Marketing Science and Math Textbooks, ca. 1892

Today we get emails asking us if we have selected texts for next semester’s course, peppered with suggestions of texts for courses we might be teaching. I long for the days textbook publishers sent yearly calendars advertising their wares. Not only did you end up with something aesthetically pleasant that you could hang on your wall or hide in a drawer—I will admit that I never find email aesthetically pleasing—companies were they trying to offer something useful.

The American Book Company reaches out to science teachers.
The American Book Company reaches out to science teachers.

In 1982 the American Book Comapany apparently sent this calendar to educators to advertise their books. Most months are headed by a list of books organized by topic. February surveyed some of the science textbooks:

If you teach the SCIENCES, send for Section 15. Representative names of authors selected from several departments will indicate the scholarship which characterizes this rich and varied list:

  • ASTRONOMY: Lockyer, Bowen, Kiddle, etc.
  • BOTANY: Gray, Wood, Coulter, Youmans.
  • CHEMISTRY: Cooley, Youmans, Eliot and Storer, Clarke, Roscoe.
  • GEOLOGY: Dana, Gelke, Le Conte, Nicholson.
  • PHYSICS: Ganot, Trowbridge, Cooley, Steele.
  • ZOOLOGY: Holder, Morse, Nicholson, Hooker.

While some of these authors seem like standard names in the fields, others are unfamiliar to me. Some made it into the college curriculum at such schools as Williams College.

Various mathematics subjects—arithmetic, calculating, higher mathematics—were separated out and given their own months. Higher Mathematics decorated December, where not only authors were named but titles of texts were given.

The American Book Company celebrates it texts “In Higher Mathematics”
The American Book Company celebrates it texts “In Higher Mathematics”

In addition to advertising books, the American Book Company claimed to be giving useful information on the back of each calendar page. The company even developed a patented hinge so the pages could be turned over and “preserved throughout the year.” Some of the useful information included an almanac of astronomical information, lists of school superintendents at important cities, and an explanation of how the Australia ballot system worked, complete with an example.

Packaging your advertisement in the express guise of “useful knowledge” seems to have been quite popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Patent medicine companies wrapped everyone of their almanacs in the mantel of useful information. And Dr. Wm. Walker advertised his services with a a booklet of useful knowledge and information. In the case of Dr. Wm. Walker and some of the patent medicine almanacs, useful seemed also to be applicable. I confess, I don’t quite see why the American Book Company thought knowing about the Australian ballot system would be useful, relevant, or applicable.

UPDATE: The last sentence above was an honest expression of my ignorance, though the turn of phrase can easily be read otherwise. Further, it clearly reflects my laziness, for a simple web search would have offered the answer: The U.S. implemented the “Australian Ballot” in national elections in 1892. I am indebted to Katrina Dean for pointing it out to me:

Katrina Dean politely explained to me why in 1892 the Australian Ballot system was useful knowledge.
Katrina Dean politely explained to me why in 1892 the Australian Ballot system was useful knowledge.

One comment

  1. Michael Weiss says:

    I confess, I don’t quite see why the American Book Company thought knowing about the Australian ballot system would be useful, relevant, or applicable.

    Voting theory has become a standard topic in discrete math courses at the college level. The subject got a big boost with Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem (1951).

    Discrete mathematics as a college course was pretty much invented at Dartmouth by John Kemeny, and the resulting widely used textbook, Introduction to Finite Mathematics (Kemeny, Snell, and Thompson), had stuff about voting coalitions and so forth, at least by the second edition (1956).

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