, Rev. Frank Browning was chosen publishing agent, being succeeded in the same year by Rev. A. T. McKinney. Changes came rapidly, in fact, that affairs of the infant institution were more or less chaotic for the first several years of its existence. Between 1872 and 1874, the association had as publishing agent in the order named, the following men: Rev. W. A. Gross, Rev. William Worley, Rev. N. Summerbell, Rev. T. M. McWhinney, Rev. C. W. Garroutte, Rev. A. W. Coan and Rev. Mills Harris.

The original publication of the Christian Publishing Co. was “The Herald of Gospel Liberty,” a weekly. Others established in the early years were: The Sunday School Herald, semi-monthly; Glad Tidings, semi-monthly; The Little Teacher, weekly; The Bible Class, quarterly, and The Intermediate, quarterly. Today the publishing house, located in a comparatively new and a wholly modern home, issues four distinct religious publications devoted to the Christian church. The Herald of Gospel Liberty, so long the leading publication of the church was transferred a few years ago to a publishing house in Boston, and no longer carries the Dayton imprint in its weekly journeys to thousands of American homes.

There you have the story of two of the pioneer religious publishing plants of the country, and two of the greatest in any country. But these alone do not represent Dayton’s holdings in the field of religious literature.

In thousands of churches and tens of thousands of homes throughout the length and breadth of the land you will find the products of The Lorenz Publishing Co., among the world’s largest publishers of church music. Hundreds of thousands of sheets of church and other music and song books and leaflets running into millions, have been printed here in Dayton, and distributed to schools and private homes over a period of 42 years, the publishing house being founded by E. S. Lorenz in 1890. Each and every product of this company bears a Dayton imprint. Within the past few years the Lorenz Co. has absorbed two old established concerns engaged in the same field of endeavor, until today it is at the head of the industry in which it has so long been engaged.

Quietly, regularly, unostentatiously over a period of more than three-quarters of a century Dayton has been providing the American people with religious literature and secular music of the highest standard. She has profited in return, for the publication of this type of literature has resulted in the permanent location of three large printing establishments here, each employing many workers. But, best of all, they have carried to the world messages of helpfulness and tidings of better things on ahead.