Frank R. Howe had a remarkable run as a publisher.
For more than 75 years, he operated a Summit County company that supplied printed materials to customers across North America.
Like so many of the colorful tracts that rolled off Howe’s clanking press, his life story was an interesting read.
Frank Richard Howe, the son of Isadore and Henry W. Howe, was born Dec. 20, 1862, on South Broadway next to the Old Stone School in downtown Akron.
Howe’s family was prominent and highly influential in Northeast Ohio.
His father, Henry — an attorney, councilman and school board member — became the namesake of Howe School near Bartges and Bowery streets. His grandfather, Richard Howe, resident engineer of the Ohio & Erie Canal, built the 1836 brick home that stood for nearly 175 years at East Exchange and South High streets before being moved a few blocks west in 2008 to serve as the headquarters of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Center.
Living next to a school meant a young pupil never had a good excuse to be late for classes. As Frank Howe sat in that little classroom on Broadway and laboriously practiced the alphabet, his life’s work was cast.
Howe was 9 years old when his family moved to Richfield Township. A few years later, the Howes pulled up stakes again and settled in the Cuyahoga Valley hamlet of Ira.
When he was 14 years old, Howe learned that a villager had a used printing press for sale. The boy couldn’t stop thinking about that wonderful, clattering contraption, and although he didn’t have any cash, he just knew he had to buy it.
He didn’t ask his parents for money. He earned it.
Howe picked grapes on the family farm at Ira and Riverview roads, filled a horse-drawn wagon with fleshy fruit and carted the produce to Peninsula, where he sold the entire load for $14.
That was just enough money to buy the printing press, which the enterprising young man brought home and set up in the family’s barn.
“That first outfit was the crudest hand-operated contraption you could imagine,” he told the Beacon Journal decades later. “I started out setting type by hand — a habit I have never outgrown.”
In 1886, he established a small business — the F.R. Howe Printing Co. — that allowed him to serve as his own boss for the rest of his long life. Howe attended the Hudson Academy and paid for tuition with profits from printing jobs, but business became so strong that he dropped out of school to devote his full-time attention to publishing.
In a manner of speaking, though, he never really left school. His early work included the printing of supplies for teachers. He expanded the operation to include report cards, class records, merit cards and diplomas, which he designed himself.
Boasting “All kinds of printing at the lowest rates,” the F.R. Howe Printing Co. mailed advertisements across the country to prospective customers. The business sent catalogs to thousands of post offices, which delivered them to local schools.
“It wasn’t long before the campaign started paying off,” Howe said.
He filled orders as they arrived. At first, he received $1 a day in the mail. That grew to $2 and then doubled to $4. Before he knew it, the country printing office was receiving $50 a day in orders.
In 1889, Howe moved his printing operation to Darrowville, a farming community overlapping the Stow-Hudson line on Route 91, and established a second business, the School Publishing Co.
He also took on a “business partner,” marrying Darrowville girl Nina Danforth. The newlyweds worked side by side in the shop, filling orders, setting type, printing documents and mailing brochures.
In addition to report cards and diplomas, Howe printed church bulletins, religious tracts, play handbills, entertainment programs, community notices, small books, magazines and pamphlets.
According to an 1898 profile in A Portrait and Biographical Record of Portage and Summit Counties, Ohio (A.W. Bowen & Co., Chicago): “Mr. and Mrs. F.R. Howe are publishers of The Children’s World, a journal devoted to rhetorical exercises in the public schools, beside all grades of school aids. Their business has grown to large pretentions and some mail days their output reaches to fifteen sacks of publications. Their business comprises mail business entirely, and the grade of the work is first-class and indorsed by all the practical educators.”
A decade later, historian William B. Doyle wrote of Howe: “His office is equipped with two large cylinder newspaper presses, two job presses, a power paper cutter, folder and binder, all of which are run by a gasoline engine. His publications include a small newspaper, The Entertainment, which issues specialties for Friday afternoon exercises at the public schools and thousands of amateur plays.”
By the early 20th century, the company was mailing 100,000 catalogs a year.
Howe, who earned the nickname “The Darrowville Printer,” considered the designing and printing of report cards as his most successful undertaking. Hundreds of thousands of them were created in his shop and can be found today in family scrapbooks, attic trunks, desk drawers and other places where keepsakes are saved.
Frank and Nina Howe were married for nearly 40 years before her death in 1929. Howe continued running the Darrowville business and was blessed to find love a second time in his late life.
Howe was 70 years old in 1933 when he married Lizzie Searles, 66, a former classmate from childhood. It was her first marriage.
“I have known Miss Searles for 60 years, and have always liked her,” he told the Akron Times-Press. “When we went to school together back in Richfield Township, I was fond of her but she had no use for me because my hair wasn’t dark. Lizzie always seemed to be partial to dark-haired boys. Now my hair is gray.”
The couple moved into her Akron home at 471 E. Market St., where Howe opened a printing shop at Market and Adolph Avenue. The business continued there for 13 years before Howe’s second wife passed away in 1951.
He returned to Darrowville, where he resumed printing at 1465 Norton Road. He was 89 years old.
“He regrets the fact that business has been declining lately and he hasn’t enough orders to keep him busy,” the Beacon Journal reported. “But Frank Howe isn’t giving up. He devotes many hours every day to mailing advertisements all over the country and faithfully fulfills any orders he obtains.”
“The Darrowville Printer” was 90 when he died Dec. 27, 1952, at his home after a year of failing health.
Howe was survived by a son, Henry, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was buried at Akron’s Glendale Cemetery under the shadow of an obelisk in the Howe family plot.
Howe’s shop equipment was donated to Hudson High School to establish a printing department. It was time to give the kids a chance at learning a wonderful trade.
Printer’s ink ran in Howe’s blood. He was in business for 75 years, a remarkable accomplishment in printing that is unlikely to be duplicated.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.