As American as Mom, Apple Pie & Grit

By Jean Teller, senior associate editor
Photographs from Grit archives

Note: You might be a long-time Grit reader, or you might be picking up Grit for the first time. Either way, you’re holding a piece of history. 

 

Williamsport
Life in Williamsport found many working for Grit Publishing Co. over the years, and the distribution center was a busy place in the early 1950s.
 
Williamsport 2
The composing room in 1892 was located on the third floor of the main building.
 
Newsboy 1
Dietrick Lamade 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.
 
Williamsport 3
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 is one of the longest-running publications in the country and has been a part of the American tapestry, particularly in the Heartland and rural areas throughout the nation, for many, many years. If the old adage could be rewritten, it would be, “As American as Mom, Apple Pie and Grit.” One thing that continuously surprises and delights all who work here is the number of people who hear where we work and say, “Grit? I used to sell Grit when I was a kid!”  

This premier issue of Grit Rural Lifestyles magazine represents a new direction for our old friend, but one in keeping with its rich heritage of news and information that add to people’s lives rather than diminishing them. 

Here’s a little history to bring new readers up to date, and to refresh the memories of our long-time readers. 

– The Editors 

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.

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. Less than two years after the family settled in Williamsport, Johannes Lamade died, leaving Caroline to care for nine children. The older children went to work to help support the family, and young Dietrick 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. 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. After the first year, Lamade had had seven partners, and the newspaper maintained a mountain of debt, even though circulation continued to increase.

Expanding 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.

During one of his trips in 1885, 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 various prizes. 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.

It was about 1891 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.

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,” George Lamade said.

In the 1950s, Grit continued to be sold by newsboys, with about 30,000 carriers delivering more than 700,000 copies.

Dietrick Lamade passed the title of general manager onto his son George, in 1936 and started to enjoy his retirement.

“Working at Dad’s elbow, I soon learned why he held in such high regard those people living in small-town America,” George 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.”

Dietrick Lamade continued to keep in close touch with the business, but his contributions ended in 1938 when Grit’s founder died at 79.

Changing With the Times

In 1944, Grit switched from a broadsheet to a tabloid-size newspaper. At the time of the magazine’s 75th birthday in 1957, 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. The magazine’s circulation hit its high point in 1969 with 1.5 million subscribers.

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 Lamades remained at the helm of the family business until 1981. 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 – purchased the magazine in 1983. Grit, after 111 years in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, moved to Topeka in 1993. The two magazines eventually were sold in 1996, to Ogden Publications, owned by Ogden Newspapers, based in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Moving Forward

Grit now enters a new phase in its rich history. Entering the market of lifestyle farming, Grit returns to its rural roots, honoring the joys of contemporary country 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.” /G



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