bowker richard

Richard Rogers Bower

Class of 1868

Inducted 1998 Inaugural Group

Richard Rogers Bowker was a journalist, the founding editor of Publishers Weekly and a pioneer in the development of libraries throughout America.

He was born in Salem, Mass., on Sept. 4, 1848, but when the family moved to New York and its once-successful barrel-making business waned, plans for young Roger to attend Harvard had to be scrapped. Instead, he attended the Free School in 1863 and entered City College in 1866. There, he thrived.

He founded, edited, managed and published The Collegian, one of the first college newspapers in the country. He was instrumental in establishing a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, but was blackballed from membership by the school's president for his “radical” activities in student government and the student newspaper. Years later, the injustice was corrected.

After graduating with a B.A. in journalism, Bowker joined the newly established New York Evening Mail where he was city editor and literary editor from 1868 to 1874. From 1875 to 1878 he wrote a column for The New York Tribune and became manager of The New York Times in 1896. Between 1880 and 1882 he lived in London and managed the British edition of Harper's Magazine.

 bowker richard with annie and melvil dewey
Richard Rogers Bowker (left), with Annie Dewey and her husband, Melvil Dewey, in 1918.

In addition to journalism, he also became involved in publishing and book sales. He helped organize the first American Book Trade Show and, from time to time, represented several prestigious London and New York publishers. In 1872, Bowker and his friend and mentor, Frederick Leypoldt, launched Publishers Weekly, which became the nation’s most important book-trade journal. Bowker was an owner and the editor of the publication for 50 years.

In 1876, Bowker and Leypoldt met with Melvil Dewey to talk about libraries. At the time, the country had 3,647 libraries with a total of more than 12 million books. They operated on a subscription basis with no access to shelves and no children's sections. No uniform system for classifying books existed. Libraries were shifting from bound-volume catalogues to hand-written catalogue cards of varied sizes. At the meeting, the three men agreed to establish a library profession, to publish a library journal and to organize a national library association.

Later that year, Leypoldt and Bowker published volume one of the Library Journal. Dewey was managing editor. That first volume included an article on the new Dewey Decimal system of library classification. The three men organized the American Library Association in October 1876. The organization would be used as a model for many European countries. Bowker worked tirelessly on behalf of libraries for much of the rest of his life. He was a trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library from its incorporation in 1902 until his death in 1933, at the age of 85.