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Emanuel Haldeman-Julius

publisher of Little Blue Books

Emanuel Haldeman-Julius

Emanuel Julius was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 30, 1889. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa, Ukraine, who had come to America in 1887. Upon their arrival they changed their original name of Zolajefsky to Julius. His father was a bookbinder, and Emanuel was raised surrounded by books on all subjects. He continued his education even after dropping out of school in the seventh grade, and by the time he reached adulthood he had become known as an intellectual.

Julius left home at the age of thirteen to find his way in the world. After working as a theater usher, a bellboy in a girls' school, and a copyholder in the proofroom of a Philadelphia newspaper, he joined the American Socialist Party in Philadelphia. At twenty, he went to New York City to become a free-lance writer, eventually landing a job as a reporter on the New York Call, a Socialist daily. In 1912, he went to Milwaukee, where he worked with Carl Sandburg as a reporter for Victor Berger's Leader, another Socialist paper. From there he moved to Chicago and Los Angeles, where he worked on other radical papers, and then returned to New York to become drama critic and Sunday editor of the Call.

In 1915, Julius moved to Girard, Kansas, home of the Socialist weekly Appeal to Reason. The paper's circulation had been falling since the suicide of its founder, Julius A. Wayland, in 1912, and Julius was determined to revive it. In Girard, he met Anna Marcet Haldeman, a feminist and a playwright. Julius added "Haldeman" to his surname after the couple's marriage in 1916; Anna also hyphenated her name. The couple had two children. In 1919, Haldeman-Julius, with a loan from his wife, bought the presses of Appeal to Reason.

The income derived from Appeal to Reason helped Haldeman-Julius realize a life-long dream -- to make good literature available to the masses at a cheap price. He believed that there were millions of readers who could not afford handsome, hardcover books, so he began to mass produce paperback books, all with the same blue, non-descript cover, all the same 3.5 by 5 inches, all printed in eight-point type on cheap paper, and a few with as many as eighty pages. The first book of what became his Little Blue Books Series -- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam -- was published in 1919. (The second title was Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Jail.) At first, Haldeman-Julius simply reprinted classics by such authors as Plato, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Hugo, and sold them for twenty-five cents each through newspaper and magazine ads. As the list of titles grew and as public response to the series became more enthusiastic, the cost of the books dropped from 25 to 15 cents, then to 10 cents, and eventually to a nickel.

By the mid- to late-1920's, Haldeman-Julius had added practical "how-to" books -- knot-tying, masonry, dessert cookery, furniture refinishing, healthcare, etc. -- to his Little Blue Books Series titles list. He then moved into self-education, adding such titles as Chemistry Self-Taught, Italian Self-Taught, Sociology Self-Taught, and many others. But ideas, especially philosophical and religious ideas, were his favorite topics, and he invited such notable thinkers as Will Durant, Clarence Darrow, Margaret Sanger, and Joseph McCabe to contribute to the series.

If a title sold less than ten thousand copies per year, Haldeman-Julius would withdraw it from publication, rejuvenate it, and then reintroduce it. Often the "rejuvenation" simply meant retitling the text, as he did with Francis Bacon's Apothegms, which became Terse Truths about the Riddle of Life; sometimes it meant re-editing, as when the "duller portions" were taken out of Tennyson's Lady of the Lake.

The fame of the Little Blue Books Series was worldwide. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was one of his customers, as was Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who took a complete set along with him to the South Pole. In only ten years what began as a dream had become a major publishing enterprise. The St. Louis Post Dispatch called Haldeman-Julius the "Henry Ford of literature," and the Chicago Daily News began calling Girard, Kansas, the "Literary Capital of the United States."

In addition to Appeal to Reason and the Little Blue Books Series, Haldeman-Julius wrote two novels with his wife -- Dust (1921), which told of the drudgery of farm life on the Kansas plains; and, Violence! (1929). His autobiography, The First Hundred Million, was published in 1928.

Emanuel and Anna separated in 1934. Shortly after Anna's death in 1941, Haldeman-Julius married an employee, Susan Haney; the couple had no children.

Emanuel Haldeman-Julius was found dead in his swimming pool on July 31, 1951. His son, Henry Haldeman (he did not use the fully hyphenated surname), took control of the Little Blue Books Series in 1954 and continued publishing it until 1978. The building in which they were founded still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is Haldeman-Julius' home.

Site of Interest

Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius: Pocket Series and the Little Blue Books

See Also

Carl Sandburg
Julius A. Wayland
Clarence Darrow
Margaret Sanger
Richard E. Byrd

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The Robinson Library >> Bookselling and Publishing

This page was last updated on 11/20/2018.