Sunday, July 19, 2020

Notes on the American News Company –

By John Adcock

Mr. (Robert) Bonner’s methods of conducting and advertising the Ledger led, among other things, to the establishment of the American News Company. Many of his advertisements to smaller cities referred would be purchasers of the Ledger to local booksellers. Letters from such Mr. Bonner turned over to Mr. (Sinclair) Tousey of Ross, Jones & Tousey, who prepared a circular letter suggesting the regular sale of periodicals. Mr. Tousey afterward became the President of the American News Company, whose first business was so built up. ‘Robert Bonner, the Story of his Life,Gazette and Courier, Greenfield, Mass., July 22, 1899
Histories of dime novels record (briefly) that the American News Company was founded in 1864 by Sinclair Tousey in New York City as a distributor of story papers, magazines, and dime novels.  In time, with a near total control of newspaper and book distribution in the United States, Tousey became the richest and most powerful man in American publishing.

Sinclair Tousey was born in New Haven in 1815 and was working for Erasmus Beadle from the firm’s beginning. The title page of Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Ann S. Stephens (Beadle's Dime Novels, No. 1, June 9, 1860) shows Beadle & Co. of 141 William Street (they had moved to these premises in May 1860) as the publisher. The firm was run by Irwin Beadle and Robert Adams, with some backing by Erastus Beadle. Also, on the title page at bottom is the name Sinclair Tousey of 121 Nassau Street, NY. Nassau and Ann streets were in “the Swamp,” where Robert DeWitt and most cheap publishers of the fifties and sixties had their offices.

Mary Noel (Villains Galore) notes that by 1860 the two largest newsvendors in America were Ross & Tousey and Dexter & Brother. Ross, Jones & Tousey were wholesale news agents in Nassau Street from 1854 to 1856. From then until 1864 the firm operated as Ross & Tousey. They also sold British periodicals like Punch’s Almanac. Robert M. DeWitt also had offices on Nassau street. In 1858 advertisements show that Dexter & Brother, Long & Farrelly, Hendrickson & Blake, and Dick & Fitzgerald all operated out of Ann street, Samuel Yates on Beckman street, and WM Skelly on Greenwich street. The Phunny Phellow, “a comic illustrated paper” published by Okie, Dayton & Jones, was puffed in the NY Daily Tribune on Dec 3, 1860. It was sold by Ross & Tousey, H. Dexter & Co., Samuel Yates, Hamilton, Johnson and Farrelly, and John F. Feeks & Co.

Henry Dexter, Busy Mans Magazine, May 1, 1910
Poking around in newspaper archives from 1864 I found two advertisements, both in Horace Greeley’s Daily Tribune (Greeley was a good friend of Sinclair Tousey’s). The first from February 6 advertises the American News Company as “successors to Sinclair Tousey and H. Dexter Hamilton and Company.” The second is from March 3 and lists the officers of the ANC

Sinclair Tousey, President
Henry Dexter, Vice-President
John E. Tousey, Secretary
S.W. Johnson, Treasurer
John Hamilton, F. Farrelly} Superintendents

New York Tribune, March 3, 1864
A newspaper paragraph from the June 11, 1904 Rockland County Times identifies Patrick Farrelly as one of the founders. F. Farrelly may have been a typo.  In an article titled News Butchers in The American Mercury (April 1947) Stewart H. Holbrook writes In a fat, handsome brochure the company published in 1944, for its eightieth birthday, a mere nineteen lines of text serves to relate the concern’s long history. Today it has nearly four hundred branches in the United States and Canada and supplies ninety thousand retailers, many of them train butchers, with wares. The brochure displays portraits of The Founders, seven in number, who were George Dexter, Henry Dexter, Solomon W. Johnson, John E. Tousey, John Hamilton, Sinclair Tousey, and Patrick Farrelly.

Rockland County Times, June 11, 1904
The bulk of the ANC founders’ fortunes came from the dime novel and story paper publishers; the Beadle’s. Norman and George Munro, and Frank Tousey. ANC distributed the New York Ledger, New York Weekly, Family Story Paper and Fireside Companion, all published in New York, as well as the Saturday Night published in Philadelphia.

It may be asked why, if these five papers are so successful, others do not become so. The American News Company control this. There is no other News Company, and this has over 50,000 newsstands and stores under its control. It will not send out any other paper of the Ledger class except the five named, and this gives them full control of the situation. More than one unfortunate individual has been swamped in his expectations and purse, by finding that ho could not got his papers upon the newsstands of the country, try as hard as ever he might. – ‘Story Papers, What They Are and How They Manage To Live,’ Amenia Times, June 25, 1888
The growth of the ANC was greatly aided by the growth of railroads after the Civil War. By 1869 railways stretched from coast to coast. Telegraph stations and news depots sprung up at nearly every stop. Railroads were required to transport newspapers and periodicals as second-class bulk mail at a special low subsidized price. This was the era of the street newsboy and his railroading counterpart, the news butcher. News butchers sold candy as well as paper on the trains.

The continuity becomes confusing from here on. Sinclair Tousey died June 16, 1887. Although Tousey continued working in his office up to the day of his death newspapers reported in 1880 that David P. Rhoades was the acting president at the time. Henry Dexter took over as President of the ANC in 1887. Newspaper reports identify Patrick Farrelly, who began life as a news butcher on the railroads, as president in May 1890. Dexter died July 11, 1910, age 98, of cerebral hemorrhage.

Of books the largest dealing is in paper covers. The company bring them to the attention of the news agents all over the world and before the circulating libraries. The establishment is of inestimable value to the small publishing houses, and the immense business carried on by the company Is evidenced by the fact that millions of books and periodicals pass through their hands during the year. Their goods go across the Atlantic, up the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, until they meet the current coming from the western coast that goes to Japan and India. A department devoted to wholesale stationery has grown out of the necessities of the business. There are 250 employees in the New York house alone, which is situated in Chambers street, and has been the headquarters of the company since 1877.
The business, probably the largest of its kind in this country, was founded by Sinclair Tousey and Henry Dexter and their associates, Hamilton, Johnson and Farrelly, about twenty-seven years ago. Since Mr. Tousey’s death Mr. Dexter has been president of the company. Mr. Dexter takes no part in public affairs, nor did Sinclair Tousey; but the latter was very well known as a member of the Prison Association, for his connection with the Union League Club and as a close friend of Horace Greeley. The only other business house in the world to which the American News Company may be compared is the one in London known as W.H. Smith & Co. The head of that firm, Mr. Smith, is the government leader in the House of Commons. ‘The American News Company,’ New York Press, 1890
The Sun, June 17, 1887
Canada’s Busy Mans Magazine reported in July 1, 1908 that Henry Dexter “ is in his ninety-sixth year, and although he resigned the presidency of the American News Company some ten or twelve years ago, he still retains a large interest in the company.” George Tyson reportedly acted as President until November 1895. Next (Wild American Pulp Artists tells us) was Solomon W. Johnson, the last survivor of the original founders’ group, who became President and held that office until 1913. A contradiction however: one Henry W. Bellows died in 1913 and was described as formerly a president of the ANC. No dates or further information about Bellows has come to light.

From here we move into the period when ANC threw in their lot with organized crime. During Prohibition, the New York mob was run by Lucky Luciano who brought Italian, Jewish, and Irish gangs under one roof. 

Solomon W. Johnson’s presidential successor was Samuel Shipley Blood, formerly ANC Treasurer. He was in the service of the company and its subsidiaries for 66 years.

Mr. Blood organized the New York News Company as a young man and became manager of International News Company and a vice president of the American News Company, which absorbed the New York News Company. In 1915 he became president, treasurer, and chairman of the board of the American News Company, and soon afterward president of the International News Company.‘S.S. Blood Dies; Retired Head of American News Co.,’ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 23, 1934
Stephen Farrelly of the ANC was arrested and fined in 1890 for selling the works of Balzac and Tolstoi. In 1917 Farrelly was described as “Directing Manager and Vice-President” of the ANC. 

Harry Gould became President after S.S. Blood. Gould died in 1945 although it was reported he had retired some years previously. William A. Eichhorn was Secretary. There is a seven-year gap in my continuity until 1952 when a July 18 article in the Ottawa Citizen identifies P.D. OConnell as President of the ANC. Henry Garfinkle, who started out in life as a newsboy on the Staten Island Ferry, served as the last president of the American News Company.

I will end with the following paragraph from the online Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. The statement is unsourced, although I believe it was based on the memories of pulp artist Norman Saunders, maybe of stories heard or rumored. These allegations will be the subject of a future post. 

Of interest is that mob killer Dion O’Bannion was on the payroll of William Randolph Hearst. According to Ferdinand Lundberg’s 1936 biography Imperial Hearst the gangster was the chief circulation agent for Hearst’s Herald-Examiner from 1917 to 1922 and was bumped off in 1925 over a bootlegging beef. Hagiographies of the historic cast and crew usually gloss over this long period of corruption and collaboration between publishers and organized crime in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia... 

Leaving huge gaps and disinformation in the historical record.

Moses Annenberg, May 1947
During the "roaring twenties" organized crime acquired control of the nationwide system of distribution, trucking, warehousing, and labor unions. The American News Company (ANC) was the most powerful force in publishing. It was controlled by organized crime, but it was headed by William Randolph Hearst, Arthur Brisbane, and Moe L. Annenberg. ‘H.K. Fly,’ Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists.

To Be Continued…

Part 2 HERE


  1. My understanding was that when the company was dissolved in the mid-20th Century, it was worth more to the owners for its property than for its distribution system.

    Its demise caused the failure of numerous magazines across a wide spectrum of publishing. Hope you get to this in subsequent postings.

  2. Unfortunately, "Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists" has massive amounts of misinformation, speculation, and rumors. When he sources his material, he is accurate. Otherwise, get another source or don't believe it.

    There was involvement in organized crime in the 1950s as Roy Cohn was General Counsel for ANC from 1955 to at least 1957.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I have been unable to find any basis for the quote above about William Randolph Hearst, Arthur Brisbane, and Moe L. Annenberg heading the ANC.

  4. One of these days, hopefully someone will do research on the ANC's own shops, and their cafes.
    Did their food business, retail and distribution, stay around for decades after they left the magazine business, retail and distribution, as some sources suggest? I know via news reports that they were attempting to put cafes near, and at bus stations, as railroads declined.

    I'm not sure who would do research like that - but I hope they do.

  5. Just a small clarification as to the timeline -- Ross and Tousey dissolved their firm on May 6, 1862. Sinclair thereafter advertised as a successor to that firm as a "wholesale news dealer." Tousey as you indicated formed ANC in 1864 with Dexter. Sinclair, in short had his own form for those two years.

  6. Dexter dissolved on Feb 1, 1864, and transferred its business to ANC, at 121 Nassau (Sinclair's address).