Fawcett Publications

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The building now known as the Greenwich Financial Center on Fawcett Place just off lower Greenwich Avenue, was once home to Fawcett Publications. 

Some people feel that this was the first major company to change the character of Greenwich Avenue.  Many skilled and unskilled residents were employed by the publishing corporation, and the company was able to thrive and flourish.  Until this time, most office workers commuted into New York City to find employment.  Now there was gainful employment right here in town.

The founder of Fawcett Publishing was Wilford Hamilton Fawcett.  He was born on April 27, 1885 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada to Maria B. (Neilson) and Dr. John Fawcett.  W.H. was the third of eight children.  His family eventually moved to Grand Forks ND.  Wilford ran away from home when he was 16 to enlist in the Army, which was involved with the Philippine insurrection during the Spanish-American War.  He had to lie about his age, telling the military authorities that he was 18.  He served two years, then returned to the US with a potentially fatal infection.  Upon returning to the country, he stayed in San Francisco, where he engaged in making moonshine to sell to fellow soldiers.  Then Wilford decided to travel around the South until he landed in New Orleans.  An acquaintance talked him into seeing a specialist, who completely cured him of his disease. It cost him the entire $5000 he had made selling moonshine so it was necessary for him to hitchhike home.  Once he was home, he decided to finish high school. Surprisingly, he became a star player on the school football team.  He was also a very talented marksman, who competed on the American Olympic team.

After he graduated, he married at the age of 21. Wilford became a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune for a while. He enlisted at the outbreak of World War I, and was stationed at Camp Georgia where he rose to the rank of Captain.  This was the origin of the name "Captain Billy".  He was involved with the well-known Army publication Stars and Stripes, which was his motivation to get into publishing

capt billy369.jpg

                                SOURCE:  WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

Fawcett Publishing had its roots in Robinson, Minnesota.  Billy Fawcett started publishing a bawdy cartoon and joke magazine entitled "Captain Billy's
Whiz Bang"
  after the war in 1919.  He got the idea from servicemen, who told  stories and limericks. The title was a combination of his military title "Captain Billy" and the nickname of a very destructive World War I artillery shell called the "Whiz Bang".   According to one version, Billy typed the master copy on a borrowed typewriter and mimeographed copies.  According to Billy, he ordered a print run of 5000 copies because the unit price for a large order was less than the price for a couple of hundred copies!  At any rate, he gave free copies to wounded veterans and his friends, while he sold copies at newsstands in hotels.  It became a very profitable venture.

When Fawcett started out, he and his boys distributed the publications with a small wagon!  You could say the boys learned the business from the ground up, an education that would serve them well in the future.

Some felt "Captain Billy's Whiz Bang" was racy, naughty and pretentious.  It was accused of immorality and sexual immodesty.  Irregardless, it became the most prominent comic magazine in America during the 1920s.  Circulation was 425,000 representing $500,000 in annual profits.  The magazine was popular until the 1930s when the company established a line of regular magazines which reached a combined circulation of 10-million copies. 

Fawcett Build368.jpg

                             FAWCETT BUILDING ON FAWCETT PLACE

                                  SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

In 1937, the Fawcett Company moved to 22 West Putnam Avenue in Greenwich.  The company flourished, and in 1947, the operation moved to what is now known as Fawcett Place.  Five-hundred employees worked there.  Most of the employees were not highly educated, but if someone could use an adding machine or typewriter , or count, they could work for Fawcett.  They had a huge returns department since people were required to count copies to credit wholesalers. A large staff was also needed to handle subscriptions of various publications.   College-educated  employees worked primarily in the accounting department.  Employees had an hour-long lunch since there was no cafeteria in the building.  There was a Bergeron Drug Store on the lower floor, but most employees brought lunch or lived close enough to walk home. 

The company was a closed (family) company.  Stock was privately held by the Fawcetts.  Yet, they were very kind to their workers.  The Fawcett Company employed several senior citizens in their 70s.  Vaction time was very generous.  The company sponsored annual picnics, holiday parties, office parties and a bowling league.  An employee newsletter was published, which highlighted weddings, births, anniversaries and other important employee news.   One employee commented that she made $10 per month, which was very generous at that time.  The company even sponsored an annual Miss Fawcett Contest at Byram Shore Park.  First Selectman Lowell Weicker, the Mayor of Port Chester, Charles Piro of the Greenwich Time and even TV host "Bud" Collyer served as judges.

Once he became successful, Billy built the Breezy Point Resort on Pelican Lake in Minnesota.  The massive hunting lodge could accommodate 700 people!  He paid to have a blacktop road built to his lodge because he entertained such celebrities as Clark Gable, Tom Mix and Carole Lombard.  His own personal log mansion, Fawcett House, still stands today, and is available to rent.

Eventually, Fawcett had advertising offices in most major metropolitan cities across the country.  There were printing offices in Louisville, Chicago and Rockville MD. The boys who had distributed the early publications using the wagon, became major officers of the corporation.  W.H. Fawcett Jr. became the Vice President of advertising, editorial and executive operations.  Roger Fawcett was General Manager, and he was well-respected by everyone.  Gordon Fawcett was the Treasurer.  These three worked in New York City.  Roscoe Fawcett was in charge of subscriptions, printing, accounting and circulation.  He worked in Greenwich. 

capt billy photo370.jpg

                                  WILFORD HAMILTON FAWCETT

                                    SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

Unfortunately, founder Wilford H. Fawcett passed away in 1940.  His sons were left  to manage the business. The company changed its focus from "comics" to regular publications after World War II.  It started publishing such well-known magazines as Rudder, Woman's Day, Mechanics Illustrated, Electronics Illustrated and Hollywood.  A new genre was added: detective books.  The series included Dynamic Detective, Daring Detective, and Startling Detective.  A Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking was created, and a test kitchen was built at 1515 Broadway in New York to create new recipes.  The biggest advertisers were invited to participate in the judging. 

The company developed the Fawcett World Library of Paperbacks with three different imprints: Crest. Premier and Gold Line.  They also published some hardcover titles including The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Lolita and The Godfather.  Business was expanding so fast that in 1972 Fawcett bought the Armory building on Mason Street to house their mail order, printing and filing operations.

In 1945, Fawcett negotiated a contract to distribute a line of paperbacks for the New American Library.  In 1949, Fawcett began publishing their own line of original paperbacks known as Gold medal Books.

The comic book market began to decline in 1950.  A major lawsuit filed by National Comics Publications caused Fawcett to cease publication of its comics.  It sold most of its comic book line to Charlton Comics in 1972. The very successful Captain Marvel series was sold to the well-known DC Comics.

Fawcett purchased Popular Library in 1970 and renamed it Fawcett Books.  It became a mass market paperback publisher, featuring such authors as Amanda Cross, Stephen Frey, P.D. James and Anne Perry. Fawcett also took over Ballantine's mass market mystery segment.  However, this imprint was dropped at the beginning of the 21st century. 

In 1977, the "boys" were reaching the end of their careers.  They had experienced 40 successful years in the business. They decided to sell the company to CBS Publications in 1977 for $54-million.  This included everything - lock, stock and barrel - including the hunting lodge in South Dakota.  The new company consisted of many young executives in their early 30s.  Change was very slow at first, but there was a definite change in the air.  It became more of a business environment.  The company began to replace the top Fawcett management with their own people.  Employees were expected to follow strict direction, and some departments were closed down and their work even outsourced.  The large paperback book division was sold off so that only the magazines were left. 

During the 1980s - when federal business regulations were relaxed - Warner Communications bought out Fawcett Books (1982).  Fawcett senior executive Peter G. Diamandis managed a leveraged buyout for $650-million in 1987 to create Diamandis Communications.  Hachette Publications purchased Diamandis Communications for $712-million in 1988. 

Billy Fawcett was one of the last great entrepreneurs.  Today, Greenwich is known for its hedge funds, which invest venture capital to start new businesses.  Groups of investors seem to be launching new enterprises.  There are still a few "captains of industry" around like Trump and Buffet, but the new trend seems to be business by committee.  There is no doubt that W.H. Fawcett had a positive impact on Greenwich.  He was very kind to his employees. Thank you, Captain Billy!



FAWCETT PUBLICATIONS; Dennis, T. (narrator); Greenwich Library Oral History Project, 1994.




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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on September 18, 2013 8:22 PM.

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