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The University Of Chicago Press Business Information, Profile, and History

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1427 E. 60th Street
Chicago
Illinois
60637
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives

Since its founding in 1891 as one of the three original divisions of the University of Chicago, the Press has embraced as its mission the obligation to disseminate scholarship of the highest standard and to publish serious works that promote education, foster public understanding, and enrich cultural life.

History of The University Of Chicago Press

The University of Chicago Press is one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the United States, and has earned a reputation for not only exceptional scholarly works but general fiction as well. Founded in 1891 as an integral part of the University of Chicago, the Press moved beyond its duties to print course selections and college forms, publishing world renowned and prize-winning authors. The Press publishes books (both hardcover and paperback), distinguished journals, and runs an extensive warehousing and distribution system with thousands of titles stored in its high-tech BiblioVault repository. Among its longstanding bestsellers are the Chicago Manual of Style, first published in 1906, and Kate Turabian's seminal work A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, originally published in 1937. Both reference titles sell thousands of copies each year and continue to be used worldwide.

In the Beginning

In the last decade of the 19th century more and more young men, along with a few women, were able to seek higher education. In the state of Illinois there were 25 colleges and universities by 1891, a phenomenal number considering there were only four million residents at the time. According to the Chicago Daily newspaper, Illinois had "too many" institutions of higher learning when there were only 23 universities in all of Germany, serving 53 million people, and 15 in France, serving 40 million inhabitants.

Chicago was home to Northwestern University and the recently defunct Chicago University, which had closed in 1886. Yet oil baron John D. Rockefeller believed Chicago needed a prestigious new university, chartered in the manner of the East Coast's renowned Harvard and Yale. He approached Dr. William Raney Harper, chair of the Semitic Languages department at Yale, to be a trustee of the proposed university and its first president. Once Harper agreed, the two collaborated and established the University of Chicago in 1891.

The University of Chicago was to be no "ordinary" university; part of its formation included the University of Chicago Press. Originally, the Press was more of a printing and public relations unit, creating forms and schedules for the University's professors and news about the university. Its earliest noncourse-related publications were journals, the first being the Journal of Political Economy.

Within a year of the Press's creation, Dr. Harper had signed prominent publisher D.C. Heath to establish the Press as a leading academic publisher. Heath would run the Press and be responsible for the printing, publishing, and selling of books. As part of the deal, Heath relocated its headquarters from Boston to Chicago. Local publisher R.R. Donnelley became part of the Press operations as well.

By 1893 the Press was operating a bookstore and had added several more journals including the Journal of Geology, Biblical World, and Hebraica, the latter two of special interest to Harper, a noted scholar in Hebrew and biblical studies. Unfortunately, by 1894 there were mounting difficulties with D.C. Heath and R.R. Donnelley amidst complaints of mismanagement and inflated pricing. Heath withdrew its operations and the Press began to fend for itself, under the watchful eye of Harper and the University's board of trustees.

Harper firmly believed the Press was destined for greatness, commenting at the University's spring convocation address in 1894, "The [Press] is to be considered as truly part of a university's equipment as the machinery of the physicist or the microscope of the biologist," Harper told his audience, as quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune (February 23, 1896). "Its possibilities in connection with university work have never been fairly tested. When, ten or twenty years hence, the story shall be written of what the university press has done for the university, men will begin for the first time to realize that its establishment at the period of the University's beginning was no foolish dream or idle vision."

In 1895 the Press introduced the American Journal of Sociology, the first to exclusively cover the burgeoning field of sociology. The first book published by the Press was the three-volume Assyrian and Babylonian Letters Belonging to the Kouyunjik Collections of the British Museum by Robert Francis Harper. According to the University of Chicago's web site, the book sold five copies during its first two years in print. It was followed by a translation of Finanzwissenschaft by Thorstein B. Veblen, and John Dewey's The School and Society, published in 1899, which remained in print for more than a century.

Earning Accolades

By 1900 the Press, despite difficulties with funding and management since severing ties with Heath and Donnelley, had published 127 books. Its scholarly journals numbered an impressive 11, including such disparate studies as the Astrophysical Journal and the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. In addition, Rockefeller gave the Press a sizeable gift of $1.5 million. Though two-thirds of the money went into an interest-bearing endowment fund, a chunk of the other $500,000 was earmarked for a new Press building, which would also house a library.

By 1901 land parcels for the new Press building were donated by Rockefeller and trustee Martin A. Ryerson. The new property, comprising half a block at Ellis Avenue and 58th Street, was worth an estimated $90,000. Construction on the new Press building was completed in late 1902, with a mailroom and Press operations on the first floor; a reading room, library, and offices on the second floor; and additional office space and "composing" rooms for the Press on the fourth floor. The building was outfitted with skylights, hardwood trim, and a state of the art elevator.

The new home came at an opportune time as the burgeoning Press had more than doubled its output within four years, generating over $200,000 for the 1901-02 academic year. Some of the year's success was due to a new scholarly imprint, Decennial Publications, which began publishing articles and monographs by the University's increasingly acclaimed staff.

By the end of 1904 the University of Chicago and its Press thrived; in President Harper's biennial address and statement, released in May 1905, the University itself was worth an estimated $18 million (the majority represented by $9.1 million in investments and $7.1 million in buildings and grounds), while the Press was considered an asset worth more than $120,000. In 1905, for the first time, the Press published books by scholars outside the University, including The Silver Age of the Greek World by J. P. Mahaffy of the University of Dublin and One Year of Sunday School Lessons for Young Children by Florence U. Palmer.

The next year, 1906, marked an important milestone for the Press with the publication of the Chicago Manual of Style, which set comprehensive standards for academic publishers nationwide. More than a century later, the Chicago Manual of Style remained an industry staple for all writers and publishers. Another milestone, though devastating to the University and the Press, was also met in 1906 with the burial of Dr. Harper. A memorial, dedicated to the tireless champion of the University and Press, was planned for the campus.

In the 1910s and 1920s the Press broadened the scope of its works though titles in the social sciences and religion were plentiful. Books of the era included Edgar Goodspeed Johnson's The Story of the Bible (1916); Arthur W. Ryder's Sanskrit translation of The Panchatantra (1925); Joseph Warren Beach's The Outlook for American Prose (1926); Shirley Jackson Case's Jesus: A New Biography (1927); and The Life of George Rogers Clark by James Alton James (1928).

Change and Expansion

By the beginning of the 1930s the Press had become an actual business entity of the University and its operations were transferred from the supervision of the trustees to the school's business manager. Sales had grown to nearly $200,000 as the Press gained momentum and publishing accolades. The majority of the books published in the 1930s and 1940s reflected the issues of the time in religion, social sciences, and a growing awareness of the arts, including Movements of Thoughts in the Nineteenth Century by George Herbert Mead and Charles W. Morris (1936); The Professional Thief by Chic Conwell and Edwin H. Sutherland (1937); Edna St. Vincent Millay and Her Times by Elizabeth Adkins (1936); and The Story of the Apocrypha by Edgar Goodspeed Johnson (1939).

Following the success of its Chicago Manual of Style came a similar title for university papers, Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Originally a pamphlet to guide students, it was published in book form in 1937 and became an enduring bestseller. At the time of Turabian's book, the Press became a member of the newly rechristened Association of American University Presses (AAUP), formerly known as the National Association of Book Publishers. The AAUP had become a unifying force for the nation's academic presses, and its support brought many of the member publishers from obscurity to mainstream success.

In 1951 the operations of the Press were formally separated: the books and journals were put under the direction of an academic board, while the printing operations remained with the University's business manager. Although the printing division was absorbed into the business office, it had generated a healthy income for the Press. To help make ends meet, the business office gave the Press an annual stipend for the next four years. By 1955 the Press was wholly independent and in good financial shape with several bestsellers; a year later, the Press began publishing its own paperback editions. Rather than farm its hardcover titles out to a mainstream publisher, the Press began producing its own "trade," or larger-sized, softcover editions under the name of Phoenix Books. This decision, along with joint ventures with foreign publishers to translate international works, set the University of Chicago Press apart from other presses of the era.

The turbulence of the 1960s had little effect on the Press, other than further expanding the scope of its works. In 1961 a new journal, The History of Religions, began publication, the first periodical to compare the world's religions. In 1966 the Press proved its diversity with numerous publications, including Daniel J. Boorstin's study of American history An American Primer; Claude Lévi-Strauss' sociological study The Savage Mind; and Chicago sports commentator Mike Royko's Chicago Tribune columns, called Time: The Best of Mike Royko. While readers were accustomed to the Press delivering a variety of intellectual titles, Royko's popular book earned the Press praise for issuing a nonscholarly title. The same year, 1966, the Press appointed a new director, Morris Philipson. Philipson took the reins at a time when the Press had reached annual sales of about $4 million. Philipson realized the importance of the Press's backlist titles, committing to keep as many of these titles in print as possible. Though it was often an expensive endeavor, it paid off in the long-term, with many titles still selling decades after their original publication dates.

Philipson's Reign

Like the late Dr. Harper, Philipson enjoyed taking risks with the Press, holding quality far above quantity and pushing the limits of what a university press should be. Philipson took the Press to new levels by literally mixing it up, publishing books as disparate as John Franklin Hope's Racial Equality in America (1976), Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It (1976), Klaus J. Hansen's Mormonism and the American Experience (1981), John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), and Jane J. Mansbridge's Why We Lost the ERA (1986).

Philipson also enjoyed the challenge of producing complicated multivolume works such as Muriel St. Clare Byrne's The Lisle Letters (1981) about Viscount Arthur Plantagenet Lisle, which went on to win several awards, including Publishers Weekly's Carey-Thomas award and a PEN America Center's Publisher Citation for Philipson himself in 1982.

By the 1990s the Press was the largest university press in the nation, publishing over 200 titles per year and maintaining a backlist of thousands. In 1992 the movie of Norman Maclean's acclaimed novel, A River Runs Through It, hit theaters as another Maclean book, Young Men and Fire, about the smokejumpers of Mann Gulch in Montana, climbed the national bestseller list and the Press gained worldwide attention. By 1995 the Press had more than 4,500 titles in print and handled the marketing, printing, and distribution of dozens of books for other regional presses and small publishing houses.

The Press prepared to ring in the new century with major changes: Philipson announced his imminent retirement and the search began for a new director. For 1999 the Press brought in revenues of $42 million from 172 new titles as well as numerous paperback originals, reprints, and reissues.

New Century, New Era

By the dawn of the 21st century the University of Chicago Press was one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the nation. In early 2000 Philipson retired after 33 years at the helm; he had not only taken the Press from sales of under $5 million to $42 million, but had steered it to a number of awards and citations. Philipson himself was awarded AAUP's Curtis Benjamin Award for Creative Publishing for his leadership.

Philipson's replacement was Paula Barker Duffy, former publisher at the Free Press. When she took over the Press, it was producing 49 journals and about 260 titles per year, two-thirds new books and the remaining third paperback reissues. Its longtime bestselling reference titles, the Chicago Manual of Style and Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, had sold millions of copies and continued to sell more than 60,000 copies per year combined. Barely a year into Duffy's tenure came an overhaul and modernization of the Press' distribution services. With a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Press went digital, creating the BiblioVault to store its vast backlist of titles. Both new and backlist books were stored in the Vault, enabling employees to search titles and order short-run printings quickly and efficiently.

The BiblioVault allowed the Press to keep backlist titles in print longer and produce books in record time. With the Vault, the Press was also able to offer fulfillment services to more than three dozen presses and publishers nationwide, as well as international houses looking to issue titles in North America. A sampling of Press books published in the 2000s included Howard Gillman's The Votes That Counted: How the Courts Decided the Presidential 2000 Election (2001); Allan H. Meltzer's A History of the Federal Reserve (2003); Margaret Morganroth Gullette's Aged by Culture (2004); David Schmid's Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture (2005); Sylvia Lovegren's Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (2005); Jeffrey C. Goldfarb's The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times (2006); and Mario Biagioli's Galileo's Instruments of Credit: Telescopes, Images, Secrecy (2006).

In its 115-year history, the Press published nearly 12,000 books on a wide range of topics, from politics, science, religion, and the arts, to pop culture, biography, and fiction. The University of Chicago Press had more than reached the lofty goals of its founders; even Dr. Harper, its staunchest proponent, had no idea the Press would have such a profound influence beyond Chicago's windy shores.

Principal Competitors

Columbia University Press; Harvard University Press; New York University Press; Northwestern University Press; Oxford University Press; Yale University Press.

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1891 The University of Chicago is established.
  • 1894 The University takes control of the Press from publisher D.C. Heath.
  • 1901 Land for a new press building is donated to the University.
  • 1902 The Press building opens its doors at Ellis Avenue and 58th Street.
  • 1906 The first edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is published.
  • 1937 Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is published.
  • 1951 The Press separates books, journals, and University printing operations.
  • 1966 Morris Philipson begins a 33-year term as Press director.
  • 1982 Philipson wins the PEN Publisher Citation for the Press.
  • 1992 Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire becomes a national bestseller.
  • 2000 Retiring director Philipson wins the AAUP's Curtis Benjamin Award for excellence.
  • 2001 Book storage and distribution at the Press goes digital.
  • 2003 The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is issued.
  • 2006 The Press celebrates 115 years in operation.
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