Little Blue Books Series. Appeal of Reason, 1921
Special Collections: Hale Library
Kansas State University
Before Emanuel Haldeman-Julius’ Little Blue Book pocket-series in 1921, owning a private library or book collection was a rich man’s game. Born 1889 in Pennsylvania to poor Russian immigrants, Haldeman-Julius had an almost fanatical admiration for books, but his family’s financial problems made them difficult to obtain. In later reflections of his childhood, he reminisced, “seeing a book I could not afford to buy was worse than being hungry and looking at a bun in the bakery window.” Cheap books printed by socialist presses were the only source of affordable literature in the early twentieth century, and Haldeman-Julius was enticed to join the movement for this very reason. By 1915, he became the chief editor of the popular socialist newspaper Appeal of Reason, printed in Girard, about 125 miles south of Kansas City. However, due to the unpopular anti-militarism stance of socialist leaders during World War I, ‘socialism’ was quickly becoming a dirty word in the American lexicon.
Under Haldeman-Julius’s leadership, the Girard newspaper press began printing Little Blue Books; 3½ by 5 inch booklets of world literature in the 1920’s. The extremely cheap heavy-grade paper that held the pages of the booklets together happened to be blue, hence the name “Little Blue Books.” Radical pragmatic stylistic choices for the booklets were made to fit entire literary works into an average of just sixty-four pages. Thousands of Little Blue Books were printed every day in Girard and sold for just twenty-five cents a piece through a mail-in subscriber system. This efficient marketing strategy soon gained Haldeman-Julius the nickname “The Henry Ford of literature.” The subjects of the booklets range from classic literature and philosophy to modern self-help manuals. Some of Haldeman-Julius’s publications divulge into taboo subjects, such as the two most popular titles of 1927: What Every Married Woman Should Know and What Every Married Man Should Know, which are instruction booklets on recreational sex and enjoyment that mark the advent of the sexual revolution. Haldeman-Julius also printed the first edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. On the opening fly-leaf, a small dedication announces “For the Working Men of America”. “Working Men”, in fact, were the target audience of the entire Little Blue Book series. The affordable and compact booklets ensured easy transportation, storage, and cheap access to literature, intentionally designed to fit in one’s pocket during a busy workday. The books articulate Haldeman-Julius conviction that social justice and enfranchisement of the working class was brought about only by providing better opportunities for everybody to educate themselves.
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