|Privately held company|
|Fate||Assets acquired by Random House and Classic Media|
|Founder||Edward Henry Wadewitz
Albert H. Wadewitz
|Defunct||August 16, 2001|
|Headquarters||Racine, Wisconsin, United States|
Number of locations
|New York City
Poughkeepsie, New York
|Divisions||Golden Books Family Entertainment (Little Golden Books)|
|Subsidiaries||Whitman Publishing Company
Gold Key Comics
Western Publishing, also known as Western Printing and Lithographing Company, was a Racine, Wisconsin based firm responsible for publishing the Little Golden Books. Western Publishing's division, Golden Books Family Entertainment, also produced children's books and family-related entertainment products. The company had editorial offices in New York City and Los Angeles, California.
The company was formed by brothers Edward Henry and Albert H. Wadewitz when they bought Racine's West Side Printing Company in September 1907 for $2,504. They changed its name in 1910. In 1915, the company acquired Chicago publisher Hammerung-Whitman Publishing Company which became its subsidiary, Whitman Publishing Company. Another subsidiary was K.K. Publications, named after Kay Kamen, manager of character merchandising at Walt Disney Studios from 1933 to 1949. K.K. Publications became defunct during the mid/late 1960s.
By the late 1970s, Western was one of the largest commercial printers in the USA. It had four manufacturing plants and two distribution centers between Kansas and Maryland. It boasted of installing some of the first heatset web offset printing presses in the US. As well, Western had the largest offset, sheet-fed presses, some exceeding 78 inches wide, printing in five colors, and one of the largest bindery operations in the USA. Among other things, it printed mass-market paperback books under contract, and was the primary manufacturer and distributor of the board games Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, as well as other tabletop games. It developed and printed specialty cookbooks, premiums, and material for many Fortune 500 clients. At one time, Western printed almost everything from "business cards to billboards", and employed over 2500 full-time employees. By the mid-1990s, most of its printing plants were closed and its print operations consolidated in Racine.
With licenses for characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Walter Lantz Studio, Western produced comics based on these characters, as well as original works. The editorial staff at the West Coast office over the years included: Eleanor Packer, Alice Cobb, Chase Craig, Zetta Devoe, Del Connell and Bill Spicer. Bernie Zuber was an editorial artist, a position similar to that of a production artist, from 1957 until 1982. Oskar Lebeck, Matt Murphy and Wally Green are among those who oversaw the East Coast office.
From 1938 to 1962, Western's properties were published under a partnership with Dell Comics, which also handled the distribution and financing of the comic books. In 1962, Western ended this partnership and published comics itself, establishing the imprint Gold Key Comics. Murphy explained the split thusly:
With regard to a Western-Dell separation, this was by mutual agreement so that each company would be free to explore the potential business in the comics market without the self-imposed restrictions which formerly required Western and Dell to work exclusively with one another. In our previous relationship, Western Publishing Co. secured the rights, created the comics, printed them and shipped them out for Dell. Dell acted as the publisher and distributor and did the billing and paid Western for its creatively manufactured products.
This imprint continued until the late 1970s, after which newsstand distribution was discontinued in favor of distribution to toy stores under the "Whitman Comics" banner. The company stopped publishing comics in 1984, and all of its licenses have since gone to other publishers. Many of these new licensees have included among their offerings reprints of stories originally published by Western.
Prior to 1962, in addition to comics published through Dell, Western published some comics under its own name, particularly giveaways such as March of Comics and the annual kite safety title (which featured an array of licensed characters) published over a span of 32 years for power utility companies. Both series had print runs in the hundreds of thousands.
In the 1990s, the Western/Gold Key characters Magnus, Turok and Dr. Solar were licensed to Valiant Comics, who published modified versions of the characters to great success. However, by the mid-1990s, Valiant's sales had slumped due to the decade's speculative boom collapsing, and the company ceased publishing in 1999.
In 2004, Dark Horse Comics began reprinting some of Western's original comic book properties, which by then were owned by Random House, along with Tarzan from the Jesse Marsh era. In 2009, the company announced plans to launch new versions of various Gold Key characters, with former Valiant editor-in-chief Jim Shooter as head writer.
Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, Western published a wide range of children's books (puzzle books, coloring books, Tell-a-Tale books, Big Little Books), mostly under the Golden Books and Whitman Publishing brand names. The Little Golden Books was a very popular series. Lucille Ogle helped develop the format for these low-priced books, which told simple stories and were among the first children's books with full-color illustrations. The first was published in 1942. Beginning as the "Whitman Famous Classics", and later renamed the "Golden Press" imprint, Western published a series of (public domain) classics, such as Little Women, Little Men, Black Beauty and Heidi.
In the late 1960s, Golden Books were bound in the Goldencraft reinforced library bindings and sold to schools and libraries in the United States by a group of independent sales representatives. The library bound books were very popular with the schools and libraries. Offices were set up in Wayne, New Jersey and the reinforced library books were warehoused in Wayne and distributed from that location. There were about 80 sales representatives in the United States under the general manager, Roy Spahr.
Older children's literature
From the 1940s to the 1980s, Western published several series of books for older children and young teenagers, initially under its Whitman line. Girls' mystery series included Trixie Belden, Ginny Gordon, Donna Parker, Meg Duncan and Trudy Phillips. Boys' series included the Walton Boys, Power Boys, and Troy Nesbit mysteries. The series, published from the 1950s to the 1970s, also included a number of titles licensed from popular movies and television shows: Lassie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, many television Westerns, and Walt Disney's Spin and Marty and Annette (from the serial featuring Annette Funicello that aired on The Mickey Mouse Club. The company was also the original American publisher of The Adventures of Tintin, issuing six titles in English translation in 1959 and 1960, before discontinuing further releases because of what were considered disappointing sales.
In 1937, Western, at the request of Kay Kamen (who oversaw licensing and marketing at Disney), Western assumed production of the newsstand version of Mickey Mouse Magazine, which, in October 1940, was succeeded by the comic book Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. 1936-1954 Story Parade, Inc. (a Western subsidiary) published Story Parade: A Magazine for Boys and Girls with a children's literature orientation. Then in late 1955, Western initiated Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Magazine with content produced by Disney Studio staff members. It was intended to promote The Mickey Mouse Club television series. Eventually the name was changed to Walt Disney's Magazine and the focus shifted to contemporary Disney movie and television productions. In a similar vein, they printed Gulf Oil's Wonderful World of Disney premium (1969-1970) which was edited by Disney's George Sherman. During the 1960s, Western published The Golden Magazine for Boys and Girls with Cracky the Parrot as its mascot.
For many years Golden Press was publisher of Betty Crocker cookbooks. Often these were issued in a 3-ring binder format so recipe pages could be removed for easy consultation while cooking. Western produced games such as Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary until Hasbro bought that division in 1994. The company published the children's science books The World of Science and The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, while the Golden Guide nature guides were published with the Golden Press name.
With partners Dell and Simon & Schuster, the company sponsored the Story Book Shop on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland which opened on July 17, 1955 and closed April 1, 1995. In addition it was one of the initial investors in the park by virtue of being a part-owner of Disneyland, Inc..
During the 1990s, at least three Golden Books Showcase Store locations were opened, which featured only Western Publishing products. The first was opened in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois in November 1992; the second in CityWalk Center outside Universal Studios Hollywood during June 1993; and the third store was opened in Rockefeller Center in New York City during April 1994. They have all since closed. In the early 1990s the company opened Books-R-Us shops inside Toys-R-Us stores in New Jersey, New York and Boston.
Mattel bought Western in June 1979,:202 and sold it in 1984 to private investors.:204 By mid-1996, under the supervision of ex-Simon & Schuster executive Richard E. Snyder, it was renamed Golden Books Family Entertainment:213–214 and focussed on publishing children's books. It sold the adult books (Golden Guide) to St. Martin's Press in 1999, and later the H.E. Harris coin company bought Whitman Coin Products from St. Martin’s Press in 2003 and renamed it Whitman Publishing. By 1997, Western Publishing was absorbed into the Golden Books Publishing Company.
Golden Books Family Entertainment's assets were acquired by Classic Media Inc. and Random House in a bankruptcy auction for $84.4 million on August 16, 2001. Classic gained the rights to Golden Books' film and TV library as well as the production, licensing and merchandising rights for Golden Books' characters, while Random House gained Golden Books' book publishing properties. Historian Michael Barrier has lamented the apparent loss of Western's business records for future use by researchers.
Slogans and taglines
- I grew up with Golden Books! (1980s)
- Silence isn't Golden. Reading to your child is. (1997)
- Kirkpatrick, David D. (August 16, 2001). "2 Companies Pay $84 Million for Golden Books". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
- "List of Public Companies Worldwide, Letter - Businessweek - Businessweek". Investing.businessweek.com. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
- Evanier, Mark (December 22, 2009). "Christmas Comics". News from Me. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- Evanier, Mark (January 21, 2009). "Bernie Zuber, R.I.P.". News from Me. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- "Gold Key Comics". MaggieThompson.com. 2011-03-17. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- Barrier, Michael. "Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book: Corrections, Clarifications, and Amplifications". Book errata on author's official site: "Pages 124-25 and 226". Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- Barrier (March 16, 2010). "'What's New' Archives: March 2010: Dumbo in Print". Archived from the original on December 17, 2010.
- Samsel, Robert (January 1993). "The State of Valiant Address". Wizard (Wizard Entertainment) (17): 47–54.
- "Official news on that Gold Key/Dark Horse deal". Dark Horse Comics press release via MajorSpoilers.com. August 6, 2009. Archived from the original on January 14, 2010.
- Published: December 22, 1988 (1988-12-22). "Lucille Ogle, 84, Dies; Creator of Book Series". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- Tintinologist.org UK Correspondent Chris Owens. "Tintin Crosses The Atlantic: The Golden Press Affair". Tintinologist.org. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- Jim Korkis. "Wednesdays with Wade: Christmas at Disneyland". Jimhillmedia.com. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- Published: April 08, 1994 (1994-04-08). "Company News; Western Publishing To Sell Its Games Unit To Hasbro - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- "Chronology of Disneyland Theme Park (1990-1999)". Islandnet.com. 1990-10-17. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
- Marcus, Leonard S. (2007). Golden Legacy. Golden Books. ISBN 978-0-375-82996-3.
- "CNN.com - Golden Books sold for poky little $84M - Aug. 16, 2001". Edition.cnn.com. 2001-08-16. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
- ""What's New" Archives: May-June 2008". MichaelBarrier.com. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
- Kung, Michelle (2012-07-22). "DreamWorks Buys Collection of Old Characters, Including Casper, Lassie, Waldo, and Golden Books - WSJ.com". Online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- "At Western: It's Fun, Games And Profit". Milwaukee Sentinel June 3, 1974
- The Westerner Western Publishing House organ, #194 (Jan. 1966) Golden Anniversary Issue; v.3 #2 (Winter 1982), Commemorative Issue 
- "The Comic World" by Charles Beaumont, Fortnight May 1955.