And the pioneer printer and university president who started it all.
Stanford University Press—or at least the idea of it—was born in March 1891 in Bloomington, Indiana. It was there that Leland and Jane Stanford offered the presidency of their new university to David Starr Jordan, then the president of Indiana University. Between the time the offer was made and the Stanfords’ departure the next day, Jordan drew up a memo of understanding for the Stanfords’ approval—“I should like your assent to the following propositions,” Jordan wrote, of which there were four. The fourth and final proposition read: “That provision be made for the publication of the results of any important research on the part of professors or advanced students. Such papers may be issued from time to time as ‘Memoirs of the Leland Stanford Junior University.’” The Stanfords accepted his terms, and the university, with Jordan at the helm, opened in October 1891. The campus’s first publishing ventures were not long in following: In September 1892, it launched the Leland Stanford Junior University Monographs series, and with its first publication, Stanford University Press was born.
Or at least, part of it. For that exact same year, Julius Andrew Quelle, a member of Stanford’s inaugural “pioneer class,” established a printing facility on campus—what would come to be known colloquially as “the Stanford University Press.” And though university publications were occasionally shopped out to printers in nearby San Jose or San Francisco, it was Quelle who, out of his cramped quarters in the university power plant, printed the first two books to bear the SUP imprint as it appears today. And it was by President Jordan’s request that the imprint appear on all of the books produced for the university in Quelle’s small shop—a shop that in only a few decades would become the property of the university and an award-winning publishing house.
Thus it was in these parallel strands—President Jordan’s commitment to publish works from the academic community and Quelle’s entrepreneurial endeavors as the campus pressman—that the origins of Stanford University Press are to be found. And this year marks 125 years since both the establishment of Quelle’s print shop and the debut of the university’s first-ever publication. How these two pioneers—Stanford’s first president and one of its first students—laid the groundwork for the publishing tradition at Stanford reveals a great deal about the charter and character of the university in its earliest days, not to mention the mandate that continues to animate the work bearing the SUP imprint.
This year marks 125 years since both the establishment of Quelle’s print shop and the debut of the university’s first-ever publication.
What warrants underscoring is that at the time that President Jordan assumed his post, university presses were not much in evidence in the United States, even though in England, presses like those of Oxford and Cambridge had already been in operation for a few hundred years. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, however, that the tradition caught on across the pond, with most such outfits springing up in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Historians ascribe the first to Cornell, whose press opened in 1869 only to close shortly thereafter; the next belonged to Johns Hopkins. Stanford was in the small cohort of forward-looking schools eager to follow their example, and with its initial publications in the 1890s, took its place among the earliest university presses in the country—and the very first on the Pacific Coast.
A November 1892 reflection on university presses in the The Dial applauded “the newer universities” including a then-nascent Stanford for “taking up this work with special energy,” arguing that university press publishing was a democratizing endeavor. For “[t]here are two ways of shedding intellectual light upon a community,” opined The Dial: “there is the even and diffused radiance of University Extension, and there is the concentrated search-light typified by the work that should be done by a University Press.”
Undoubtedly, such an intent animated President Jordan’s designs to establish a publishing stream for the university. He had, after all, been a pupil of Cornell president, Andrew D. White, whose plans for his university included a press dedicated expressly to the publication of the university’s research and other faculty works. (White had, in fact, been the Stanfords’ first choice to be president of their new university, but he deferred, enthusiastically recommending Jordan in his stead.) Moreover, Jordan’s book, The Story of the Innumerable Company, was among the first books to bear the university’s imprint, alongside the monograph series established in 1892 (the second and third publications of which were authored by women).
One Stanford faculty member, writing in a Preface to one of the university’s early monographs, went out of his way to note that by aiding in the publication and dissemination of learned works, U.S. universities were “rendering a most useful service.” By the late 1800s, the notion of the university press became an idea whose time had come, and in great part as the result of university leaders like Jordan, on a mission to democratize access to knowledge.
With its initial publications in the 1890s, Stanford took its place among the earliest university presses in the country—and the very first on the Pacific Coast.
It’s unclear whether Quelle had this lofty philosophical mission in mind when he founded his on-campus printing press, but in many ways his shop was as much a progenitor of the SUP publishing house, as it’s known today, as President Jordan’s initiative to publish faculty research. When he arrived on campus, the 22-year-old Quelle was already a veteran of the printing industry, having spent his pre-college years apprenticed to the typographer Theodore Low DeVinne and working for the Trow Printing and Bookbinding Company. He had arrived at Stanford with exactly one dollar in his pockets—as he was later fond of recalling—in hopes of becoming a civil engineer, lured west by the possibility of working on railroads. But print always managed to sidetrack him, and whenever he needed money, it was inevitably what kept him afloat. When he made his way from New York to California, he survived by printing newspapers in Colorado and Utah; a weeklong gig at Salt Lake City’s Deseret News paid for his train ticket to San Jose.
As a member of Stanford’s Pioneer Class, Quelle certainly embodied the zeitgeist of the young university, its characteristic resourcefulness and individualism. Never one to pass up a business opportunity, he was all too happy to oblige when his peers asked him to set up a press on campus to print their four-page, four-column daily paper, The Daily Palo Alto. He promptly borrowed $25 each from twelve professors, purchased the requisite equipment secondhand, and opened a print shop in the university’s power plant.
In the late 1890s, Jane Stanford, then administrator of the university, told the young Quelle that his printing plant had grown too large for its cramped quarters in the power house; reportedly, she communicated to him—in no uncertain terms—that “one of us is going to have to move and I think it is going to be you.” According to Quelle’s memoirs, as recounted by the Marin News in 1960,
Quelle asked her for a new location upon which to build a home for his press, and Mrs. Stanford took him to the spot where the Stanford Union now stands, dug her heel in the ground and told him that he could have “forty feet each way from my heel mark.”
[…] Quelle quickly procured a stick, pushed it into the ground and with the help of his brother-in-law, Berwyn Stewart, built the new press building.
Quelle and his brother-in-law thus erected the Press’s first permanent home—a 40-foot-square building and one of the few structures on campus to withstand the devastation of the 1906 earthquake that wrought havoc on the Farm several years later. Over the course of the next decade, Quelle continued to churn out publications bearing the Stanford University Press mark from his quake-resistant, campus print shop, thus fulfilling the fourth and final provision that Jordan had put to the Stanfords upon accepting his position as university president.
Were it not for Jordan’s vision and Quelle’s industriousness there may not have ever been a Stanford University Press.
Even during the period of financial hardship that dogged the university in the years after Senator Leland Stanford’s death, President Jordan remained committed to the operation of Quelle’s press and the importance of his work. As Quelle recalled later in life, “Dr. Jordan told me the University would always need a printing office” and that though funds were tight, he urged Quelle to continue on and offered to “do what he could personally” to make sure the Press stayed open. The regard between the two was mutual—Quelle held Jordan in such high esteem that he counted him as the “greatest mind I ever knew.”
Not until after Jordan’s tenure as president did the university buy Quelle’s print shop, thus inaugurating a new era in the Press’s history; all the same, were it not for Jordan’s vision and Quelle’s industriousness there may not have ever been a Stanford University Press. Yet, 125 years later, the publishing house that got its start in the campus powerhouse is still going strong, supporting and refining scholarship that both extends and challenges prevailing views and disseminating new knowledge of all types around the world.