Biography of William R. Smith

One of the fine buildings bordering the State Capitol grounds at Topeka is the Kansas State Printing plant. That is the official headquarters of William R. Smith, state printer, and also secretary of the State Printing Commission and chairman of the School Book Commission of the state. Doubtless any citizen, and particularly a printer, would deem it an honor to be at the head of an establishment which experts pronounce to be the equal in mechanical equipment and operating effieiency of any commercial printing establishment in the country.

When Mr. Smith went into office on July 1, 1915, he brought with him a ripe experience, including an extensive service in all the grades of the printing business, years of editorial and newspaper publishing work, and perhaps best of all an inheritance and training in the progressive Kansas spirit.

When the advancement of the welfare of the state is concerned, W. R. Smith can always be found in the ranks of the workers and usually among the leaders. The influence for good he has exercised as an editor in various sections of the state can hardly be overestimated.

While his life has been distinctive in more than one particular, he is in every sense a typical Kansan. He was born at the old land office and capital, Lecompton, March 21, 1872. His grandparents, William L. and America C. (Barton) Smith were Kentucky peoplo who moved west in 1854, the year the Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed through Congress, and they located at Lecompton, the historie capital of Kansas Territory. Both grandparents died in Lecompton. George W. Smith, father of the state printer, was a native of Kentucky and was a lad when he arrived in Kansas Territory in the spring of 1854. He afterwards went to Lawrence and learned the wagonmaker’s trade, and while there passed through and was one of the survivors of Quantrell’s raid. He never applied himself much to his trade, but for the greater part of his active career was engaged in merchandising. At Lecompton he married Frances Tipton, and there he and his wife spent their lives and died in old age. Their three sons are still living: William R.; Dr. Roy O. Smith of Rifle, Colorado; and Dr. J. C. Smith of Beloit, Wisconsin.

Reared in Lecompton, William R. Smith attended the public schools and Lane University, and as a boy he learned the printer’s trade on the old Lecompton Monitor and the Lawrence Daily Democrat.

He had not yet reached his majority when he was first called to public service. Grover Cleveland in 1893 appointed him postmaster at Lecompton, but he held back the commission until he passed his twenty-first birthday and then qualified. He was postmaster at Lecompton more than four years. In the meantime he had founded the Lecompton Sun, and continued its editorial management while postmaster, and altogether conducted it for about nine years. At the spring election immediately following his twenty-first birthday he was also elected mayor of Lecompton, an office he filled with credit for two terms.

After leaving Lecompton Mr. Smith was for two years foreman for the Mail and Breeze of Topeka, was editor and publisher of the Manhattan Republic two years, for another year was editor of the Fraternal Aid at Lawrence, and he then bought the Garnett Plaindealer and the Garnett Eagle, both republican papers, and consolidating them as the Eagle-Plaindealer continued the publication of this republican paper for about five years. His next venture in journalism was at Ottawa, where with others he was associated in the operation of the Ottawa Herald. Later for about five years he was owner and editor of the Fort Scott Republican, and while at Fort Scott was appointed United States census enumerator for the Second Kansas Congressional District. His last newspaper work was as editor and owner of the Columbus Advocate, which he conducted for five years.

Then in 1914 he was elected state printer and took charge of the splendid plant at Topeka in July of the following year. He went into office at a critical time in the history of the state printing plant. Its capacity was texed to the utmost, and there was a contract to deliver over 140,000 schoolbooks within six weeks. The full force of the plant was put in operation night and day, and in thirty days the book presses turned out over 2,000,000 impressions. Other departments were operated at similar speed, and the textbooks were all delivered on time.

The Kansas State Printing Plant is an institution worthy of some special record. It is the largest printing plant between Chicago and Sacramento, and its equipment and methods of operation have been taken as a model for other states. It has on its payroll 120 employee, and during the ten years of its operation has saved about $75,000 annually on the state’s printing. It is now producing schoolbooks at 60 per cent of the prices formerly charged by Eastern book companles. Perhaps the highest praise of the institution has been spoken by Governor Capper, who is himself a printer and publisher of national prominence. He has declared that Kansas has a plant equipped with machinery equal to that of any commercial printing concern in the country and that the standard of efficiency and service is very high. His opinion as a publisher is that the mechanical work on the textbooks issued from the state plant is equal to that of any printing establishment in the United States.

Kansas has been operating its own printing plant since July 1, 1905. The Legislature of 1913 appropriated $150,000 to purchase additional grounds, enlarge the plant, and install equipment necessary for schoolbook making. The wise expenditure of this fund has made the plant second to none in point of efflciency and equipment in the Middle West. While the printing of state documents has thus been done for a number of years, the introduction of a department for the printing and publishing of school textbooks is comparatively recent. It was T. A. McNeal, former state printer, who paved the way for state publication, and his successor, W. C. Austin, installed the bookmaking machinery and produced the first Kansas books.

Mr. Smith is afflliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and some insurance organizations.

In 1904 he married Miss Bertha J. Spohr. They have one daughter, Louise. Before her marriage Mrs. Smith was teacher of domestic science in the Bradley Polytechnie Institute at Peoria, Illinois.



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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