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Arrowsmith Printing: Entreprenuership in Small Town Iowa in Mid /Century

Updated on March 27, 2014

Two Young Parents Take Risk: Find Their Bliss

In 1948 Fritz and Marjorie Arrowsmith took their 2 children Micheal 7 years and Margo 6 months and moved halfway across Iowa with no car, $100 in the bank and $6500 in debt. The printer and former high school journalism student took on the job of reviving the weekly newspaper, The Solon Economist, that served Solon and its surrounds, including little towns, bigger cities and many farms.

Note: I am the 'little Margo' of this lens. Fritz and Marjorie are my parents. This lens is a tribute to them, for being the kind of parents, the kind of business people, and the kind of risk takers who made this country great. I was so happy to make this my first lens to honor them and to anchor other lenses about small business, the passion that I inherited from them.

September 22, 2008

The American Dream: Fritz Arrowsmith's Story

How a Poor Country Boy with No Money Did It

Fritz Arrowsmith was raised in Bayard, Iowa and was considered poor in a poor community. Raised by his great-grand-mother, at age 7 he began his first endeavour, picking up coal from the railroad tracks so they would have something to burn in the stove during cold Iowa winters. He worked through high school, but also played (leather helmet) football and basketball. He could have had a scholarship to play for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but didn't have the $10 to register for school.

He met Marjorie when they were both 18 and it was love at first site. They married 6 months later. Her brothers laughed. At each anniversary Orval would laugh and say, "You keep this up and I will have to admit I was wrong!" They were still holding hands on their 69th, just before Marjorie died.

He was too old to be drafted for WWII, but enlisted anyway. Marjorie worked in a factory, he was a bombardier who was stationed in New Mexico and trained others.

After the War they settled in Council Bluffs, Iowa, had their second baby and settled into a nice house with the help of the GI Bill. Fritz crossed the Omaha, Nebraska to work at a daily newspaper in Omaha.

But Fritz was restless and Marjorie was there to help him. They found an ad for a struggling newspaper in Solon, Iowa, a town of 200 people; found a banker who liked them enough to lend two inexperienced young people with no money $6500, what was then a lot of money, and off they went to make their dream.

The Girl Next Door Finds Her Prince - and Helps Create a Kingdom

Marjorie Byrd was the middle of five children. Her father worked for the railroad, which meant that during the depression, while she only had 1 skirt and two blouses for 4 years of high school, there was food on the table every day for everyone.

It also meant that they moved a lot and she was shy. She was 'woman athlete of the year' in one high school playing basketball, track and doubles volleyball. But she was shy and typically prudish for the day.

But when she spotted a grocery clerk who had all the good looks of a Hollywood star, making orange juice at the July 4, fireworks, she did something very out of character. She went up and said, "Too bad you don't squeeze anything besides oranges"

Good thing she did because he was shyer than she and although he had his eye on her, he would have never asked her out.

They were married 6 months later. She waited five long years for Micheal, then went to New Mexico with her husband during the war. It took seven more years to get Margo. Then she and her prince settled down in a nice house in Council Bluffs.

But her man wanted his own newspaper and when they found one they could afford and a banker who liked them, she picked up stakes with him and moved into a life of long hours, but satisfying work. She loved being a housewife, but considered herself Fritz's partner in all things.

She was a very creative woman who wrote columns and was the social secretary for much of the town of Solon, Iowa. She also made the dress you see in the pictures, with a daughter dress for Margo. Good thing, however, that she and Fritz shared the housework, very unusual for the 1950s!

Getting Down to Business

Dreams aren't fantasies, they are putting the pedal to the metal.

The work was hard, but this couple was willing and able to do it. Solon, Iowa in mid century was a friendly and safe place, so 'it took a village' to raise the kids. Michael was old enough to play all day, when not in school, and Margo, the only baby in town was never without people who wanted to play. Although the work was hard, they were the bosses so when either child needed attention, they could stop and attend with love and attention.

But there were 18 hour days, 6 and sometimes 7 days a week. The first year was the hardest as they learned the business. Fritz had been an apprentice printer, starting out in weeklies for $3.00 a week. It was the depression then, and he was thrilled to have a job where he could earn a trade. Marjorie made $1.50 in the local grocery. Neither had any business training or experience in publishing a paper. But Fritz always wanted to be his own boss and Marjorie was a creative and social woman who enjoyed writing and getting out to meet people.

Fritz was publisher, Marjorie editor, with a weekly column. But when the crunch came, they both did everything, including selling advertising, the lifeblood of the business. Selling meant walking all through the town and taking buses to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. You should know that Iowa winter were often below zero and they didn't even count the wind chill on the flat land in those days. They were tired, but happy.

Solon was a friendly town and they also managed to make some close friends and had lots of good times. Jim and Gina Wilson, remained close long after they left Solon and Whit, the principal and his wife, and Dr. Jean and her husband were in the social circle. Pot lucks were popular and when Fritz and Marjorie got the first TV, their apartment above the shop became a gathering place. They were also able to get away, with the kids, to the Sunday gatherings at the Wilson's Cedar River cabin.

Fritz Was the Chief Linotype Operator, but Marjorie Could Run the Monster Also

Fritz Was the Chief Linotype Operator, but Marjorie Could Run the Monster Also
Fritz Was the Chief Linotype Operator, but Marjorie Could Run the Monster Also

Fritz and Marjorie at the Linotype

This Monster Was the Greatest Innovation Until the Computer

In Arrowsmith Printing, Video Part 3 Fritz tells us about this machine; the complications and dangers of using it. We learn that this monster was an essential part of the newspaper history. It was the evolutionary link between hand typesetting and offset. Offset is now outdated.

As Margo, the daughter in the family, what I remember about it is the oft repeated phrase: "Don't touch the linotype!" I had access to the entire shop, but knew that this machine was especially important and not for little fingers and play.

In part 7, he introduces a character who lost his arm to the machine and tells us how the man ultimately triumphed, after a fashion.

What It Looked Like Before Computers!

Thanks to Mike Amidon for sending me this picture.

Here we see 'the galleys'. This is what came out of the linotype. The lead 'pigs' went into the linotype, where the operator would type in the stories. Each line had a separate piece of type. After proofreading, any mistake would be retyped and then replaced in the 'galleys' as you see them here.

And they did this each and every week. Big city papers did it several times a day.

Fritz Arrowsmith, at 91 Paints a History of the Newspaper Business - The hard work, the hardware, the rewards and challenges.

These videos are part of a series wherein Fritz remembers aspects of the business. If you see him start to choke up, it is because he remembers the love of his life, Marjorie, who died 3 years ago after 69 years together. They worked together, raised kids together, kept a home together. In this case togetherness was a good thing.

Note: See below for information on the surprisingly inexpensive and easy to use camera that I used to make these videos.

Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

It Took a Village

And Solon, Iowa Was Certainly That

Fritz and Marjorie's two children Micheal and Margo settled into the small town.

Margo spent a lot of time in a playpen in the shop or (believe it) on the sidewalk while her parents worked. She slept, played with toys or was entertained by the townspeople or her parents who took breaks to be with her. Sometimes someone would just come and take her to the park. No one ever dreamed there could be any danger there. And there wasn't.

Michael was able to play anywhere he wanted around the town. It was small and everyone kept an eye on the kids.

As the kids got older, Margo was able to walk on the Main Street and go into stores. The post master would stop his work when she entered the Post Office to play for a little while.

It got a little harder for Michael. The dark side of mid century was that tolerance and diversification were not common values. As he got older, the kids realized that he was the only Protestant in a town of Catholics. There was a lot of teasing and some bullying. But he was a good athlete and found friends.

Throughout it all, Fritz and Marjorie, being their own bosses would stop whenever one of the children needed them. The kids grew up in and around the family business much like many of the kids on the surrounding farms. The town just offered more adults to fill in.

Fritz Gives Tribute to Marjorie

She Breaks Their Rule About Controversy

The Arrowsmiths wanted a paper that was just about local news. High school sports, store openings, neighborhood parties were the fair of the Solon Economist, Wilton Advocate and Durant News. The townspeople and farmers needed, loved and used it to help knit the community closer.

However in 1959, something happened that got Marjorie to change the long standing policy. Wilton and Durant were going to abolish girls' basketball! Enjoy Arrowsmith Printing video #5 where Fritz proudly talks about how she went into action!

The picture is of Marjorie in the uniform she wore for Perry High School in 1932. She was so passionate about the importance of girls' sports because she was an athlete long before Title 9, when female athletes were rare! She won part of her cause because she had become a very good writer.

Note: She played 3 court ball. In 1959 girls were playing 2 court. No one thought they were strong enough to play like the men. In video #5 Fritz puts that lie to rest!

Iowa: Great Place to Grow Up

And of course, like the farm kids, they were also put to work in the business as it became age appropriate. When the family moved to Wilton, Iowa to take over the Wilton Advocate and then the Durant News, the kids became more part. Michael went to football (or basketball or track) practice and to practice for the high school play, but on Wednesday nights he was at the shop helping to get the paper 'to bed'.

Margo, 7 years younger, was sent to the local movie theater with 26 cents. This covered admission, a bag of popcorn and state tax. Years later, in another town and another business, she was also given jobs and the 'salary' of 50 cents an hour.

Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who helped make this the "Lens of the Day" 9/22/08! There are so many great lenses to choose from.

Dad was tickled and Mom would have been thrilled!

On 9/25/08 this lens hit #1 in Business and #11 overall on 10/5/08! Thanks so much!

The Wonders of Squidoo

I received this comment yesterday. I don't know how he found the lens. But here is the exchange.


Mike Amidon wrote


My family purchased the Solon Economist from your parents in about 1952. I think my dad was as passionate about running a small town weekly as Fritz was. So I grew up in Solon too and went to school there with my 2 brothers.

I remember having to help print the Economist every Wednesday night. My mom fed the big sheets of paper into the printer. Dad created the stories on the linotype machine. My brothers and I ran the machine that folded the papers.

My older brother Phil wrote a goofy column that described life in Solon from the perspective of our cat Durwood. I still have a few old copies of the Economist stored away.

Father Carl Clems, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic church, would stop by every Thursday morning to read his copy in the office. We lived in the apartment upstairs. We sold the Economist in 1961 and moved to Iowa City.


Dad was so pleased to hear this, it got him and me, thinking about more, I replied:


Margo_Arrowsmith wrote...

in reply to Mike Amidon I remember Father Clems also, he was great friends with Mom and Dad and I used to sit on his lap and play with his Irish Setter, Calancy! The Catholics in town were a little offended, but Mom and Dad, who were very respectful of the clergy, thought they he liked the fact that they talked with him like he was a regular person. They were the only ones in town who did that. He must have been very lonely there and appreciated them.

So we lived in the same apartment, you and I. Were Mom's green picture drapes still there? She made them in between putting the paper to bed and taking care of kids!

Thanks for taking me back and reminding me of more! I can't wait to share this with Dad.


Then today there was this:

Mike Amidon wrote


Don't recall the drapes. Of course, I was only 6. Things I do remember about Solon:

Listening to the loud talking coming from the American Legion at night in the summers when we had our bedroom windows open.

Wednesday night band concerts across the street. My brother Phil played the trombone. The ladies sold kolaches and they kept glass bottles of pop in large round metal animal feed bins, filled with ice to keep the pop cold. All the cars would honk whenever the band finished a song. Enjoyed watching drunks leave Kessler's tavern and stagger down the street.

Riding my bike out to Lake McBride to go swimming. In the winter, we'd go ice skating on the lake and take some of the Solon kids with us.

Shopping for school supplies at the Shop Rite store (owned by George Florshinger (sp?)).

Finding half-smoked cigars behind the American Legion and sneaking down to the creek to north of town to finish 'em off.

I have some photos I could send as well via email.

I answered:

in reply to Mike Amidon Later today I am going to make a separate module for your comments, and anything you choose to ad.

I was 5 when we left (1953, not '52) so I don't remember the cigars, and while I remember the band concerts, I don't remember the specifics.

I do remember the grocery store. I would go in by myself, under five, and the owner would let me take what I wanted. Mom and Dad went over and asked them to teach me that that wasn't right. They just thought I was cute and wanted to give, Mom and Dad wanted to teach me.

The Solon Economist Today: Still a Family Based Business! - Kudos to Them for Maintaining the Integrity of the Paper

and the spirit of small business! Makes my heart sing!

The Greatest Generation - Fritz and Marjorie Were Two of the Best Examples

These books by Tom Brokaw are about the generation that saved us from fascism, the Arrowsmiths certainly did their part. And then they built the country back from the depression and war to end all wars.

And of course, there is the book about the children of the Greatest Generation.

"Is This Heaven?" ..."No, Its Iowa" - Field of Dreams

I had lived away from Iowa for many years when I saw Field of Dreams. It's a great father/son or just family movie. But when Shoeless Joe stepped out of the cornfield and asked, "Is this Heaven?" he was told, "No, its Iowa." My heart leaped, because in spite of the cold. cold winters and hot, hot summers, Iowa is a little Heaven.

The Music Man A Colorful Picture of Old Iowa - "There is something to say, about the Iowa way we treat you....

....when we treat you which we may not do at all"

Actually Iowans are very friendly, but this song from The Music Man still feels like home.

"We can stand touching shoulders for a week at a time and never see eye to eye....

but we'll give you our shirts and our back to go with them, if you crops should happen to die"

Now THAT'S the Iowa I remember.

The Amazing Camera That Made These Videos - Inexpensive, Easy To Use.

I have made many promotional videos for local business people. They are always surprised when they see my little camera. They are always pleased and amazed at the quality that comes from that little orange box!

The videos of my father were all made with little gem of a camera.

The Old and the New - Some Things Changed, But a Lot Stayed The Same

Fritz talks with the young publisher of the Raleigh Ledger, S. Robinson. They talk about the differences, but mostly the similarities of publishing newspapers from mid century 20th to the 21st century

Fritz bought one of the first Polaroid cameras. Not having to wait for film to be developed for stories was a boon to business!

Fritz bought one of the first Polaroid cameras. Not having to wait for film to be developed for stories was a boon to business!
Fritz bought one of the first Polaroid cameras. Not having to wait for film to be developed for stories was a boon to business!

Solon, Iowa in the spring. - A currect resident shares the joys of spring with her family

Those winters are long, but it just makes spring all the sweeter.

Fritz and Marjorie's Beloved Hawkeyes - Just Couldn't Talk About Fritz and Marjorie without the Hawkeyes

They were both great sports fans and especially backed the Hawks. It didn't matter how busy they were or how cold it got, they never missed a game! I know for a fact they were both cheering like crazy watching this game.

This video 'The Stand' reminds me of their spirit.

All Things Arrowsmith - Its Fun to Find Things With Your Name

Check the Street Sign, You Can Get That With Your Name!

Arrowsmith [VHS]
Arrowsmith [VHS]
Really great old movie, Ronald Coleman's voice is worse the price!
ARROWSMITH Street Sign ~ Personalized Family Lastname Sign ~ Gameroom, Basement, Garage Sign ** ALUMINUM
ARROWSMITH Street Sign ~ Personalized Family Lastname Sign ~ Gameroom, Basement, Garage Sign ** ALUMINUM
As cool a name as Arrowsmith is, you can also get this with your own name. Get two!

Fritz Arrowsmith A Living History of the Newspapers

Mom and Dad ate it hot from the oven with butter!

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 30 min
Yields: 20


  • 3 c. flour
  • unsifted
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla


  1. Grease two 9 x 1 1/2 inch layer pans; line bottoms with waxed paper. Sift together dry ingredients into large bowl. Stir in mayonnaise. Gradually stir in water and vanilla until smooth and blended. Pour into prepared pans. Bake in 350 degree oven about 30 minutes or until cake springs back when touched. Cool completely. Remove from pans. Makes 2 layers.
Cast your vote for Mom's Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

I share all messages with him. He is amazed by this internet thing, but also excited that he is now part of it. And truly touched that his dear wife is remembered here.


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