Chapter 2: 1901-1910 2:2 Magazines and newspapers with woodworking content; woodworker's manuals

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Revised 7-23-09


Overview of Magazines in 20th Century

Right from America's beginnings -- in the seventeenth century --magazines served as important outlets for the transmission of a wide range of politicial and social ideas (and ideals), on how to do almost anything, or, on promoting inventions and many other things.

Curiously, though, for reasons not clear to me, studies that assess the impact of magazines are rare.  I cite the few that I located below, in Sources.

During the twentieth, magazines were a "growth industry", for sure, for many titles -- especially general purpose magazines -- in number of suscriptions, reached the million mark and more.

The impact of a handful of historical events, though, created interruptions in the steadiness of magazines' growth. 

Four events, in particular, stand out as periods that show drops in magazine circulation. 

The first time: after World War I, for all classes of people -- instead of a novelty for the well-to-do --, automobiles became vehicles for both business and pleasure.  

The second: in the mid-twenties,  when aerials for radios sprouted from housetops across the country and stations scrambled to affiliate with national networks, readership of magazines dropped. 

The third: later in the same decade, movies captured America's attention, and -- it is said -- reduced readership of magazines. 

But, the fourth --  the crowning blow for many magazines, especially those general purpose magazines like American Magazine, Collier'sThe Staturday Evening Post, and even Life, suffered death blows -- the emergence of television in the post World War II era. 

Despite such setbacks, pessimistic forecasts from time to time, however, magazines --especially those targeting narrow intererst groups -- enjoyed a remarkable growth. In numbers, readers of magazines increased exponentially. In 1893, when he started  Munsey's Magazine, Frank Munsey estimated, there were about 250,000 magazine purchasers in the United States. By 1899, purchasers for his magazine, he estimated, had increased to 750,000. In 1947, in a nationwide  study of magazine reading families  —those in which members could identify specific items from recent issues -- the Magazine Advertising Bureau found a  breath-taking 32,300,000 readership. And two decades later, In 1959,  a study for the Magazine Advertising Bureau and the Magazine Publishers Association found that 41,492,000 households — or, over 80% of America's total familes — made  up the magazine market.

Throughout, the numbers of individual magazines increased, to a point, where, Theodore Peterson claims, "there were probably well over a thousand more magazines in the United States in 1963 than in 1900". 

The aggregate circulation of all magazines in the nation mounted steadily, and the sales of individual publications soared from thousands to millions. In 1900 probably just one magazine, Comfort, could boast a circulation of a million copies an issue; in 1963, at least fifty general and farm magazines had circulations of 1,000,000 or more, and one, Life, sold more than 14,500,000 copies of its issues in America. 

The table below, adapted from Peterson, shows data in the aggregate of magazine circulation --  from 1900 to 1958:

peterson table 1

The table below, adapted from Peterson, from 1929 to 1962, shows the growth of magazines from three perspectives: number of magazines published in a given year; average circulation per year in thousands; and copies of magzines sold annualy (again in thousands):

peterson table 2

Peterson argues that two main reasons explain this remarkable growth: 

a growing demand for advertisers' goods and services, and a growing demand for the publishers' own products, magazines. The magazine industry shared in the expansion of the American economy as a whole in the twentieth century, just as did manufacturers of automobiles, refrigerators, and dentifrices, and such other communications media as newspapers and broadcasting.

Under a system of advertising support, in which the publisher performed a marketing function, the fortunes of the magazine industry came to depend closely upon the health of the economy in general. When the national magazine emerged in the late nineteenth century, the magazine publisher became a dealer in consumer groups as well as a dealer in editorial matter. He decided upon a group of consumers which advertisers wanted to reach, and he attracted the consumers to his magazine with a carefully planned editorial formula. Just as often, perhaps, he issued his publication and let it find its audience. Then he sold advertisers space in his magazine to tell their sales stories to the readers he collected. Selling his magazine for less than production cost, he took his profits from advertising.

Source: Theodore Peterson's Magazines in the Twenteith Century Urbana: University of  Illinois Press, 1964, second ed.

The following summarizes Theodore Peterson's scholarly assessment of the impact of magazines in the twentieth century upon American life and culture. For the complete account, see chapter 15 of Peterson's Magazines in the Twentieth Century.

First, says Peterson, magazines are  in large measure responsible for the social and political reforms made during the century.

Second, in their interpretations of issues and events,  magazines put them in national perspective.

Third, the national viewpoint of magazines helped foster a sense of national community.

Fourth, magazines provided millions of Americans with low-cost entertainment.

Fifth, the magazine, for Americans, served as an inexpensive instructor in daily living, by counseling on child rearing, on managing marital and financial problems, or simply getting along with one another.

More closely focusing on the topic at hand, the amateur woodworking movement, though, Peterson maintains that "magazines told Americans  how to furnish and decorate their homes ... [and i]t instructed readers in making lamps and bookcases and chairs and tables and even the homes in which to put them".

Sixth, magazines were an educator in man's cultural heritage. With their historical articles, they explored the nation's past; with their biographical articles, they recalled the men who had shaped it. They acquainted Americans with the accomplishments of other peoples. They introduced them to the best in architecture, painting, sculpture, and thought.

Seventh, one of the strengths of magazines was their variety, in entertainment, information, and ideas. This variety, Peterson argues, comes from editors selecting a specific audience. Some magazines, for sure, built circulations in the millions by appealing to audiences of highly diversified tastes and interests. Typically, though, individual magazines had a narrower focus of "their" audience:  it was edited for a following with a mutual activity or outlook.

Wide Circulation of Craft Magazines in the 1901 -- 1910 Decade

"Americans were subscribing to dozens of periodicals devoted to Arts and Crafts concerns" is how the material culture scholar, Wendy Kaplan characterizes  conditions concerning magazine circulation in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Continues Kaplan, "Mass communication played an essential role in the transmission of style at the turn of the century."

The advent of cheaper printing techniques and especially the development of the halftone (which substantially reduced the cost of illustrations) created a vast new audience for magzines.

Art journals such as Studio and Brush and Pencil -- or more general magazines such as Ladies' Home Journal -- were sources ideas for architects and for craftsmen, or -- perhaps even more important -- as arbiters of taste for middle-class consumers.

New "shelter" magazines, especially House and Garden and House Beautiful, quickly became "tastemakers". (In its own words, House Beautiful was  the "only magazine in America devoted to Simplicity, Economy, and Appropriateness in the home".) Bungalow Magazine played an important role in promoting the Arts and Crafts ideals.

Precise Circulation Data Lacking

Regretfully, we lack "smoking-gun" empirical evidence about this alleged "wide circulation" of periodicals of this period. As evidence for her claim, Kaplan cites a page in Frank Luther Mott's, A History of American Magazines, vol. 4 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957), page 3, but even that classic work provides data about numbers of subscriptions for the limited number of magzines Mott treats, and none of these titles focus directly upon the Arts and Crafts movement nor on woodworking as a hobby. A source with more details -- but in the  aggregate,  with no mention of subscription  numbers for individual  titles of any magazine -- is  Theodore Peterson's Magazines in the Twenteith Century (Urbana: University of  Illinois Press, 1964, second ed.)

Popular Science and Popular Mechanics

According to Theodore Peterson (in Magazines in the Twentieth CenturyPopular Mechanics started its life in January, 1902, with the subtitle: An Illustrated Weekly Review of the Mechanical Press of The World. That title lasted until May 1913. Then, the title was changed to  Popular Mechanics Magazine, a title the title used until, July 1959, after the take-over by the Hearst Publishing Corporation, when the title became simply,  Popular Mechanics.

The beginnings of Popular Mechanics,  Peterson says, were not very promising: a skimpy weekly, it "... went to five subscribers and a few hundred curious readers who paid their nickels for copies at the newsstand".

Founded by an Iowa minister's son, Henry Haven Windsor, Sr., 1902-1924;  Popular Mechanics, from the beginning,  was intended as a forum for interpreting science and mechanics for the average man. Windsor's son assumed editorship in 1924, and remained until 1958, at which time  Popular Mechanics was sold to the Hearst Publishing Corporation, where it remains. Its current publication rate numbers almost 2,000,000 copies per issue.

(Today, amateur woodworkers know the senior Windsor through the Dover Publication or reprints of articles published in Popular Mechanics, in 1909, 1910, and 1912: Mission Furniture: How to Make It. Popular Mechanics ShopNotes have also made a contemporary impact. )

With only a little background in publishing, Windsor "wrote every word of copy and sold every advertisement which appeared in the first issue. His only help was a bookkeeper and a mail clerk, and neither had enough work to keep busy for several months". Their perseverance worked, though, for by September, 1903, Popular Mechanics succeeded to a point where it could be transformed a sixteen-page weekly into a hundred-page monthly. (It soon became a 300-pages-a-month operation.) Early on,  Windsor fixed  upon the editorial pattern: a section of news and general features about science and technology, a section for shop mechanics, and a section of how-to-do-it articles for the home craftsman.

Popular Science back into the 1870s. Initially, the contents of  Popular Science was that, a popularization of science, especially the voguish Darwinianism of the day, i.e., Herbert Spencer's "social Darwinism". Throughout these first decades, ownership changed several times, until 1915, when Henry J. Fisher, Robert Cade Wilson, and Oliver Capen bought the magazine, merging it with World Advance. From that point, Popular Science "came home", so to speak, seeking out a new audience, the home craftsman and hobbyist who wanted to know something about the world of science. 

To capitalize on the increased interest in science and technology stemming out of during World War II, through text and photographs,  Popular Science increased its coverage of science and technology and put its how-to-do-it material in its back pages. Shortly after the end of the war, it was reaching more than a million readers each issue; in 1963 it had a circulation of 1,287,000.

To amateur woodworkers, the significant era of Popular Science is that period in which the section,  "The Homeworkshop", was edited by Arthur Wakeling. While I haven't nailed down the exact dates, they definitely fall  between 1928 and 1938, but give or take a few years before and after those years. This era is significant to amateur woodworking because of the publication in 1930 of The Home Workshop Manual, and the companion volume, Things to Make in Yor Home Workshop.

And, in Popular Science,  December, 1933, Wakeling announced the launching of the National Homeworkshop Guild. See Woodworker's Manuals #9: Arthur Wakeling and the Formation of the National Homeworkshop Guild in the 1930

The Craftsman and The Artsman

Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman (1901 - 1916) is recognized as one of the most successful journals to popularize the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement.

[Stickley] apparently spent most of his firm's profits on two essentially altruistic ventures. One was underwriting The Craftsman magazine, and the other was building Craftsman Farms. The magazine was initially edited and largely written by Stickley's mentor, the Syracuse University professor Irene Sargent (1852-1932), and it promoted Stickley's products during the fifteen years, 1901-16, that it was published.

But it acquired a larger educational mission, its advocacy ranging from design reform to the ethics of daily living.

The Craftsman was a constant proponent of "the simple life" and of progressive social ideals, such as the conservation of natural resources and the preservation of Native American culture.

To encourage its readers to take up handicrafts on their own, the magazine provided detailed plans and instructions for the home worker in cabinet-making, metalwork and needlework.

It became a "gathering place" for nearly all the participants in the American Arts and Crafts Movement, publishing articles, to give only a few examples, by Ernest Batchelder (1875-1957) on the principles of design, C.F. Binns (1857-1934) on ceramics, Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) on architectural theory, and William L. Price (1861-1916) on domestic architecture.

The Craftsman was the most widely read publication of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

In an era of burgeoning mass-circulation magazines, its peak reader­ship of 22,500 was small, but because of the architects, designers, artisans, educators, and Arts and Crafts soci­eties that read it, the impact of The Craftsman was much more far-reaching than its relatively narrow distribution might suggest.

Moreover, Craftsman and Craftsman-inspired houses and interiors were frequently featured in architectural journals and in interiors magazines such as House and Garden and The House Beautiful, carrying Stickley's message far beyond his faithful core audience, and making him nationally influential on matters of handi­craft, furniture design and domestic architecture.

Stick­ley's influential Craftsman magazine brought readers an appealing monthly mix of design, domesticity and Craftsman propaganda.

GUSTAV STICKLEY'S monthly journal, The Craftsman, stands as the single most important American publication to emerge from the Arts and Crafts movement. From its first number in October 1901 to its demise in 1916, it explained the international founda­tions of the movement to a broad audience, engendered interest in the movement's material products, and emphasized the inclusive, democratic spirit that distinguished the American movement from its British parent. Following and enlarging on the social and aes­thetic precepts of William Morris, this handsomely designed and finely printed magazine elevated the status of the decorative arts in America by providing them with a theoretical basis, grounded in political as well as social thought, and offering them as measures of a progressive culture. The Craftsman gave serious attention to do­mestic architecture, furnishings, gardening, costume, and fine crafts, including pottery, textiles, baskets, metalwork, jewelry, and stained glass, as arts of significance in a democratic society.

The magazine quickly gained an audience of intelligent, educated, mid­dle-class readers and helped them to see that the Arts and Crafts movement was as much about ideas as about objects. It encouraged them to seek what the Philadelphia architect William Price had de­scribed as "the art that is life." Perhaps no other magazine of small (or, at best, modest) circulation had such a profound and enduring impact on how home-owning Americans of the early twentieth century thought about their dwellings. There has been nothing like it since.

Source: Cleota Reed, "Gustav Stickley and Irene Sargent, The Courier 30 1995, page 35.

Sources: Cleota Reed, "Irene Sargent: Rediscovering a Lost Legend", The Courier 16 Summer 1979, pages: 3-13; Cleota Reed, "Gustav Stickley and Irene Sargent, The Courier 30 1995, pages.: 35-50; David Cathers, "In a Higher Plane", International Arts and Crafts, edited by Karen Livingstone and Linda Parry; London: V&A PUBLICATIONS, 2005, page 6? [page not correct here]

According to Kaplan, we should view  The Craftsman as having two stages.The earliest issues of The Craftsman show a Stickley in an idealistic mode, promoting the ideas and ideals of William Morris. Later, Stickley's reformist zeal declined, articles in The Craftsman that focus on hand-craftsmanship promote  individual fulfillment more than arguing for altering political and social institutions.

University of Wisconsin's Home Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Image and Text Collections:--

Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

(To access the options listed below for retrieving digitized material, including a full text version of The Craftsman, published by Gustav Stickley between 1900 and 1915, click on the link above)

Decorative arts home
Search the image collection
Search the text collection
Subject guides for text collection


Note by David Cathers on The Craftsman Circulation Figures

It was in 1907 that Stickley—undoubtedly to attract more advertisers—reported Craftsman magazine circulation figures for the first time: 16,000. Compared to, say, Good Housekeeping, a journal that at the time devoted many pages to handicrafts and reached more than 200,000 subscribers, the audience of The Craftsman seems very small. Yet the magazine was more influential than its narrow circulation suggests. Throughout the Standard Stickley years it was, in a way no other periodical ever matched, the essential, intertwining link among virtually all participants in the American Arts and Crafts movement. Artisans, artists, designers, architects, teachers, and others read The Craftsman and absorbed its aesthetic doctrine. They were loyal readers: it is not unusual to find copies today on which an earlier owner has written his or her name, in ink, on the front cover. These issues were kept in personal libraries and valued as if they were books. In addition to individuals, Craftsman subscribers included libraries, reading clubs, and other Arts and Crafts groups, and copies of the magazine distributed in this manlier had multiple readers.

Sources: Adapted from David Cathers, Gustav Stickley New York: Phaidon, 2003, page 139. (also David Cathers, "In a Higher Plane'", International Arts and Crafts, edited by Karen Livingstone and Linda Parry London: V&A PUBLICATIONS, 2005, page ? 6.) In his footnotes, Cathers states further, "For The Craftsman, in addition to the essays by Cleota Reed cited in chapter 2, see Marilyn Fish, "In the Company of The Craftsman: An Introduction to the New Craftsman Index"; and David Cathers; "The Craftsmanship of Life Itself: Gustav Stickley and The Craftsman Magazine," in The Craftsman on CD-ROM New York: Interactive Bureau, 1998)".]

Sources: Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957; Theodore Peterson's Magazines in the Twenteith Century (Urbana: University of  Illinois Press, 1964, second ed.); Wendy Kaplan, "Spreading the Crafts: The Role of the Schools",  in Wendy Kaplan, ed., "The Art That is Life": The  Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920  Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987;  Alan and Barbara Nourie,     American Mass-Market Magazines Westport,  CT: New York : Greenwood Press, 1990; Richard M. Ohmann,  Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century  New York: Verso, 1996.

Besides Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman, the periodical, Amateur Work (Boston) contains subject content directed toward amateur woodworkers.

1901-1907: Amateur Work Boston : F.A. Draper, Publisher Vol. 1, no. 1 (Nov. 1901)-v. 6, no. 6 (Apr. 1907) 6 v.

Amateur Work now online -- here's a link -- is

    A Monthly Magazine Of The Useful Arts And Sciences, containing illustrated articles descriptive of electrical and mechanical apparatus, furniture and other useful articles, games, photography, astronomy, book binding, mechanical drawing, etc.

Click here for an article that originally was published in the remarkable magazine, Amateur Work. Published in Boston early in the 20th century, AW, unfortunately didn't have a long life, and today obtaining information on it is difficult.

(Quite accidentally, I discovered that (selected?) volumes of The  Craftsman have evidently been uploaded on the Web by Google Print. Click here for a pdf version of the volume for 1907.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that the details about the availability of the individual issues these volumes seem to be unnecessarily confusing. For example, part of the "accidental discovery" noted above is this article by Gustav Stickley:  "Home Training in Cabinet Work: New Series of Practical Talks On Structural Woodworking" -- I am working on the process to upload a version of Stickley's "Home Training in Cabinet Work". Click here for Stickley's 1903 outline justifying the "Structural Style in Cabinet-Making".

The Artsman 1903 - 1907 under construction

Below, for example, is a fragment of statement by Horace Traubel, prominent figure in the organization of the Rose Valley -- in the first issue of The Artsman: the Art That is Life -- about the principles that underly Rose Valley's purpose. Fired up by the ideals promoted by the Arts and Craft movement, it displays a strong antimachine mentality, an attitude that prevailed among a strata of society during the peak of the  movement. (Using MSWord to prepare the passage below, I noticed that the word MACHINE is mentioned 38 times!)

Rose Valley is a cross between economic revolution and the stock exchange. Rose Valley is not shutting one door and opening another. Rose Valley

connects in the open with industrial fact. It is not a break. It is an evolution. Rose Valley says: Let us go on from where we are. It is not altogether a dream or wholly an achievement. It is an experiment. It is also an act of faith. It is not willing to say what it will do. It is only willing to say what it is trying to do. Rose Valley pays a first tribute to labor. Labor is the social base. Our modern world has quarreled with this disposition of values. And many who do not share its quarrel still shrink from making a concession to labor. Rose Valley knows and acknowledges the situation.

Rose Valley is not conceived as a tribute to talk. It is a tribute to work. Rose Valley will endeavor to prove that even under industrial conditions as they are certain things may be done to reestablish labor in the splendid inheritance from which it has so long been debarred. Our civilization has produced the MACHINE. It has not given the MACHINE to man. It has given man to the MACHINE. Rose Valley sees that this adjustment has demonstrated its own inefficacy. What can I do to make the best use both of man and of the MACHINE? To enslave the man to the MACHINE is to make the worst use of both.

Source: Horace Traubel "Rose Valley in General" The Artsman: the Art That is Life v 1 1093, pages 23 -30 [kraus reprint edition]

adv for shopnotes in pwIn 1905, Popular Mechanics began its annual, Shop Notes, and continued its publication until the 1930s. That Lee Valley, the Canadian-based woodwork and garden tool distributor, saw fit to reprint and sell these volumes in their stores and mail order catalogs in the 21st century speaks "volumes" about Shop Notes persistent usefulness for American "mechanics" and othe craftsman such as woodworkers. (The advertisement in the image on the left comes from a 1906 issue of Publishers Weekly.   Click here for a Google Books pdf version of a 1921 volume of Shopnotes.)

In 1980, Dover Press reprinted articles from Popular Mechanics of this decade, all on Arts and Crafts projects. For more, check this page out: The Morris Chair as an Icon of Amateur Woodworkers.

Additional Titles

American Homes and Gardens 1, no. 1 July 1905 -12, no. 9 (September 1915) Monthly 12 v. New York : Munn and Co.,     Continues: Scientific American building monthly./ Absorbed by: House & garden.

(These are notes  from entry on AHG in worldcat database.)

Bungalow Magazine 1909 -1918

Handicraft 1902 - 1912

House and Garden 1901-1993

House Beautiful 1896 - present

International Studio dates?

Ladies Home Journal 1883 - present

The Philistine 1895 - 1915

Woodworker's Manuals:

Click here for a selected and partially annotated list of woodworker's manuals published between 1901 and 1910.

For statistics on number of woodworker's manuals published decade by decade, see manuals access page  -- more and more frequently, copies of woodworker's manuals are being digitized and uploaded to the Internet by Google Books.

I try to keep up with these events, and indicate appropriately the titles of woodworker's manuals that can be read on the Web, but it is a large job, so I ask that readers inform me if they encounter web-based manuals.

Lippincott, the mainline Philadelphia publisher, established a London office in 1875, "to handle its growing import business"

Source: John Tebbel, History of Book Publishing in the United States, NY, Bowker, 1975, v 2, p 284 -- note in nyt]

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