BY MARCI LAEHR
Western Publishing was founded by E.H. Wadewitz in 1907 when he bought West Side Printing company for $2,504. Although he had no experience in the printing business, he knew he wanted to run one.
The business began in a basement print shop. The shop consisted of two battered presses, a few fonts of worn type and a hand-powered cutting machine. Because Wadewitz had no printing experience he hired employees Roy A. Spencer, Catherine Bongarts Rutledge, W.R. Wadewitz (his son) and William Bull.
The first year in business, the publishing company only did $5,000 in sales. Despite being slow, the company established a reputation for being dependable. Soon they picked up clients such as S.C. Johnson Wax and J.I. Case Co.
In 1908 the company moved and installed an automatic cutter, a cylinder press and two smaller presses. By 1910 the sales reached $19,000. The company incorporated and took on the name Western Printing and Lithographing Co.
That same year, the company moved again. This time to the basement of the Shoop Building at 213-227 State St.
By 1914 Western had taken over the entire six floors of the Shoop building.
The next year the company went into an agreement with Hammering-Whitman Publishing Co., whose primary business was the sale of children's books. Hamming-Whitman, however, went under. With loads of children book inventory, Wadewitz decided to liquidate it. He sold every book.
On Feb. 9, 1916, Western acquired all assets of Hamming-Whitman. With five stockholders, the business then became Whitman Publishing Co.
That first year, sales reached $43,000. In 1918 a misread order had the company produce 12 times the number of books for the order. Again, Wadewitz sold them all.
That same year, the company bought a new plant for storage.
In 1923 Whitman Publishing added box games and jigsaw puzzles. Two years later they began producing playing cards.
The Main Plant of Western Publishing on Mound Avenue was built in 1928. The company also added a small Chicago plant that year.
Despite the depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Western Publishing thrived. It is rumored that their jigsaw puzzles and new book, “The Adventures of Dick Tracy," carried the company through.
In 1933 Western signed its first contract with Walt Disney. In the next two years, offices were built in New York and Beverly Hills, Calif.
In 1942 the company entered an agreement with Golden Books, that led to he success and future of the business. That year the company launched its first line of Little Golden Books.
Sales increased to $40 million in 1950 and the company employed more than 2,00 people.
Within the next decade, Western lost both its founders. Spencer and Wadewitz died in the mid-1950s.
As the company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1957, Golden Press Inc. bought Golden Book properties from its previous owner. Western continued to create and produce the Golden Books.
The company went international in 1959 as an office was set up in Canada. The next year they established branches in Paris, France; Geneva, Switzerland; and Milan, Italy. It was that year that the company adopted the name Western Publishing Co. Inc.
By 1961 company sales had reached $124 million. Western expanded to Australia in 1973. The next year the publishing company signed a $50 million contract with Dell Publishing Co., and on Jan. 9, 1979, they announced an agreement with Mattel Inc. to sell toys. In 1981 Golden Books Japan Ltd. was established.
On May 8, 1996, a faltering Western changed it's name to Golden Books Family Entertainment Inc. The company is also in the process of moving from its Racine plant to a new Sturtevant location. The new $10 million dollar plant is part of the Renaissance Development Project on Highway 20
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