A History Founded On Service To Farmers
By Tim White, editor
In the middle of the 19th Century when agriculture was by far the leading activity in the United States, there was an upsurge of activity pointed toward the improvement of farming and rural life. In Ohio two publications came to the forefront at this time. One was The Ohio Farmer started by Thomas Brown in Cleveland in 1851. The other was The Ohio Cultivator founded by Michael Bateham in 1845 in Columbus.
Brown described his purpose in the first issue as doing ``all that we may be able to do to for the gratification, enlightenment and advancement of our readers.'' His goal was to be ``one of the best Family newspapers in the United States, blending amusement with valuable instruction.'' He promised that all advertising columns would be carefully ``censored.'' The subscription rate was $2 per year with an annual postage charge of 26 cents paid in advance. The advertising rate was 10 cents per nonpareil line.
Bateham was an energetic visionary who left his job editing The Genesee Farmer in New York state to take on the challenges and opportunities in the West. In a prospectus in his first issue Bateham italicized his paper's goal for farmer readers, to obtain greater returns for their capital and labor. He relied on an extensive list of correspondents in a dozen states to make the publication a regional favorite as settlers spread from Ohio. Bateham championed the idea of a state fair and served as correspondent on the board, which created the first state fair in 1850. On the eve of the first fair he married Josephine Cushing and later made her a co-editor in charge of the ladies department. He served as the second secretary of the Ohio Board of Agriculture, which is now the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Bateham retired to the nursery business in 1855. His death not long afterwards, left the publication in the hands of S.D. Harris, his associate editor. The Civil War began not much later and caused such disruption that many journals of the day discontinued service. The Ohio Farmer in its Aug. 2, 1862 ;issue announced, "On account of the war and hard times it is feared The Ohio Farmer must suspend publication until the war closes.'' After missing one issue, the paper returned with Brown retiring and Harris listed as the editor and owner. During the Civil War a special department was created to report current events of the conflict. It comprises an excellent history of this difficult time.
In 1873 the weekly newspaper was bought by M.J. Lawrence. A year later he hired M.E. Williams as editor. The twosome made up one of the best business and editorial teams in the country. For the first time the publication was a moneymaking enterprise. One of many economical decisions made by Lawrence was purchasing printing equipment. Meanwhile Williams drew from contributors around the Midwest and spoke with an editorial opinion that helped to shape farm policy of the day.
In 1878 the name was changed to The Practical Ohio Farmer. Articles also changed to focus on experimental aspects of farming. W.I. Chamberlain was hired as associate editor. A leader of great repute, chamberlain had served as president of the Iowa Agricultural College and a secretary for the Ohio State Agricultural Board. He is credited with creating a putting into practice the Farmers' Institutes, which brought educational and entertainment to rural communities at this time.
Photos first appeared in The Ohio Farmer in 1902. The issue at that time still included a number of etchings and engravings and there were no photos in advertisements.
In 1910 John F. Cunningham became the editor. He served until 1922 when he purchsed The Wisconsin Agriculturalist and The Florida Grower. In 1932 he left the farm paper arena to become dean of the College of Agriculture at the Ohio State University. He held the position until 1947.
In 1922 Lawrence sold his major interest to Sen. Arthur Capper of Kansas, who had been in the publishing business for many years. Three of his magazines, The Ohio Farmer, The Michigan Farmer and The Pennsylvania Farmer were published as a single group under The Lawrence Co. In 1928 the Ohio Farmer Stockman was consolidated with The Ohio Farmer. A new company Capper-Harmon-Slocum Inc. was formed. The Pennsylvania and Michigan publications were operated by staffs within their own states, but composition, printing and mailing were centralized to save costs. In 1926 the magazine began recognizing Master Farmers as part of a nationwide program to boost sagging spirits in the midst of an agricultural depression.
In the years prior to World War II, the magazine featured new mechanical technology as tractors began to replace horses on the farm. Conservation also gained attention as did certified seed. In 1949 Earl McMunn was named editor of The Ohio Farmer. His strong editorial comments kept farmers feet on the ground as new developments like electricity and television came to the farm.
In 1975 Hugh Chronister, president of Harvest Publishing Co., appointed Andrew L. Stevens editor. McMunn became director of public affairs for the company which also published Pennsylvania Farmer, Michigan Farmer, Kansas Farmer and Missouri Ruralist. In 1988 farmers noticed a big change in the magazine as the format shrunk from 10 inches by 14 inches to 8 inches by 11 inches. That was the same year a new competitor entered the market as Farm Progress Co. started the Ohio Prairie Farmer.
In 1991 Harcourt Brace Javanovich Co. sold the Harvest group to Farm Progress Co. Farm Progress was acquired by Rural Press Ltd., Sydney, Australia in 1996. In 2007, Rural Press was acquired by Fairfax Media.