Browne Popular Culture Library

PCL MS-148: Henry Steeger Collection

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


Henry Steeger was a writer, publisher and collector of pulp magazines. Correspondence with other authors and collectors form the core of this collection.

Shirley Steeger transferred Henry Steeger's correspondence to the Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University, in November, 1996. The collection is open for research; however, photocopying or other duplication of manuscripts must comply with applicable copyright laws. This register was compiled by Kirk Richardson under the supervision of Jean Geist, Popular Culture Library Associate II in February 1997. This finding aid was updated in September 2009 by Patricia Falk.

Biographical Sketch 

Henry Steeger was born on May 26, 1903 in New York, N.Y. He received a B.A. from Princeton University in 1925 and completed graduate study at the University of Berlin in 1926. In 1928, he married Shirley Steeger and together they had three children: Henry, Susan Shirley (Mrs. John Hall), and Nancy Victoria (Mrs. Richard Jennings). Henry Steeger died on December 28, 1990 from bone cancer.

Returning from Europe in 1927, Henry Steeger landed his first job at Dell Publishing and was with that firm until 1929. His duties began as co-editor with Ernest V. Heyn of Famous Story Magazine. He was then reassigned to the post of assistant editor with Gene Clancy on War Stories Magazine and War Birds. Next, he started and edited Sky Birds and, after Gene Clancy's departure, took on the editorship of War Birds. Henry Steeger not only worked on pulp magazines, but he also found time to write non-fiction works such as How to Fly an Airplane and The Question and Answer Book. He was also made editor of The Funnies, which, according to him, was the first of the comic books.

In 1930, he left Dell and pooling his money and publishing experience with Harold Goldsmith began Popular Publications, one of the most successful and prolific publishing houses for pulp magazines. The first four titles published, in October, 1930, were Battle Aces, Detective Action Stories, Gang World, and Western Rangers. The print run for the first issues of the four titles was about 100,000 each. Battle Aces sold close to 80,000, and was the only one of the four books that made a profit in the beginning. The other three sold around 40,000 to 60,000 copies each. Still, it was not until Popular Publications began Dime Detective in November, 1931, that, according to Steeger, "the profits started rolling in," but even then Goldsmith and Steeger were able to see that there was "gold in them thar hills."

Steeger remembers Popular Publications began as a small, friendly business that was always full of a lot of kidding and joking. At times, though, it became a madhouse, especially when demand for pulps began to overwhelm the staff. In the beginning, there were only five employees, including Steeger and Goldsmith. The art director was Alexander Portegal, who designed all the magazines and bought all the art. One of the editorial people from Dell chose to come along with Steeger and Goldsmith -- Edith Symes -- and she was the one assistant. The final employee was a secretary who handled all the clerical work. During the heyday of their publishing, they occupied three floors of a building on the upper east side of Manhattan.

Steeger personally inspected and approved each phase of each magazine up to the final form before it went to press. In addition to this editorial and story work, Steeger selected every single cover they ever published (Portegal handled all of the inside art). To help him decide on the proper composition and color of each cover, he had an actual newsstand installed in his office. While editor, he made a study "in considerable depth" of every color in the artist's palette. He made all the various combinations possible and then studied them at various distances to note and study the eye appeal. He became aware of the fact, for instance, that the hot colors like reds and yellows appealed to men, whereas the cooler colors like the greens and the blues and the pastel colors appealed more to women. The magazine covers were planned accordingly and also the style of type was matched to the prospective purchaser. Men preferred block letters and women, seraphs.

Steeger found ideas for the pulps from everywhere. Star Western began at a friend's house one night at the dinner table when he was talking about a summer he had spent at a ranch out west. The Spider came about on a tennis court, where Steeger was playing tennis and noticed a large member of the species walking along at the edge of the court. Dr. Yen Sin started deliberately in the office because "Sin" seemed like a significant word, and it was sibilant in addition. Ace G-man Stories came right out of reading the newspapers one morning; Horror Stories and Terror Tales came from having watched the Grand Guignol in Paris. Gang World came from watching a movie, and The Octopus came one day while taking a shower.

Such proliferation of ideas led to a huge subscription and publication base. An examination of their subscriber's list reveals President Harry S. Truman and renowned gangster Al Capone as both receiving their magazines through the mail during the same years; Truman subscribed to one of the gangster pulps and Capone to one of the westerns. Before the demise of the pulps in the mid 1950's, Popular Publications had introduced well over 100 titles into the field, including Ace G-man Stories, Ace-High Detective Magazine, Argossy, Adventure, Thrilling Mysteries, Captain Satan, The Black Mask, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Four Star Love Magazine, .44 Western Magazine, Rangeland Sweethearts, Romance, Western Love Romances, and many more.

Scope and Content 

The Henry Steeger Collection houses correspondence with Nils Hardin, the founder, publisher, and editor of Xenophile.

Researchers interested in the pulp genre will find this collection useful.

Series Description 

Correspondence, Literary
1975, 1976
Arranged chronologically by date of postmark


Box 1
1Correspondence with Nils Hardin1975, 1976
2Miscellaneous Newspaper Article1977

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