Economy Advertising – Birthplace Of The Midland & More.

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.

The Iowa State Press came into existence in 1860 as The State Democratic Press. John P. Irish took over as editor in 1864, making it into a major competitor to The Iowa Citizen, one of the two Republican newspapers in town. In 1920, The Citizen merged with The State Press – becoming The Iowa City Press-Citizen. Read more about early Iowa newspapers here.

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.

(C-0244) WWI and the economy. During WW I – effective in March 1917 – postage rates increased from 2-cents to 3-cents in order to raise funding for the war. When the war ended in 1919, the Postal Service did something they ‘never’ do…decrease rates back to 2-cents! This collector, wanting to remember such a rare event, pasted a newspaper article from The Sioux City Journal informing folks on how & when to turn in their 3-cent stamps for 2-centers. The change occurred on June 28, 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.

The Economy Advertising Co. building today. The company – now called TruArt – moved in 1986 to a 60,000 sq. ft. printing facility on Highway 6 leaving this beautiful red-brick classic on Linn Street – now occupied by The Iowa City Press-Citizen.

(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.

This year, I am at the University of Iowa. I am here with the understanding that I am to spend most of my time writing, with only two mornings a week of teaching. The university is very friendly to the idea, as they also have a painter, Grant Wood, under the same scheme. The idea is that a university should be a center of all culture, not just of scholarship, and that students who wish to be helped with painting or writing or music can have someone to who is practicing the art in which they are interested. Paul Engle – November 20, 1937

(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 –

W.P. Kinsella – Write It and They Will Come.

James Alan McPherson – Making Elbow Room for a Pulitzer-Prize Winner.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Economy Advertising Company, Wikipedia

TruArt – Our History – TruArt – About Us,

History – Writers’ Workshop – Early Days, University of Iowa

Click here to go on to the next section…

Click here for a complete INDEX of Our Iowa Heritage stories…