Historic Structures

Open Court Publishing Company Hegeler Carus Mansion, La Salle Illinois

Begun in 1887 by the successful zinc manufacturer Edward Hegeler, Open Court Publishing Company was a forum for the open exchange of ideas. The company was one of the first academic presses in the nation. Early on, Hegeler was clear about the purpose of the publishing house, evidenced in a letter to B. F. Underwood:

What leads me in this undertaking is not so much a sense of liberality, as a desire to communicate my ideas to others, to see them further developed, and also to have them contested. I feel they will be strengthened by the contest, and look forward to it with pleasure. I will state here that I conclude from my reading, which is largely in German, that the ideas I put forward here, or similar ones, are already held by many. I wish the journal to be a mediator between the strictly Scientific and the progressively inclines world. The special feature must be to obtain the opinions and criticisms of the ablest men in the various departments of Science, on the opinions advanced by the journal, as to what is established by Science, and also in regard to speculations that are presented by the journal, if and the, how, they are in conflict with established facts. The character of the journal must be such as to win the confidence of these specialists, and no effort or money be spared to secure their cooperation.

Shortly after Hegeler began Open Court on the ground floor of the mansion, he invited German scholar Dr. Paul Carus to be managing editor. Like Hegeler, Carus was intrigued with the relationship between science and religion. Together they pursued the goals of the company which were to provide a forum- or open court- for the discussion of philosophy, science, and religion, and to make philosophical classics widely available by making them affordable.

The editorial mission of the Open Court Publishing Company's periodical, The Open Court, stated in 1887, was forthright and ambitious:

The leading object of The Open Court is to continue the work of The Index, that is, to establish religion on the basis of Science and in connection therewith it will present the Monistic philosophy. The founder of this journal believes this will furnish to others what it has to him, a religion which embraces all that is true and good in the religion that was taught in childhood to them and him.

The Open Court, while advocating morals and rational religious thought on the firm basis of Science, will aim to substitute for unquestioning credulity intelligent inquiry, for blind faith rational religious views, for unreasoning bigotry a liberal spirit, for sectarianism a broad and generous humanitarianism. With this end in view, this journal will submit all opinion to the crucial test of reason, encouraging the independent discussion by able thinkers of the great moral, religious, social and philosophical problems which are engaging the attention of thoughtful minds and upon the solutions of which depend largely the highest interests of mankind.

The Open Court Publishing Company established a second periodical, The Monist, in 1890. The Monist was among the earliest scholarly journals in America and was dedicated to technical and detailed philosophical issues. In the history of The Monist and The Open Court, some of the heritage of American scholarship is revealed. The early contents of these periodicals showcase the giants of an intellectual era. Early contributors often included representatives of a less scholarly, more religious orientation: E. A. Abbot, Theodore Stanton, Moncure Conway, and William Salter. The Open Court published articles such as "A Flaw in the Foundation of Geometry" by Herman Grassmann, "The Value of Doubt in the Study of History" by M. M. Trumbull, "Hiawatha and the Onandaga Indians" by Charles L. Henning, and "Is There More than One Buddhism?" by Anagarika Dharmapala.

As carriers of ideas, The Open Court and The Monist were designed to be transatlantic, carrying the best work done on both continents and bringing the best European thinking to America. Hence, many eminent Europeans are among early contributors: Ernst Mach, Henri Bergson, Cesare Lombroso, Henri Poincare, David Hilbert, and Levy-Bruhl. Dr. Carus also solicited contributions from Japan, China, and India. In addition, Open Court operated an office in London managed by the mathematician Philip E. B. Jourdain, aiding the press's intellectual reach.

Open Court Publishing Company faced a real challenge when the company began in 1887. First, there was an unshaped market for scholarly works -America did not have the grand system of higher education it has today. People who bought such works were professionals of some sort who also appreciated philosophy, science, and comparative religion. Second, Open Court was not affiliated with a church or with an established creed or doctrine so there were no faithful adherents or converts waiting to buy more works about their faith. In fact, Carus and Hegeler were actually working to build a constituency for their monistic philosophy at the same time they wished to sell Open Court and The Monist subscriptions and Open Court books.

Faced with these problems, Open Court was a communications innovator. Hegeler's financial subsidy was a boon to the company not only because it allowed editorial independence, but also because Open Court could take its time to find and nurture its market so the company did not have the pressure of securing immediate sales.

Under Carus's leadership, Open Court Publishing Company developed the "Religion of Science Library." This was a true innovation in publishing. During the 1890s there were a great many publishers putting together sets, series, collections and libraries of various kinds of books. These collections were mainly sets of directories and reference books along with sets of pirated English and French fiction. While the "Religion of Science Library" appears to have followed an extremely popular form of bookselling, Cams's library was actually designed for a more important purpose than quick commercial exploitation. Cams wanted to expound and extend the monistic philosophy. Sold by subscription and published bi-monthly, the "Religion of Science Library, by its extraordinarily reasonable price, will bring a number of important books within the reach of all readers."

The Library contained valuable works by German and French scientists, by Englishmen studying the import of Darwinism, and by Paul Cams. It also provided subscribers with inexpensive copies of standard philosophical classics by Aristotle, John Locke, Immanuel Kant and George Berkeley. This marked the first time in America that books written by some of the world's most productive thinkers were available to the common man. Cams's "Religion of Science Library" helped democratize important scholarly work. Open Court was the first press, for example to make available inexpensive and widely available editions of the philosophical classics.

Under Dr. Paul Carus's directions, the publishing company also produced works in ethnography, comparative religion, anthropology, philosophy, science, and mathematics. Titles published by Open Court Publishing Company during this time reveal this broad range: Celibacy and Its Effects on the Individual and Other Papers (Susan Channing), Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy (Bertrand Russell), Lectures on Elementary Mathematics (Joseph LaGrange), Egyptian Aesthetics (Rene Francis), The Philosophy of Ancient India (Richard Garbe), On Memory and the Specific Energies of the Nervous System (Ewald Herring), and The Science of Mechanics (Ernst Mach).

Open Court's early translations of Ernst Mach's works in English were, according to both Mach and to historian of science Gerard Holton, instrumental in furthering the intellectual tradition in the English speaking world of the doctrines of logical positivism associated with the Vienna Circle. Open Court Publishing Company was more than an attempt to establish a publishing business, and was much more concerned with presenting, defending, and refining what its founders believed to be a full, modern philosophy which would provide answers to problems in logic, science, and religion. Open Court Publishing Company fulfilled many of the scholarly duties which have subsequently been taken up by university presses.

Open Court Publishing Company's interest in comparative religion and in eastern religions made it an early bridge to the west for the writings of many eastern religious leaders. Shortly after the World's Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Paul Carus wrote the definitive Buddhist text, The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Texts. This book sold over three million copies and was translated into all the major languages of the world. Published by Open Court, this text was used in Buddhist seminaries in Japan to teach Buddhism.

John Tebbell 's magisterial work, A History of Book Publishing in the United States, notes Open Court's place in the galaxy of American publishers.

A house with a most unusual specialty was the Open Court Publishing Company, whose business was built on "slow movers," books that might take years to sell a large enough edition to pay their costs. Booksellers were not usually willing to stock such books, and Open Court had to do much of its selling direct, bypassing jobbers and agents.

Between 1888 and 1919, the firm published between four and eighteen titles a year. ... Open Court's list ranged widely over mythology and religion, philosophy, mathematics, biology and botany physics, sociology and economics, fiction and poetry, philology, literature and history, but most of the titles were in the first category. Hegeler meant to make his house, through its publications, a meeting ground for European and American culture, an aim he achieved.

The first active period of the Open Court Publishing Company lasted from its founding in 1887 to 1919. This corresponds to the initial idea for the company by Edward Hegeler and the career of Hegeler's son-in-law, Dr. Paul Carus, which ended with his death in 1919. A second period for the publishing company corresponded to the management of Mary Hegeler-Carus and the editorial direction of Northwestern University professor Edward L. Schaub from 1919 to 1936. One of the memorable books published by Open Court during this period was The Point of View: An Anthology of Religion and Philosophy Selected from the Works of Paul Carus, edited by Catherine Cook. This book was dedicated "to Mary Hegeler-Carus whose devotion to duty and loyalty to high ideals have made her an example to all women." Mary Carus was Paul's wife, and after his death, she established the Paul Carus Lectures. Created as a memorial to her husband, every two years a series of lectures is delivered by a distinguished scholar chosen by the American Philosophical Association. John Dewey, Morris R. Cohen, C. I. Lewis, Jacob Loewenberg, Richard McKeon, Roderick Chisholm, Carl Hempel, W. V. O. Quine, William Frankena, and Hilary Putnam, have been among the distinguished men and women who have been lecturers. Upon the death of Mary Hegeler-Carus in 1936, Open Court Publishing Company was managed by Mary's daughter, Mary Elisabeth Carus. The company's focus changed during this time. It continued to print, but the material published was mostly reprints of its former works adding new materials only occasionally. She did, however, continue the Paul Carus Lecture Series and added the Carus Mathematical Monographs produced in collaboration with the Mathematical Association of America. Also continued were the Open Court Classics printed in inexpensive editions, all pioneers among quality paperbacks in America.

Open Court revived its status as a world-class publishing house in the late 1950s and early 1960s when it developed and began publishing elementary school reading textbooks. Edward Hegeler's great-grandson, M. Blouke Carus and his wife Marianne, began Open Court Reading, Writing, and Real Math in 1961. In 1996, the textbook programs outgrew their resources, so SRA/McGraw-Hill purchased them. Since then, the reading and literacy programs begun by Blouke and Marianne have become one of the most effective and leading programs in American schools. The Open Court reading series is used as a single basal program in Baltimore, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and close to half of the students in California, among thousands of other schools.

In 1973, the Cricket Magazine Group was also begun by the Caruses. The company was determined to create a literary children's magazine that would appeal to a child's intellect and imagination. CRICKET magazine began offering top-quality children's literature and was soon followed by BABYBUG, LADYBUG, SPIDER and ten other specialty magazines for children of all ages.

In addition, Cricket Books is a division of Carus Publishing and brings the same high quality and standards of excellence to its books for children and young adults, as Open Court brings to academic scholarship, the Cricket Magazine Group to children's magazines, and Cobblestone Publishing to educational nonfiction magazines and books.

Open Court also renewed its status as a publisher of works in its traditional areas of interest during the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, The Monist was reborn with Eugene Freeman as editor, and currently continues under the editorship of Barry Smith. Also during this later time period Open Court Publishing Company purchased the Library of Living Philosophers series and added this significant collection to its booklist. This series presents intellectual autobiographies of the world's most important thinkers, along with criticism and responses to criticism by the subject of each volume.

The Hegeler-Carus Mansion reflects the heritage of this remarkable publishing house. The Open Court archives are currently housed at Southern Illinois University's Morris Library. SIU has over 20,000 items from Open Court Publishing Company, which they are cataloguing and making available to researchers interested in the history of this outstanding company. The basement of the Mansion is still home to the original printing plates and storage cases used at Open Court Publishing Company. Presses are also stored at the mansion. It is a goal of the Hegeler-Carus Foundation to maintain and showcase these outstanding artifacts so future generations will understand the legacy of this world-class publishing house.