Frank Munsey

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Frank Munsey, 1910

Frank Andrew Munsey (21 August 1854 – 22 December 1925) was an American newspaper and magazine publisher and author. He was born in Mercer, Maine, but spent most of his life in New York City. The village of Munsey Park, New York is named for him, along with the Munsey Building in downtown Baltimore.

Munsey is credited with the idea of using new high-speed printing presses to print on inexpensive, untrimmed, pulp paper in order to mass-produce affordable (typically ten-cent) magazines. Chiefly filled with various genres of action and adventure fiction, that were aimed at working-class readers who could not afford and were not interested in the content of the 25-cent "slick" magazines of the time. This innovation, known as pulp magazines, became an entire industry unto itself and made Munsey quite wealthy. He often shut down the printing process and changed the content of magazines when they became unprofitable, quickly starting new ones in their place.

Beginnings[edit]

Early in life, Munsey ran a general store, at which he failed. He next became a telegraph operator and then manager of the Western Union telegraph office, in Augusta, Maine. Publishing was a formidable industry in Augusta at the time. Munsey was very ambitious, and being in charge of the telegraph office (a vital connection for the news media of his day) gave him a unique insight of the printing business. In 1882 he moved from Augusta to New York City and entered the publishing industry, having used his savings to purchase rights to several stories. He formed a partnership with a friend in New York and an Augusta stockbroker. After arriving in New York, the stockbroker backed out of the agreement and released his friend from any further financial obligations. Approaching a New York publisher, Munsey managed to edit and produce the first issue of his magazine, Golden Argosy, only two months and nine days after his arrival.

However, five months later, the publisher went bankrupt and entered receivership. By placing a claim for his unpaid salary, Munsey was able to take control of the magazine. Borrowing $300 from a friend in Maine, he barely managed to keep the magazine going while learning enough about the publishing industry to eventually succeed.

Publications[edit]

Golden Argosy was a weekly "boys adventure" magazine in a dime novel format with a mix of both articles and fiction. After a few years, Munsey realized that targeting a young audience had been a mistake, as they were hard readers to retain since they rapidly grew out of the publication, and since children of the time had very little spending money, advertisers were not interested in such a publication. In 1888, the name was changed to The Argosy to attract an older audience. In 1894 it became a monthly, designed to complement Munsey's Magazine, and in December 1896 it became the first true pulp, switching to an all-fiction format of 192 pages on seven-by-ten inch untrimmed pulp paper. It was renamed Argosy Magazine, and by 1903, circulation climbed to a half million copies per month.

In 1889 he founded Munsey's Weekly, a 36-page quarto magazine, designed to be "a magazine of the people and for the people, with pictures and art and good cheer and human interest throughout."[1] It was a success, soon selling 40,000 copies per week. In 1891 the magazine became a monthly, Munsey's Magazine, in 1892 the magazine began to include a "complete novel" in every issue, and in 1893 the price was dropped to ten cents per issue. By 1895 circulation was over half a million copies per month, by 1897, 700,000 copies per month. In October, 1906, he began publishing Railroad Man's Magazine, the first specialized pulp magazine which featured railroad related stories and articles. It was soon followed by a similar magazine, The Ocean, which featured sea stories and articles. The Ocean debuted with the March 1907 issue; after the January 1908 issue, it changed title and content to the general purpose The Live Wire, which also had a short run.

Newspapers[edit]

Frank Munsey ca. 1919

Munsey was very active in the newspaper industry, at one time or another owning at least 17 different newspapers. As the number of newspapers in America declined, Munsey became known for merging many of his properties; though probably financially wise, this earned him a great deal of enmity from those who worked in the industry. He was known variously as the "Dealer in Dailies" and the "Undertaker of Journalism", being a precursor of the reputation later copied by Australian newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch as he expanded his international newspaper empire to Great Britain and later the United States in the 1980s. Munsey papers included:

The sale of the Herald in 1924 left Munsey owning only two newspapers before he died the following year.[2] The Evening Telegram was sold to Scripps-Howard in 1927, two years after Munsey's death.

Other Munsey pulps and magazines included Puritan, Junior Munsey, All-Story Magazine, Scrap Book, Cavalier, Railroad and Current Mechanics.

Novels[edit]

Munsey also authored several novels:

  • Afloat in a Great City (1887)[3]
  • The Boy Broker (1888)[4]
  • A Tragedy of Errors (1889)[5]
  • Under Fire (1890)[6]
  • Derringforth (1894)[7]

Politics[edit]

Munsey became directly involved in presidential politics when former President Theodore Roosevelt announced his candidacy to challenge his hand-picked successor President William Taft for the landmark 1912 Republican Party nomination for the presidency. Munsey and George W. Perkins provided the financial backing for Roosevelt's campaign leading up to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Roosevelt supporters bolted from the convention, Munsey was one of the most outspoken critics of what were labeled as "corrupt proceedings" and announced that Roosevelt would run at the head of a new party. His encouragement and offer of financial backing led to the formation of the Progressive Party, which acquired the nickname of the "Bull Moose Party" (from TR's quotation that "I'm as strong as a bull moose", when questioned about his age after previously becoming the youngest president upon McKinley's assassination, serving almost two terms as president) then nominated Roosevelt for president. Munsey was one of its most ardent supporters and one of the largest contributors to its "third party" campaign expenses and pulled one of the largest votes ever for a candidate not from one of the two main dominant parties in American history.[8]

Demise and legacy[edit]

Munsey died in New York City December 22, 1925 of a burst appendix at age 71. In his will he made large bequests to his sister, nephew and niece, generous bequests to many cousins, and gifts and annuities to a large number of old acquaintances. He also bestowed large sums to 17 of his upper management employees, but nothing to the numerous employees who worked for him. Surprisingly, he bequeathed an annuity of $2000 to Annie Downs, a love interest of the young Munsey who "turned him down for marriage because she didn't think he was a good enough prospect for success." Munsey also contributed considerably to Bowdoin College, the Maine State Hospital at Portland, and Central Main General Hospital at Lewiston. All the remainder of his fortune he gave to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The village of Munsey Park, New York was founded on land owned by Munsey in 1922.

In 1905, Munsy caused the Munsey Trust Building, to be constructed in downtown Washington, D.C. on 'F' Street, between 12th and 13th Streets next to the National Theatre, off Pennsylvania Avenue. Designed also by McKim, Mead and White of New York City with 13 floors, it was also one of the tallest structures in the Nation's Capital, besides the Washington Monument, the dome of the U.S. Capitol, the clock tower of the old Post Office headquarters further southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue, and various church spires. Headquarters of the Girl Scouts of the USA were located here from 1913-1916. It was torn down after extensive protests by historical preservationists and a court case in 1982.

Further to the northeast by forty miles, another tall skyscraper bears his name: The Munsey Building at the southeast corner of North Calvert and East Fayette Streets in downtown Baltimore across from the central Battle Monument Square. Rebuilt in 1911 by famous architectural firms of Baldwin & Pennington of Baltimore and McKim, Mead and White of New York City it was then briefly the city's tallest skyscraper and replaced an earlier newspaper headquarters building just built five years earlier after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, which was on the northern edge of the devastated downtown district. Notable was the upstairs offices with the printing presses on the ground floor visible to passers-by through large department store-style display windows designed and built for "The News" of Baltimore.

Under Hearst's ownership, the paper moved again in 1924 to East Pratt Street between Commerce and South Streets (facing the old "Basin"/Inner Harbor piers), The Munsey Building was later renovated into an elaborate bank headquarters and customer service lobby of marble, brass and bronze for his Munsey Trust Company founded 1913, and re-organized in 1915 as "The Equitable Trust Company" with Munsey as chairman of the board, and became one of the city and state's dominant financial empires into the 1990s. In the early 2000s, after a series of bank mergers and out-of-town take-overs, the building was again transformed into apartments and condos with some commercial food and snack shops on the ground floor where the once grimy and oily printing presses had rumbled and rolled, replaced later by the ornate brass and marble counters for customer service with wood and paneling framed, glass-partitioned offices of the banking empire, but the name remained. Ironically, by 2013, a modern branch office of M&T Bank, an out-of-town corporate bank which also put its name on the city's pro football stadium for the Baltimore Ravens, opened on the first floor facing the ground level streets.

At the time of his death his fortune was estimated to be $20 million to $40 million. Today with the rate of inflation it would be valued at $250 million to $500 million.

After his death, the Frank A. Munsey Company continued publishing various magazines, including pulp detective fiction, such as Flynn's Detective Fiction and All-Story Love. In 1942 they sold out to rival pulp publisher Popular Publications.

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