Stuck in the Eighties ... (the 1880s): How the Communication Profession Evolved from the House Organ

By Abshier, Ann | Communication World, May-June 1990 | Go to article overview

Stuck in the Eighties ... (the 1880s): How the Communication Profession Evolved from the House Organ


Abshier, Ann, Communication World


It is difficult to pin down the exact origin of industrial publications. Some authorities say the first recognizable industrial or business publication was published in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries by a German firm known as the House of Fugger. Some say the term "house organ" originated with this company. This term, incidentally made sense in early times because companies referred to themselves as houses.

In the United States, it is believed the Lowell Offering, was one of the first industrial publications. It was written, edited and published in the 1840s by women of the Lowell, Mass. cotton mills.

The oldest employee publication, generally accepted as the first internal in the US, was that founded by the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio in 1807.

Other publications began to appear by the end of the century-not only for employees but for dealers and customers. The Independent Order of Foresters in Canada, a fraternal benefit (insurance) society, began publishing The Independent Forester in 1880 for members and employees. Following 1910, there was a spurt of industrial publications, especially in the sales promotion field.

In 1931, the Collins Industrial Council of Philadelphia published the first known study on industrial publications. It covered 334 internal publications, 90 percent of which originated in the 1917-1920 period. During World War I internals received great impetus.

In 1922, the National Association of Corporation Training, predecessor to the American Management Association, surveyed employee publications. Of 85 company replies, 56 percent indicated existence of successful internals. Two years later, the American Management Association published the proceedings of a Personnel Publications Editors Conference held that year.

Early Stages of Organization

At the 1915 convention of the Advertising Clubs of the World, held in Chicago, the Association of House Organ Editors (AHOE) was formed. This group of 50 members merged into the Direct Mail Advertising Association (DMAA) in 1917. AHOE continued as a separate department for 10 years before being completely absorbed into DMAA. Other associations were formed but were limited geographically or by the nature of the businesses served by the editors.

In the 1920s, other associations formed. The first meeting of the original Industrial Editors Association of New England was held in Boston in 1920 and dissolved three years later.

The oldest association still in existence is the American Railway Magazine Editors Association. It was organized in 1922. The Industrial Editors Association of Chicago was formed in 1925 and continues as the second oldest group. And, there were others.

When a small group of editors turned up at the National Safety Council's 1937 annual congress to discuss their roles in promoting on-the-job safety, they agreed that safety was fine, but felt they had other common objectives. By the time the next NSC congress met at the Hotel Stevens in Chicago in 1938, organizational plans were on paper. Thus was born the American Association of Industrial Editors (AAIE).

Efforts were made to attract other editors, and within a few months members from 17 states, representing 16 firms, had joined. With goals of increasing professionalism among editors, improving quality of publications and serving management, AAIE began offering a variety of services. By june, 1939, AAIE bulletins had evolved into Editor's Notebook, the first US national magazine for house magazine editors.

In 1940, the first US national conference was held in Cleveland. L.O. Cheever of John Morrell & Co., Ottumwa, Iowa, was president. From the second conference, held in Philadelphia, President Kenneth Ede and Vice President A.E. Greco of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company went directly to Washington to persuade government officials to pool defense information to be distributed to industrial editors. …

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