Dietrick Lamade moved the GRIT Publishing Co. into a new building in 1891. The empty lot at the right of the building soon held another building space in the early 1900s as the company continued to expand.
GRIT's History Offers Perspective on Today's Magazine
Since the first edition in 1882, GRIT has grown as a regional newspaper and then to a national edition and finally to the full-color magazine it is today.
By Jean Teller, associate editor
Photographs from GRIT archives
First published in GRIT, August 2006
When the first headline for GRIT was set in 1882, it’s doubtful anyone could have envisioned the publication continuing into the 21st century.
Dietrick Lamade was a 23-year-old assistant press foreman for the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, newspaper, The Daily Sun and Banner. In December 1882, the newspaper began a Saturday edition titled GRIT, which included local news items, editorials and humorous tidbits. Lamade set the first headline for the new edition, and he continued to work on it for its first year of existence.
(GRIT’s first issue, left, was dated “Saturday evening, December 16, 1882.”)
Today, 124 years later, GRIT enters a new phase of its existence as it takes on a different look and content. Beginning with the next issue, GRIT will focus on rural lifestyles. (Editor's Note: These changes were made in 2006 beginning with the September/October issue of that year.) Some of the old favorites will remain, such as Looking Back and Recipe Box, and the editors will be asking for reader input and remembrances in departments such as Mail Call and Friends & Neighbors. The publication’s newspaper format will be retired, and GRIT will take on the appearance of a full-color magazine complete with colorful photographs, practical information and feature articles in keeping with the upbeat tradition of GRIT throughout the past century.
Dietrick Lamade was born Feb. 6, 1859, in Goelshausen, Baden, Germany, the fourth child of Johannes and Caroline Lamade. When he was 8, the family immigrated to the United States. Johannes Lamade was a carriage maker by trade, but he was unable to find work in that profession, so he became a watchman in a foundry. Less than two years after the family settled in Williamsport, Johannes Lamade died, leaving Caroline to care for nine children.
In a speech for GRIT’s 75th birthday, George R. Lamade, president of GRIT Publishing Co. and son of Dietrick and Clara Anne Lamade, said of his grandmother Caroline Lamade, “I wish there was more time to tell you about that wonderful mother. She was a most remarkable person.”
The older children went to work to help support the family, and young Dietrick worked in various stores until he apprenticed at a local German weekly newspaper. He spent the next 10 years working in newspaper offices and printing plants.
In 1884, the young man seized the opportunity to help revitalize a small weekly newspaper, The Times. Lamade was to be the paper’s business manager, and the publication would change frequency, becoming a daily. However, the man who purchased the paper became ill and put the physical plant on the market.
At the same time, Sun and Banner staff were planning to end GRIT.
Lamade persuaded two men – the editor of GRIT and a printer – to join him in a partnership to purchase the good will and reputation of GRIT as well as The Times’ printing plant. They intended to launch GRIT as an independent Sunday newspaper.
No one seems to know how the name “GRIT” came to be. However, it not only was the paper’s name, but sheer grit was how the newspaper survived those early years.
Dietrick Lamade, front row center, initiated many of the changes in GRIT’s early history, including the news-carrier program, which, for decades, had newsboys selling GRIT door-to-door and on street corners.
One of his favorite sayings held Lamade in good stead those first months. “Difficulties show what men are” was certainly repeated more than once during the rough times as he tried to keep GRIT afloat. After the first year, Lamade had had seven partners, and the newspaper maintained a mountain of debt, even though circulation continued to increase.
“I’ve always marveled at Dad’s tenacity,” George Lamade said in a written history of GRIT, “at his will to win. It would seem by this time members of the firm would have had enough. The three remaining partners were deeply in debt. Yet, Dad was so confident in the future of GRIT, he kept the others going by his inspiring belief.”
Expanding the readership
Lamade knew that local readership would not be sufficient to keep the new publication going, so he began traveling the region searching for sales agents and news correspondents. He had little success.
During one of his trips in 1885, however, an idea was born. Lamade sold his partners on the idea of a contest – still legal in those days – in which readers would send in coupons for chances at winning a piano, a gold watch, a marble-top bedroom suite, a rifle and a bolt of silk fabric. The drawing would be held at Thanksgiving, and on his trips out of Williamsport between May and November, Lamade promoted the drawing, distributing fliers that included the first free coupon. The other three coupons could be found in issues of GRIT.
After traveling the state promoting GRIT and the contest, Lamade returned to Williamsport to supervise the printing and shipping of the newspaper each Saturday morning. There was also a Williamsport edition that was distributed Sunday mornings.
“It was fortunate Dad was endowed with good health. If not, he never could have maintained the pace he set for himself,” George Lamade said. “He lived for – and with – his work, sleeping on a folding cot in the office Friday and Saturday nights. Personal discomfort meant little if it enabled him to achieve his goal.”
The drawing was held Thanksgiving 1885, with three out-of-towners and two local subscribers winning the five grand prizes. When the dust cleared, GRIT had 14,000 subscribers and $400 in the bank – with all bills paid. The partners gave themselves a raise, from $12 a week to $15.
Expanding the plant
With the taste of success still sweet, the partners made the decision to expand their physical plant. GRIT had been worked up on the outdated equipment purchased from The Times and then carried three blocks to be printed. The partners went into debt to purchase a second-hand press, a job press, an engine and a boiler. Then they leased new quarters, moving from a one-room, third-floor spot to a first-floor room and basement.
While circulation went down a bit after the drawing, GRIT’s subscriber base had reached 20,000 by 1887. The partners expanded their physical plant once again, buying another press.
In 1889, a lot was purchased and, in 1891, GRIT moved its offices, press and 40 employees into a four-story facility (see photo at top). By then, circulation was up to 53,000, with subscribers in most states east of the Mississippi.
Life in Williamsport found many working for GRIT Publishing Co. over the years; the composing room, top, in 1892 was located on the third floor of the main building, and the business office, above, was on the main floor.
Newsboys on the move
It was about this time that Lamade hit upon another grand idea – newsboys to sell GRIT directly to the public – and the newspaper began to expand to small towns across the country.
The Panic of 1893 prompted another idea. When the economic crisis hit, more than 15,000 companies and 500 banks failed. It wasn’t until William McKinley was elected president in 1896 that the economy stabilized. Lamade’s response to the panic was to insert lithographic art prints in GRIT on a monthly basis. He traveled to St. Louis, selected photographs at an art firm and commissioned color printing plates. He then returned to Williamsport, and GRIT’s job press staff printed the supplements in a size suitable for framing.
“Personally, I have never been bitten by the collecting or hobby bugs,” George Lamade wrote in a GRIT history, “but I do prize highly a number of lithographic art supplements that hang in our directors’ room. They were Dad’s offensive to regain the losses from the Panic of 1893.”
These art inserts kept GRIT circulation at a weekly average of 60,000 until 1895, when postal regulations changed. Once again, Lamade changed GRIT’s course, adding a quarter-page story section. The early sections contained complete novels, and later on, Lamade purchased books and printed them in serial form, along with short fiction selections in each issue. These continued until 1944. (The story section at left is from the July 14, 1895, issue of GRIT.)
Into the 20th century
GRIT continued to grow, hitting the 100,000th subscriber in 1900. A new building was added next to the original one, and another, larger press was installed. There was a slight back-step when another economic panic hit in 1907, but GRIT survived.
“I’m sure Dad must have felt a great deal of satisfaction in seeing weekly circulation pass the 200,000 mark, then 250,000, and, by 1916, 300,000 copies,” George Lamade said.
George Lamade joined GRIT Publishing Co. in 1919. Three of his older brothers had already joined Dietrick in the family business, and a younger brother also joined the fray.
The company purchased two other weeklies that had survived the turn of the century: In 1924, the Utica Globe was purchased for $65; and in 1925, the purchase of the Chicago Blade and Ledger cost the company $1,500.
The stock market crash in 1929 hurt GRIT and its employees, and times were difficult, as it was throughout the country. Many readers, however, have recalled their parents scraping up the nickel needed to purchase a copy of GRIT, even in those lean times.
By the time GRIT celebrated its 50th year in 1932, circulation was up to 400,000. What had started as a one-room business with six employees now employed 200 people.
The special celebration brought with it a flood of letters and telegrams from prominent and well-known men across the country: All began their careers as GRIT newsboys.
“Among Dad’s greatest joys of accomplishment was the army of business and industrial leaders who gained their first commercial experience, lessons in honesty and integrity, and the value of self-application, by selling GRIT in their hometowns,” said George Lamade.
In 1936, circulation hit 500,000, with an estimated readership of more than twice that number. That year also brought a huge flood to Williamsport, and even with the GRIT offices damaged, everyone pitched in and not an issue was missed.
Dietrick Lamade passed the title of general manager onto his son George, and started to enjoy his retirement, although he continued to help chart the future of GRIT.
“Working at Dad’s elbow, I soon learned why he held in such high regard those people living in small-town America,” George Lamade recalled. “To compete with metropolitan dailies or national magazines was never Dad’s aim. He wanted only to serve those villages and hamlets removed from the influences of big cities. ... GRIT has had, for many years, the largest concentration of circulation in small towns of any publication.”
Passing the reins
Dietrick Lamade continued to keep in close touch with the business, critiquing each issue and sending notes of advice, suggestions for improvements or admonitions. But his contributions ended in 1938 when GRIT’s founder died at 79.
George Lamade continued as president and general manager, with his brother Howard acting as vice president. Other members of the family also worked for the company, as a third generation began contributing to the newspaper’s success. Sons of both George and Howard Lamade stepped into roles in the family business.
George R. Lamade, top, and Howard J. Lamade, above left, carried on their father’s legacy as they lead GRIT past its 75th year of publishing in 1957. Above right, it took a crane to lift a new wrapping machine into GRIT's mail room in the fall of 1957.
A GRIT front page from 1941.
In 1944, GRIT switched from a broadsheet to a tabloid-size newspaper, and the company instituted a price increase, from 5 cents to 7 cents. It took until 1946 for the circulation to rise to 600,000. A price increase – to 10 cents – in 1949 hurt subscription numbers for a while, but, in 1953, GRIT reached the 700,000 mark.
The magazine reached the magical million mark in 1956.
“Two dozen of the older men came down to the press room to await that magic copy,” recalled George Lamade. “It was a real thrill, and what a time we had at 2:35 a.m. that Sunday morning, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts in celebration.”
At the time of the magazine’s 75th birthday, there were three editions: a Williamsport and area edition with a circulation of 40,000; a Pennsylvania state edition with 112,000 subscribers; and the national edition, which reached some 728,000 subscribers.
“We’ve changed many details to keep GRIT modern, alive and attuned,” said George Lamade in 1957. “But in the wholesomeness of its editorial content, in its sectional make-up and in the inspiration of its appeal to every member of the family, it is quite the same as Dad developed it.”
(At left, the 75th anniversary issue, dated December 15, 1957.)
Time marches on
GRIT continued to be sold by newsboys, with about 30,000 carriers delivering more than 700,000 copies during the 1950s. A variety of factors contributed to the discontinuation of the news-carrier program by the early ’80s, and the format changed from news to a more feature-oriented, subscription-only publication.
GRIT was a pioneer in the introduction of offset printing, and was among the first newspapers to use color photographs, running a full-color photograph of the American flag on the front page in June 1963.
The magazine’s circulation hit its high point in 1969 with 1.5 million subscribers.
In the early 1950s, the GRIT distribution center was a busy place.
The Lamades remained at the helm of the family business until 1981, when AVCO-Systems, of Hartford, Connecticut, purchased GRIT. Stauffer Communications, of Topeka, Kansas, which already owned Capper’s Weekly – a national tabloid that began in 1879 and had an audience similar to GRIT – then purchased the magazine in 1983. GRIT, after 111 years in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, moved to Topeka in 1993.
The local edition of GRIT had been the Sunday newspaper for Williamsport and Lycoming County, as well as being circulated in 13 other counties in north-central Pennsylvania. This edition ended when the magazine moved west, and the Williamsport Sun Gazette began publishing a Sunday paper.
Covers for GRIT from 1982, left, and 1994.
In 1995, Morris Communications Corp. purchased GRIT, Capper’s and another magazine from Stauffer, as well as 20 daily newspapers, 11 broadcast stations and several radio networks. The magazine division was sold in 1996, to Ogden Publications, owned by Ogden Newspapers, based in Wheeling, West Virginia.
“Ogden Newspapers owned the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, newspaper for many years,” says Bryan Welch, GRIT’s current publisher. “So we had a direct association with GRIT before the acquisition. We knew it was a very valuable brand with a terrific history, and that GRIT deserved our investment and the chance to be an exciting growth-oriented magazine of the future.”
Increasing newsprint costs and postage rates prompted a frequency change in 2003 when the magazine went from bi-weekly to monthly.
A new chapter
GRIT now enters a new phase in its rich history, with a format and frequency change beginning with the next issue. Poised to enter the market of lifestyle farming, GRIT returns to its rural roots, honoring the joys of contemporary country life. (Below are covers from the September/October 2006 issue and from May/June 2014, the latest issue.)
“The past couple of decades, GRIT has been nostalgic and has been more focused on the history of our culture and its own history, in many ways, but we’re no longer able to attract new readers with that product,” says Welch. “In the meantime, Americans have started exploring new ways of living a rural or small-town lifestyle. And the interest in rural lifestyles has never been greater than today. That creates a great opportunity for one of America’s original rural lifestyle magazines.”
The magazine will focus on what has made it popular over the years: the self-sufficiency and ingenuity, the integrity and problem-solving legacy of its readers that epitomizes the name GRIT. The word is defined as courage, pluck and perseverance, and is often connected to strength of character and the resolve to stick, despite the odds or circumstances.
“We know it will be an adjustment for our readers,” says K.C. Compton, editor-in-chief at the time. “We hope they will be patient with us and check out the new format. My hope is that it’s something they will enjoy as much, if not more, even if it’s in another form.”
The magazine’s mission statement includes these words: “GRIT Magazine has celebrated these remarkable qualities, growing over more than a century to become America’s most enduring family publication. … Our unique intergenerational approach ensures that our elders pass along their wisdom and experience, and that America’s new crop of country folk have everything they need to live well on the farm.”
Welch says, “We’re not abandoning GRIT’s traditions, but we are transforming the magazine into an up-to-date version of what it’s always been – a publication for people interested in a unique way of life.”
"GRIT continues to take a look on the brighter side," says Oscar H. "Hank" Will, GRIT's current editor-in-chief, "while partnering with its vast and varied audiences on matters focused at living a full and satisfying life."
As founder Dietrick Lamade said, in one of his notes to his sons, “Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. … By such a course, we can do much to improve the minds and lives of the millions of people who read GRIT, and bring them a higher realization of their duties in life.”