Always keep Grit from being pessimistic. Avoid printing those things which distort the minds of readers or make them feel at odds with the world. Avoid showing the wrong side of things, or making people feel discontented. Do nothing that will encourage fear, worry or temptation… Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. Put happy thoughts, cheer and contentment into their hearts.
—Dietrick Lamade, Grit publisher from 1882-1936
Future baseball Commissioners Happy Chandler and Ford Frick did it. Poet Carl Sandburg and singing cowboy Gene Autry did it. Astronaut/U.S. Senator John Glenn, Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harlan Sanders, and actress Loretta Lynn all did it. They sold door-to-door subscriptions to Grit newspapers when they were kids.
Dietrick Lamade started out as a 23-year-old assistant press foreman for the Williamsport, PA newspaper The Daily Sun and Banner. In December 1882, the newspaper began a Saturday edition titled Grit, which included local news items, editorials and humorous tidbits. Lamade set the first headline for the new edition.
Lamade was born Feb. 6, 1859, in Goelshausen, Baden, Germany, the fourth child of Johannes and Caroline Lamade. When he was 8, the family immigrated to the United States. Less than two years after the family settled in Williamsport, Johannes Lamade died, leaving Caroline to care for nine children. The older children went to work to help support the family, and young Dietrick apprenticed at a local German weekly newspaper. He spent the next 10 years working in newspaper offices and printing plants.
In 1884, the young man seized the opportunity to help revitalize a small weekly newspaper, The Times. However, the man who purchased the paper became ill and put the physical plant on the market. At the same time, Sun and Banner staff were planning to end Grit.
Lamade persuaded two men – the editor of Grit and a printer – to join him in a partnership to purchase the good will and reputation of Grit as well as The Times’ printing plant. They intended to launch Grit as an independent Sunday newspaper.
No one seems to know how the name ‘Grit’ came to be—perhaps because sheer grit was how the newspaper survived those early years. After the first year, Lamade had had seven partners, and the newspaper maintained a mountain of debt, even though circulation continued to increase.
Convinced that small-town thinking and values were the bedrock of American liberty and freedom, Lamade filled Grit with useful information and stories that stressed the good humor, patriotism, religion, and family values of rural Americans. In Grit they found a reflection of their interests and their world. Over time, Grit also offered features that appealed to its readers.
Lamade knew that local readership would not be sufficient to keep the new publication going, so he began traveling the region searching for sales agents and news correspondents.
During one of his trips in 1885, Lamade sold his partners on the idea of a contest – still legal in those days – in which readers would send in coupons for chances at winning various prizes. The drawing was held Thanksgiving 1885, with three out-of-towners and two local subscribers winning the five grand prizes. When the dust cleared, Grit had 14,000 subscribers and $400 in the bank – with all bills paid. The partners gave themselves a raise, from $12 a week to $15.
About 1891 Lamade started using newsboys, and in later years girls also, to sell Grit directly to the public – and the newspaper began to expand to small towns across the country. Newspaper sales taught generations of young salespersons industriousness, responsibility, and resourcefulness.
Grit‘s influence kept growing throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Eventually it would become one of the first newspapers in America to feature color photographs and fictional supplements. At the paper’s 50th anniversary in 1932, the paper reached approximately 400,000 people across the nation. Lamade retired from the paper a few years later in 1936. What had started as a one-room business with six employees now employed 200 people.
Dietrick Lamade died October 9, 1938.
10,000 Famous Freemasons from K to Z Part Two, by William R. Denslow, Harry S. Truman, Kessinger Publishing, 2004