Ohio History Journal

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Winthrop B. Smith: Creator of the

Eclectic Educational Series




William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) is generally credited with the phenomenal

spread of moral eclecticism throughout the United States during the middle third

of the nineteenth century. Much of the credit should go, however, to his canny

publisher, Winthrop B. Smith, who was the first to recognize the evocative magic

of the word "eclectic" as an advertising device. He also wrested complete owner-

ship of the McGuffey readers from the author, and he and his partner, William T.

Truman, parlayed it into the beginning of an incredibly successful series of text-

books based on the eclectic concept. Starting from scratch in 1833. W. B. Smith

by 1868 had developed the world's largest textbook house through a succession of

partnerships. These included the following: Truman & Smith (1833-1843); W. B.

Smith (1843-1845); W. B. Smith & Co. (1845-1863); and Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle

(1863-1868). Smith's aggressive business policy, however, was motivated not so

much by belief in an educational philosophy as by the ambition of a Connecticut

farm boy to become a financial success.

Cincinnati, during the time of Smith's residence, in spite of the cattiness of Mrs.

Trollope, was the "Queen City of the West." With a population of nearly 25,000

in 1830, it could boast of more than strategic and transportational virtues. By this

time there were numerous public, private, and parochial schools, academies, and

colleges. Public libraries and a number of circulating libraries served the descen-

dants of a mixed European population. Music, both sentimental and highbrow, was

popular, and one theater could claim 800 seats. There were picture galleries, the

beginning of an art museum, a Haydn Society, several literary clubs, and a very

active group of booksellers, printers, and publishers. "By the 1830's," wrote Walter

Sutton, "Cincinnati was the recognized capital of the western book trade,. . . ."2

Too frequently rough privations of frontier living are associated with lack of

culture. This was certainly not true of Cincinnati in 1833 when W. B. Smith arrived.



1. American Book Company is a direct descendant from Truman & Smith, having been formed in

1890 by the descendants of textbook concerns discussed in this text plus Wilson, Hinkle & Co. (1868-

1877) and Van Antwerp Bragg & Co. (1877-1890) together with three New York concerns, Iuison,

Blakeman & Co., A. S. Barnes & Co., and D. Appleton & Co.

This paper is adapted from Mauck Brammer, "American Book Company: Our Heritage and Our

History." A typescript is in the New York office of American Book Company.

2. Walter Sutton, The Western Book Trade: Cincinnati As a Nineteenth-Century Publishing and

Book-Trade Center (Columbus, 1961), 67.

Mr. Brammer is retired managing editor of American Book Company.