In 1895, Samuel W. Mercer moved to Iowa City from Ohio and purchased The Iowa State Press – the city’s long-time Democratic-based newspaper.
In 1896, Mercer decided to diversify his company – printing advertising calendars on the side – a wise business decision since these colorful promotional pieces were quickly becoming wildly-popular with businesses – large and small.
By 1904, Mercer had decided to sell the less-profitable State Press, incorporating a new printing business – Economy Advertising Company – focusing exclusively on promotional products for businesses. Over the next decade, his little Iowa City company gained a national presence and expansion became a top priority.
When prohibition in Iowa hit (1916), Graf Brothers Brewery decided to abandon its large warehouse on the corner of Market & Linn Streets, so Mercer took this opportunity to move in – making it the new home of his growing Economy Advertising enterprise.
Here, Economy Advertising prospered and continued growing right up until the start of World War I. Like many companies of the day, Mercer’s company struggled with material shortages, and had a difficult time maintaining a skilled work force. In addition to these difficulties brought on by the war, the company’s second president – Willis W. Mercer – was called into active military service.
(C-0067) Economy Advertising Company – Here’s a postal cover and letter from January 1919.
After the war, prosperity returned and in 1923, new press equipment was purchased, and the company added a new two-story brick building at 117 N. Linn Street – adjacent to their original building on Market Street.
(BH-0040) John T. Frederick (above) founded The Midland in 1915 – a literary magazine that focused on regional literature from the Midwest, featuring writers whose work was not being accepted by literary journals back east. While The Midland had several offices during its run from 1915 to 1934, Economy Advertising Company not only typeset, printed and bound every edition of the journal, they also provided on-going financial support. Frederick, you see, was an apprentice here when he was a student at SUI, and as a graduate student, became one of the first educators at Iowa to organize and teach a course in American literature. Together with Frank Luther Mott, Frederick also organized the SUI Saturday Luncheon Club – a literary forum that was a true forerunner of the, now infamous, Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
John Frederick’s editorial policy at The Midland was dramatized in prose and poetry with the basic theme – It’s better here – at home. And it’s Frederick’s vision for his fledgling magazine that attracted a young writer from Cedar Rapids – named Paul Engle. You see, it was The Midland – in the September-October 1930 issue – that gave Engle one of his first opportunities to become a published writer, and after the magazine folded in 1934, Engle kept Frederick’s literary vision alive through his work with The Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Engle, as you probably know, was an American poet, editor, teacher, literary critic, novelist, and playwright. He is best remembered as the long-time director of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1941-1965) and co-founder of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
(BH-053) In 1961, Paul Engle served as editor for Midland: Twenty-Five Years of Fiction and Poetry – Selected from The Writer’s Workshop at The State University of Iowa. The title is obviously, Engle’s salute to John T. Frederick and The Midland.
Here’s our salute to this long-standing SUI connection – from S.W. Mercer coming to Iowa City in 1895 – to Economy Advertising – to John T. Frederick – to The Midland – to Paul Engle – to The Iowa Writers’ Workshop of today! Amazing!
Click on these links to read more about these Iowa authors who benefited greatly from this SUI publishing connection –
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.