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Elbert Hubbard: An American Original - WNED | PBS

The Philistine

The Philistine, A Periodical of Protest

The Philistine From An American Original

The Philistine, A Periodical of Protest was initially conceived as a quirky chapbook of witty prose, irreverent commentary, and trenchant criticism. "We called it The Philistine," Hubbard would write, "because we were going after the 'Chosen People' in literature." Its audience at first was rarified. Copies of the first issue were sent to leading thinkers around the country with the hope that they would join East Aurora’s Society of Philistines.

Harry Taber, editor of the East Aurora Citizen, William Mackintosh, managing editor of Buffalo's Evening News, and Elbert Hubbard began publication of The Philistine in June 1895. The monthly magazine was first published at the Pendennis Press of the White & Wagoner Company on East Main Street in East Aurora where Taber worked.

In October, the name "Roycroft Printing Shop" was adopted. Harking back to the 17th century and the work of the bookbinders, Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, Taber is thought to have found the name in promotional material for a new "Roycroft type face" that he received from the American Type Founders.

Elbert Hubbard brought much needed capital to the operation. He soon bought the periodical and the press and kept Taber on as manager with a right to half the profits. The following February, Taber left town embittered. He claimed that Hubbard had taken his press, his magazine, his money, and his plans.

Though The Philistine was conceived as a literary magazine, publishing contributions from writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane and Leo Tolstoy, Hubbard eventually became its sole author. He used the monthly to speak his mind on business, politics, taxes, religion, education, medicine, and labor. More incisively, perhaps, he used The Philistine as a vehicle to market the Roycroft Shop and its handcrafted products.

As the March 1899 issue of The Philistine was about to go to press, Hubbard dashed off an opinion piece on the American work ethic in order to fill space. The issue quickly sold out. George Daniels of the New York Central Railroad placed an order for 100,000 copies of the untitled editorial in pamphlet form. It was reprinted with the title, "A Message to Garcia," a reference to Hubbard’s starting point for his argument, namely, Lt. Andrew Rowan’s successful endeavor in the Spanish-American War to carry a message to General Garcia in Cuba. Millions of copies of the essay were published and distributed.

"A Message to Garcia" made Hubbard a household name. By 1902, circulation for The Philistine reached some 100,000 subscribers. What was planned as a droll and irreverent literary magazine had become a journal of five-and-dime story philosophy and advertising.

The Philistine afforded Hubbard a soapbox on which to capitalize his charm. In his writings, he expounded views that had a ring of Biblical teachings, blending precepts of transcendental spiritualism and pure capitalism in a way that suggested a path to spiritual and intellectual liberation but at the same time underscored the importance of dutiful service. Hubbard had long learned how to endear himself and market his wares, selling people on both.

By 1914, Hubbard had become one of the most prolific and popular writers and lecturers in America. With war appearing imminent, he wrote in The Philistine, "Every writer, every orator – every reader and every listener – should think disarmament. Until disarmament comes we can never have a world of friends. The manufacture of deadly weapons by private corporations must cease…. Big business has been to blame in this thing … let it not escape this truth – that no longer shall individuals be allowed to thrive through supplying murder machines to the mob."

The Philistine was issued until Hubbard's death in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915.

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Funding for Elbert Hubbard: An American Original provided by The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation
Elbert Hubbard: An American Original is a production of WNED-TV