Biography of George Woolsey Crane

After a long and useful career which made him one of the leading publishers of the Middle West, George Woolsey Crane died in Topeka January 30, 1913. For many years his name had meant much in Kansas. Several times he won victory out of defeat, and his career is an inspiring one because of the manner in which he triumphed over adversity.

The best estimate of his life and work is found in the words of a biographer who was also his intimate friend. The following is a quotation from an article which appeared in one of the Topeka papers after his death.

“The publishing house of Crane & Company bore the impress of George W. Crane. It was his house. It was built along lines marked out by him. It was always liberal and loved by the people of Kansas. The house was always fair, never grinding and contentions with creditors. It never lost its friends and no house in Kansas today is so widely known or better loved than the house of Crane & Company.

“It had a reputation far beyond the bounds of the state. It is the oldest publishing house in the West, and not only the State of Kansas but the entire West owes George W. Crane a deept debt of gratitude. He published more books about Kansas and the West than any other man. On some of the books he lost money, but he became a thorough Kansas man with a love for the West and his adopted state. He published the statutes of Kansas for thirty-four years.

“There is not a lawyer in Kansas who is not familiar with the name Crane. Around the publishing house established by him gather many memories of Kansas and the West. It had had to do with Lane and Robinson and John Brown. It had published the works of John Speer, Eugene F. Ware, James W. Steele, Henry King, Henry W. Inman, W. E. Connelley, and other prominent Kansans.

“It was George W. Crane who demonstrated to the people of Kansas and the big book trusts that just as good, if not better, school books could be produced right here in Kansas, and this house carries a large line of school books at the present time.

“He was a man of public spirit and it is doubtful if there is a single subscription paper for the betterment of Topeka in the last forty years without his name and all he could possibly afford to give standing opposite. His father Dr. Crane was of the same temperament and disposition, and donated land and money to every different enterprise which would help to build up the city. When the question of bringing the Santa Fe shops came up, it was Dr. Crane who donated five acres of ground which are now occupied by the freight house, yards, and a part of the shops. Dr. Crane owned the district bounded by Sixth avenue, Monroe street, First street and Klein street, and since Dr. Crane’s death George W. Crane had given hundreds of warranty deeds to poor people who could not finish paying for their lots.”

George Woolsey Crane was nearly seventy years of age when he died. He was born at Easton, Pennsylvania, April 25, 1843. His father, Dr. Franklin L. Crane, was a prominent surgeon and dentist at Easton until he joined the Topeka colony in 1855. He helped to make Kansas a free state, and became secretary of the Topeka Town Company. It was largely due to the influence of Doctor Crane in this position that Topeka was laid out with the beautiful wide streets and avenues it possesses, the work of surveying the town being under his direction. When George W. Crane was an infant his mother, whose maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Howell, died. Both parents were of Puritan stock and their ancestors fought in the Revolutionary war.

After the death of his mother George W. Crane lived with an aunt in Canada until March, 1865, when he came to Kansas. His father and three brothers had served in the Civil war in Kansas regiments and were located in the state at that time. While in Canada George W. Crane studied and worked four years in an institution which taught scientifically the arts of gardening and floriculture. A love of this profession remained with him to the end of his life and was evidenced about his residence where could be seen beautiful shrubbery and fine flowers winter and summer.

On arriving in Kansas he went to Fort Larned and for a year clerked in the store of his brother, Jesse H. Crane, who was post trader at Fort Larned. From there he came to Topeka when he was twenty-three years old, and began his career in that city endowed with a good education, and in accordance with the banking custom of those days had the usual belt, in which he carried $500 in gold, which at that time was sufficient for a good start for a young man. During the first three years he cultivated a market garden on land where now stands the Santa Fe depot.

Then in November, 1868, he began business as book binder and blank book maker in partnership with J. Y. Byron. In the summer of 1869 he bought one-third interest in the Daily Commonwealth, and was manager of that newspaper under the firm name of Prouty, Davis & Crane until he seld his interest. In the meantime he continued a member of the partnership of Crane & Byron. The entire stock of that plant was destroyed by fire in November, 1860. The business was renewed in a few months, but in the fall of 1873 the Commonwealth Building burned and Mr. Crane’s business was again wiped out. The loss in this fire was $47,000 with an insurance of $29,000. Mr. Crane re-established the business at once, this time alone, and by 1888 had built it up as one of the largest publishing houses west of the Mississippi River and had secured an immense trade in the blank book business. In 1888 he organized the George W. Crane Publishing Company to continue on a large scale the business of printing, binding and publishing. At that time the factory was the largest between Chicago and San Francisco. Again there came a destructive fire in February, 1889, completely destroying the plant, and the loss above insurance was about $135,000. Before the fire the company had occupied the entire Keith Block. The business had grown so rapidly that a very large debt had been incurred in the purchase of new machinery and other expenses incident to removal to the Keith Block in the fall of 1888, and the loss was so heavy that an assignment for the benefit of the creditors was necessary in May, 1890. The business was carried on by the creditors with George W. Crane as manager until 1893, when satisfactory settlements were completed, and from that time until 1895 he was sole owner of the business. In order the better to carry on his extensive business while reorganizing it Mr. Crane resided temporarily in Kansas City. As soon as he was able to secure a good building and re-establish himself in Topeka he did so, and in 1895 the business was incorporated under the name of Crane & Company, with George W. Crane as president, his brother D. O. Crane as vice president, and his son Frank S. Crane as secretary, treasurer and superintendent. Since then the business had had a highly prosperous career, and had steadily grown until it is one of the largest and best known institutions in the West, owning its own four-story building 50 by 150 feet, and having assets of over $200,000.

In the words of the article above quoted, “it will be seen that Mr. Crane suffered constant reverses in business, none of which came through any fault of his own. It was misfortunte rather than reverses that came upon him, but he was not discouraged. Few men would have so persistently gone on with the business under such adverse circumstances. It required courage, recuperative powers and a genius of high order to build up the great business which Mr. Crane left.”

In June, 1870, Mr. Crane married Ella Rain, daughter of Silas and Minerva Rain. Mrs. Crane died in April, 1881, leaving two children, Frank S. and Edna. The daughter Edna married Charles L. Mitchell, and she passed away in 1904. In November, 1882, Mr. Crane married Miss Fannie Kiblinger, a cousin of his first wife.

George W. Crane died as he had lived, cheerful, comforting, consoling those about him, instead of grieving or complaining. Death had no terrors for him. Politically he always took a lively interest in city and state affairs, voting constantly with the republican party but never consented to hold office. In 1893 he was nominated by his party in the Legislature for the office of state printer, one for which he was eminently qualified and he lacked only one vote of election, receiving many more votes than his party controlled.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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