Friday, February 26, 2016

Herbert Henry Dow's 150th Birthday

by Bryan Whitledge

Herbert H. Dow in his orchard
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Herbert Henry Dow. His initial endeavors to extract bromine from the brine found deep beneath Midland County, Michigan nearly 120 years ago have developed into the third largest chemical corporation in the world. During Dow's lifetime, his company started operations in Mount Pleasant and around the world, expanded the range of chemical products they manufactured, and helped the US war effort in the First World War supplying the US with supplies necessary for victory in Europe. Dow also famously beat a German bromide-producing cartel at its own game when the German cartel attempted to dump bromides on the world market to undercut Dow's prices and drive the Midland company out of business. H. H. Dow oversaw the purchase of all of those cheap bromides as well as the resale of them at a slightly marked up price back to European markets.

But Herbert Henry Dow was not only a chemical-industrial business man. He was an avid botanist and pomologist who started an orchard on the land surrounding the Dow Homestead in Midland. While his orchard never thrived commercially, his experiments and scientific agricultural practices contributed to the body of knowledge about growing apples, pears, and plums. In addition to his orchard, H. H. Dow also extensively landscaped the property near his homestead, creating what has become the Dow Gardens. Inspired by gardens he visited abroad, Dow’s vision for the garden was always changing and his landscaper Elzie Cote was up for the task. With both his orchard and gardens, Dow closely observed the progress of the plantings and took meticulous notes to practice the best scientific botany and pomology he could. [1]

Herbert H. and Grace A.
Dow at the Dow Homestead
Herbert H. Dow’s legacy was cemented when his wife, Grace, started the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation in his memory. Since 1936, the Foundation has helped to enhance the lives of people in central Michigan and beyond. Today, the legacy of Herbert Henry Dow can be found throughout Michigan. At Central Michigan University specifically, the mark of H. H. Dow, his family, and his company permeates campus. From the Dow Science Complex and the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, to the Mary Dow Reading Room, named after his sister and former librarian at Central (1924-28) who moved to Midland in 1898 to be with her family, and several buildings designed by his son, the architect Alden B. Dow. The Clarke, in documenting the history of central Michigan also maintains materials related to H. H. Dow, including papers related to a 2013 exhibit about Dow's work mining brine form beneath Mount Pleasant.

While the legacy of H. H. Dow can be noted every day, the 150th anniversary of his birth gives us a chance to specifically reflect on the many contributions he made to more than just the chemical industry.

1. Nelb, Tawny Ryan. The Pines: 100 Years of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Homestead, Orchards, and Gardens. Midland, Mich. : The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, 1999.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Newspapers are Dying, You Say?

[editor's note: Tomorrow, February 4, Dr. Joyce Baugh will speak about her book, The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation, at 7:00 pm in the Park Library Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Clarke.] 


Newspapers are Dying, You Say?

by Frank Boles

You hear it almost everywhere; newspapers are either dead or dying. Everything is migrating to the Internet and old-fashioned, printed papers are a thing of the past.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Michigan Press Association. Turns out a funny thing happened on the way to the cemetery. Profits. In some cases, record profits. This profitability is not evenly distributed. The big-city, metropolitan papers, about ten percent of the newspaper titles in America, are losing subscribers and income. But newspapers in small communities are doing well. Many are setting profit records. How is this possible to lose money in the big city but make it in small towns?

America has about 20,000 newspapers. A bare majority are small, independently-owned publications, with an additional sizable minority in relatively small newspaper groups – less than five newspaper titles. Most of these independent papers or small chains are weeklies or dailies in small markets. Those that are most profitable relentlessly focus on local news. They realize that their readers can turn to CNN or the New York Times for national and international coverage. But CNN and the New York Times won’t have much to say about last night’s city council meeting or the prospects for the local high school football team. To find out about those stories, people who live in these communities still buy a newspaper.

Some of the local newspapers collected by the Clarke

Also interesting are two additional characteristics of the most successful of these small papers. The trick is not just local news. It is well-written, well-laid-out newspapers. When non-subscribers are polled about why they don’t buy a paper, their two biggest complaints are not enough local news (38%) and poor writing (22%). This survey corroborated what another speaker had said earlier in the conference, there is still money to be made in print newspapers, but only if you display journalistic excellence, with interesting, well-written stories, displayed in an easy-to-read manner.

Thousands of reels of Michigan
newspapers on microfilm
in the Clarke stacks
For more than fifty years, the Clarke Historical Library has worked to preserve and distribute Michigan’s historical, local newspapers. I have been asked, more than once, what happens when all those papers go out of business? The answer it seems is that they aren’t going to go out of business. Better yet, the way to stay in business is not to cut staff and pages, but to devote time and energy to excellent coverage of local events. Newspapers with that emphasis are not only performing an important community service, they are creating the next generation of newspapers that will, in a few years, become important community history.

Having spent two days with journalists, editors, and publishers, I came away with the feeling that this aspect of the Clarke Historical Library mission, preserving and making available Michigan’s historical newspapers, will grow, especially as the smaller regional newspapers the Library documents thrive by engaging in quality local journalism. The better each paper is, the better the history we can eventually share with communities around the state.

It is  certainly an exciting time to be working with Michigan’s local newspapers. If you are interested in joining in, take a look at our blog post explaining how you can help to bring historic Michigan newspapers online for people all over the word to explore.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Please Help Digitize Newspapers

by Frank Boles

Last week proved many of you are as excited as we are about digitizing and placing online Michigan’s historic newspapers. In the course of a week, more than 110,000 Tweets and 8,000 postcards were received casting votes for your favorite city. The Clarke staff congratulates Alpena on their victory. But now what?

The truth is all five finalist newspapers in last week's election deserve to be made available online. The truth is there are many other papers, equally important, that should be available online. The truth is, without your help, there is no money to make this happen. For more than fifty years, the Clarke Historical Library has been microfilming Michigan newspapers to ensure their preservation. For the last decade, we have added the ability to digitize newspapers and we have invested in the software to make them freely available online. But over all this time, we have had to charge people to do this. In University budgeting terminology, this project is “self-funded.” There are no tax dollars helping make this happen; there are no student tuition dollars being used to support this work. There is just a small library with a passionate commitment to Michigan newspapers, which works with friends and neighbors whose dollars help us move toward the goal of saving Michigan’s newspaper heritage and making it available online.

Two dedicated endowments help support this work. Through the generosity of Robert and Susan Clarke, and the family of Gail D. Knapp, our library has the means to annually digitize and upload about 20,000 newspaper pages online. It’s a start, but it’s a small start. There are well over a million pages that we know of, waiting to come online – and likely other newspapers are hiding, waiting to be discovered, preserved, and made available.

A Clarke student assistant works to digitize
historic newspapers from microfilm

If you have participated in the contest, or if you share our passion to see Michigan’s historic newspapers freely available online, please consider making a financial contribution to either the Robert and Susan Clarke Endowment, or the Knapp Family Genealogical Endowment. If everyone who voted gave us one dollar for every tweet or postcard they contributed, the endowments would grow enough so that next year, when we again offer Michigan communities a chance to have their newspaper placed online, we could digitize closer to 100,000 pages. It would still take a long time to make all the state’s historical newspapers available – but the job might be done in something like a decade, instead of a century.

Please mail a check made payable to Central Michigan University – Robert and Susan Clarke Endowment or Central Michigan University – Gail D. Knapp Endowment to the Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859. Your contribution is tax deductible.

Please help. Every gift, small or large, will allow us to carry on this important work.