Dime Novel Publishers from Greenpoint

Greenpoint’s Francis Scott Smith rose from a humble printer to become a millionaire publisher and the firm he co-founded, Street and Smith remained remarkably prolific and profitable for over one hundred years. Street & Smith rapidly became a “fiction factory,” producing a wide variety of popular literature, including dime novels, pulp magazines, books in series for juveniles, fashion and homemaking magazines, comics, and adventure stories. Scott Smith was born in New York City into a poor family in 1831. He left school at the age of thirteen and was initially apprenticed to a grocer, but he did not like the trade and he eventually learned the printing trade. Although he had little formal education, Smith had a sharp eye for the financial side of the publishing business and in 1849 at the age of eighteen he was hired by New York publisher Amos J. Williamson to be the bookkeeper for the newspaper the New York Dispatch. While working at the Dispatch he met Francis S Street who was an editor at the paper. The two soon became friends and in 1853 together they bought a failing magazine. In 1858 they bought the Weekly Dispatch for $40,000 on credit and within five years they paid off the loan. Street and Smith were able to increase circulation of the Weekly Dispatch and at the time it became one of the most widely circulated New York City weekly newspapers.

The firm became one of the world’s leading publishers of dime novels. The company viewed fiction as a commodity, with Street & Smith editors dictating plots, character types, and other conventions to the firm’s stable of writers. As a result, Street & Smith authors, including such literary figures as Horatio Alger, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London were often disguised by house pseudonyms and wrote to carefully calculated formulae, with their respective products subject to extensive rewriting by Street & Smith editors.

Street & Smith illustrators worked under the same editorial constraints as did the writers. If an editor received unacceptable illustrations, the illustrator was told to “get busy and change them then and there.” Nevertheless, Street & Smith eventually became “an incubator where the greatest illustrators in the country were professionally born.” These included Harvey Dunn, Joseph Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell, Winfield Scott, Tom Lovell, Anton Otto Fisher, Amos Sewell, and N.C. Wyeth. The firm began publishing dime novels in the 1860s, then began shifting to pulps in 1915. For more than three decades the firm was one was one of the nation’s top pulp magazine publishers.

J.S. Olgive not only lived a Horatio Algerlike life, he even ended up publishing Alger’s novels. Olgive was born in 1843 in Scotland into a large family. The family moved to New York and Olgive became a carpenter in a Greenpoint Shipyard. Oligive however relentlessly pursued education and went on to finish a degree in Night School. He became a teacher, but soon became involved with the publishing arm of the Temperance Society where he learned the technical aspects of publishing.  He left the society and started his own firm in a tiny Manhattan office space, but the firm grew. Like F. Scott Smith. Olgive published dozens of dime novella s and Olgive’s main Idea was always to publish standard works at popular prices. He went on to publish hundreds of volumes of literature and died as one of the richest American publishers.

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