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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

BROWN, William C.

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BROWN, William C. (Ottumwa, IA, Nov. 21, 1911--Vero Beach, FL, Feb. 25, 1995). Brown and his parents came to Dubuque in 1915 after his father accepted a position of heating engineer at the KRETSCHMER-TREDWAY COMPANY. William attended WASHINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL and DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL where he was a member of the track and golf teams. (1) He planned to attend college, but was unable to pursue his plans because of the GREAT DEPRESSION. (2) He worked four years as a salesman for Kretschmer-Tredway.

In 1933 Brown and a friend, Harold J. White, formed White-Brown Sales Company. (3) The company sold advertising in the form of calendars, pencils, and matchbooks and served as an advertising agency. Waldo ADAMS, who rented them space at 972 Main, was so unsure of their future that he had White's father guarantee the first six months' rent. (4) Adams' concerns were proven true when the two businessmen found no one could afford advertising with the poor economy. In deciding to become representatives for established companies, Brown signed a contract with John S. Swift Company of St. Louis. (5) White moved to Davenport, and Brown's territory was increased to include eastern and central Iowa.

Around 1944 the Swift Company was sold on the idea of publishing a series of college workbooks and manuals for individual professors to use in their classes. Working for Swift, Brown established contacts at the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, Iowa State Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin. (6)

Convinced that returning soldiers would not go to college, the Swift Company decided to get out of the publishing business near the end of WORLD WAR II. Confident in the future of the college market, Brown offered to buy the college accounts, stock the books in Dubuque and finance the accounts. When his suggestion to name his new company Swift Publishing Company was rejected, Brown chose the name, WILLIAM C. BROWN PUBLISHERS. (7) Brown financed his purchase by investing his savings and refinancing his home. Books representing the twenty-six titles being published were brought to Dubuque from St. Louis by mid-October, 1944. His business began with one full-time and one part-time employee.

The titles Brown acquired were to specialized workbooks and laboratory manuals written by midwestern professors for their classes. Large publishing houses were not interested in such printing due to the limited distribution and small profits. Brown realized this offered his company an important sector in the college market. (8) Between 1944 and 1949, the William C. Brown Publishing Company saw its list of titles grow from that original 26 to more than 100. (9) Brown's name reached a national market with the publication of a series of titles on plants, flowers and other areas of biological sciences by Dr. Harry E. Jacques of Iowa Wesleyan College who wrote the highly successful How to Know the Insects. (10)

During WORLD WAR II, paper was rationed according to use before the war. William C. Brown Publishers did not exist before the war, so it did not qualify for an allotment. Fortunately the government ended the rationing but the paper shortage continued. One half of each book the company printed was printed on white paper with a light gray paper used for the second half. (11) The offices in the Thrift Plan Building proved inadequate by 1947 and the company was moved to the top floor of the BANK AND INSURANCE BUILDING. (12) Printing was still being done in St. Louis at the Swift Company.

Faced with rising costs, Brown decided by 1949 to break with the Swift Company. Through an agreement with the Telegraph Herald, printing equipment was installed in the press room of the newspaper. (13) At that time, the company was one of the few publishers who owned and operated all facets of textbook publication from the original concept and submission of the manuscript through the shipment of bound books packaged and available for sale. (14)

The company he founded grew to have more than 953 employees. Brown remained the majority owner until 1986 and served as chairman of the board until 1992 when the company was sold to Times-Mirror.

The WCB Group acted as a holding company for many subsidiaries including Ralmar Associates, a real estate company at Vero Beach, Florida; Wm. C. Brown Publishers College Division and Manufacturing Division; KENDALL/HUNT PUBLISHING COMPANY; and the Midway Motor Lodge-Hoffman House Restaurant in Dubuque.

Brown’s civic responsibilities included his service on the board of directors of the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. He was also a director and chairman of the board of DUBUQUE BANK AND TRUST COMPANY; organizer and director of Retirement Investment Corporation (Heritage Manor); director and chairman of Heartland Bancorp; and organizer, director, and chairman of the executive committee of Life Investors, Inc.

Brown, named to the DUBUQUE BUSINESS HALL OF FAME in 1982, was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago Book Clinic in 1984. (15) He was named National Publisher of the Year in 1990. (16)

The William C. Brown Memorial Scholarship was established by the University of Dubuque for students who were legal residents of Iowa and were enrolled full-time at the University of Dubuque as a business major or in the MBA program. Selection was based on past academic performance, college aptitude test scores, and recommendations from instructors and persons unrelated to the applicant. The person also had to exhibit motivation, character, and potential based on involvement in extracurricular activities. (17)



1. Peterson, Walter F. A History of the Wm. C. Brown Companies, Dubuque: William C. Brown Communications, Inc. 1994, p. 3

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid. p. 4

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 6

7. Ibid., p. 8

8. Ibid., p. 11

9. "Our Story," Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, Online: http://www.kendallhunt.com/our_story/

10. Peterson, p. 11

11. Ibid, p. 14

12. Ibid., p. 16

13. Ibid., p. 19

14. "Our Story"

15. Peterson, p. 271

16. Peterson, p. 270

17. "William C. Brown Memorial Scholarship," Scholarship Library. Online: http://www.scholarshiplibrary.com/wiki/William_C._Brown_Memorial_Scholarship_%28University_of_Dubuque%29