Joseph Charles Benziger
Founder of Catholic publishing house of the same name (1762-1841)
Benziger, JOSEPH CHARLES, founder of the Catholic publishing house that bears his name, b. at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 1762; d. there, 1841. In 1792 he started a small business in religious articles, but he soon felt the effects of the French Revolution. The French invasion forced him to take flight with his family, and for about a year they resided at Feldkirch, Austria, where his eldest son, Charles, was born. In 1800 they returned to Einsiedeln, which had been devastated by pillage and army requisitions. All Mr. Benziger’s modest fortune was gone, but with redoubled efforts he set about repairing his losses, and started in business as a bookseller. He was made president of the county, and his credit and personal financial sacrifices proved of great help, especially during the famine of 1817. In 1833, Charles and Nicholas Benziger succeeded their father under the firm name of “Charles and Nicholas Benziger Brothers”, and two years later, in addition to their book publishing business began the lithographing of religious pictures, as well as the coloring of them by hand, before the introduction of chromolithography.
Charles Benziger, son of the founder, b. 1799, d. 1873, a man of unusual strength and energy, with a good classical education, devoted himself especially to the literary end of the business. In 1840 the “Einsiedler Kalender” was founded; it is still published and furnishes an interesting illustration of the development of the art of printing. “The Pilgrim”, a popular Catholic periodical established at the same time, lasted only ten years. Charles, too, took an active part in public life, and showed moderation and energy as President of the Canton of Schwyz. His health failed and in 1860 he retired from business.
Nicholas Benziger, brother of the preceding, b. 1808, d. 1864, who took charge of the technical part of the business, proved himself a pioneer, introducing to the mountain village of Einsiedeln a series of improved trades methods as they appeared from time to time in the great centers of Europe and America. Under his guidance the work of book-binding, which was formerly carried on in the family at home, was systematized. In 1844 the old hand-press was superseded by the first power press. Stereotyping was introduced in 1846; in 1856 steel and copper printing; and in 1858 electrotyping. In 1853, a house was opened in New York. By this time the two brothers had built up a business in Catholic books and prints that was known the world over. They also took an active part in charitable work, and started a fund for a hospital, which has since been erected.
On the retirement of Charles and Nicholas Benziger (1860) the business was continued by Charles, Martin, and J. N. Adelrich, sons of the former, and Nicholas, Adelrich, and Louis, sons of the latter. Under this third generation, the different branches of the house were still further developed, chromolithography and other modern printing methods being added. In 1867, the “Alte and Neue Welt”, the first illustrated popular Catholic German magazine on a large scale, was begun, and then appeared a number of illustrated family books of devout reading and a series of school books, including a Bible history in twelve languages, together with prayer books by well-known authors. Between 1880 and 1895 a fourth generation succeeded to the business, and the firm name was changed to Benziger and Company.
The house of Benziger Brothers in the United States was established in New York in 1853 by the Swiss house, but its development as a publishing house did not begin until 1860 when J. N. Adelrich Benziger (d. 1878) and Louis Benziger (d. 1896) took charge. In 1860, a house was opened in Cincinnati and in 1887 one in Chicago. The publishing of English Catholic books was vigorously undertaken, and today the catalogue covers the field of devotional, educational, and juvenile literature, besides works of a theological character. Since 1864 the firm has manufactured sacred vessels and church furniture. The American firm of Benziger Brothers is now independent of the Swiss house. The Holy See conferred on the firm the title “Printers to the Holy Apostolic See” in 1867, and “The Pontifical Institute of Christian Art” in 1888.
THOMAS F. MEEHAN.