Isaac K. Funk

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Isaac Kaufmann Funk

Isaac Kaufmann Funk (September 10, 1839 – April 4, 1912) was an American Lutheran minister, editor, lexicographer, publisher, and spelling reformer.[1] He was the co-founder of Funk & Wagnalls Company, the father of author Wilfred J. Funk (who founded his own publishing company "Wilfred Funk, Inc.", and wrote the "Word Power" feature in Reader's Digest from 1945 to 1962), and the grandfather of author Peter Funk, who continued his father's authorship of "Word Power" until 2003.[2] Funk & Wagnalls Company published The Literary Digest, The Standard Dictionary of the English Language, and Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia.


Funk was born in 1839 in the village of Clifton, Ohio.[3] In 1842, he moved to Springfield, Ohio, where his father John managed the Pennsylvania House.[4] Years later, he attended Wittenberg College (now Wittenberg University) and Wittenberg Theological Seminary, both in Springfield. Upon his graduation in 1860, he was ordained as a Lutheran pastor, and served pastorates in New York, Indiana, and his home state of Ohio; his last pastorate was at Saint Matthews English Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he stayed seven years.[3][5] Funk married Eliza Thompson in 1864. After her death, Funk married her sister, Helen G. Thompson. Funk had two children, Wilfred J. Funk and Lida Scott.[6] In 1872, Funk resigned from the ministry and made an extensive tour through Europe, northern Africa, and Asia Minor.[5]

Funk was a prohibitionist.[7] He founded the Voice in 1880, an organ of the Prohibition Party, and he was the Prohibition candidate for mayor of New York.[3] His Staten Island home, "grand in scale and extremely decorative", was built in 1893 in what was then Prohibition Park, and the home still stands.[8]

In 1875[9] he founded the publishing firm of I.K. Funk & Company, with the help of a Wittenberg classmate, Adam Willis Wagnalls, a lawyer and accountant. That year he founded and published the Metropolitan Pulpit (later its name was changed to Homiletic Review).[3] Missionary Review also numbered among the many religious publications he founded after 1876.[5] In 1877 the name of his company was changed to Funk & Wagnalls Company, to reflect Wagnalls' partnership. In 1890 Funk published The Literary Digest, a departure from the religious works earlier in his career.[10]

Perhaps Funk's most important achievement was his Standard Dictionary of the English Language, the first volume of which was published in 1893. He worked with a team of more than 740 people. His aim was to provide essential information thoroughly and simply at the same time. In order to achieve this he placed current meanings first, archaic meanings second, and etymologies last.[11] The dictionary was said to have cost Funk & Wagnalls over $960,000.[12]

In his later years, Funk spent time on psychic research.

From 1901 until 1906, Funk & Wagnalls compiled the Jewish Encyclopædia. After Funk died in 1912, the publishing house eventually became a subsidiary of Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

Psychic research[edit]

Funk was a believer in spiritualism. In his book The Widow's Mite and Other Psychic Phenomena (1904) he defended a number of mediums and spirit photography.

Magician Joseph Rinn has noted that Funk was easily duped by fraudulent mediums, such as the Bangs Sisters. Funk had bought several of their 'spirit' pictures, unaware they were produced fraudulently.[13] He also defended Anna Eva Fay and May S. Pepper, two mediums that were also exposed.[14]

Selected works[edit]

  • The Complete Preacher, Sermons Preached By Some of the Most Prominent Clergymen (The Religious Newspaper Agency, New York . 1878)
  • Great Advance: Address by Dr. I.K. Funk, as Chairman of the New York Prohibition State Convention. Saratoga, September 12, 1895 (The Voice. 1895)
  • Next Step in Evolution the Present Step (1902)
  • The Widow's Mite and Other Psychic Phenomena (Funk & Wagnalls Co. 1904)
  • The Psychic Riddle (Funk & Wagnalls Co. 1907)
  • Standard Encyclopedia of the World's Knowledge (Funk and Wagnalls Co. 1912)


  1. ^ "Isaac Kauffman Funk". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  2. ^ Funk, Peter (May 2003). "Feature - It Doesn't Pay to Enrich Your Word Power" (PDF). The Yale Record. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Funk, Isaac Kauffman" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. ^ Owen, Lorrie K., ed. Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places. Vol. 1. St. Clair Shores: Somerset, 1999, 133.
  5. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Funk, Isaac Kauffman" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  6. ^ Johnson, William E. (April 13, 1912). "Sept. 30, 1839--Isaac Kaufman Funk--April 4, 1912". American Advance. p. 2. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  7. ^  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Funk, Isaac Kauffman" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company.
  8. ^ Ferreri, James G. (March 25, 2010). "Look it up: The Funk in 'Funk and Wagnalls' lived here". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  9. ^ Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1996.
  10. ^ Wagnalls Memorial Library (Country Living/January 2009)[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Funk & Wagnalls 1877 (Index of Publishing Houses)
  12. ^ "Rev. Isaac K. Funk, D.D., LL.D." The Pennsylvania-German. VIII (I): 29. January 1907. Retrieved February 15, 2014.
  13. ^ "Chicago Mediums Said to Have Duped Isaac Funk". Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. February 25, 1905. p. 3. Dr. Isaac Funk of the publishing house of Funk & Wagnalls of New York has just paid the Bangs sisters 1500 for spirit painting.
  14. ^ Rinn, Joseph. (1950). Searchlight on Psychical Research. Rider and Company. pp. 150-171