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Immigrants published millions of books

At top, women workers in the binding room of the Book Concern in the 1930s (larger image); center left, men and women at work in the book binding room of the 1920s (larger image); center right, the ABC building in the 1910s (larger image); bottom, typesetting at ABC, with foreman C.A. Larson (larger image). Cases of type are on the right, and already set blocks can be seen on the tables. (Augustana College Special Collections)

80% of titles from the ABC were in Swedish

At the turn of the 20th century, Sorensen Hall was the home to a vibrant Swedish immigrant publishing house known as the Augustana Book Concern (ABC).

Founded in 1889, ABC served as the official publishing house for the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod until its 1962 merger with the Lutheran Church of America. As a consequence of this merger, ABC was absorbed by the Board of Publications in Philadelphia, which was part of the Lutheran Church of America. In 1967, Augustana College purchased the building which had housed the ABC and renamed it North Hall; in 1975 it was renamed to honor retiring president C.W. Sorensen.

ABC's main publication focus was to supply the Augustana Synod congregations with religious texts such as bibles, hymnals, choir music, and Sunday school literature for children. In addition, ABC published an array of Swedish-American literature, poetry, historical works, and reprints of Swedish national literature.

Another significant ABC genre was religious and literary serials for both adult and young-adult readers. Among the more widely distributed were Prärieblomman Kalender, a literary Swedish-American calendar, the illustrated Christian monthly magazine Ungdomsvännen for a younger audience, and Korsbaneret, an annual biographical calendar.

Beyond its local bookstore in the building at 7th Ave. and 38th St., ABC also had stores in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Furthermore, ABC distributed books in Europe, Africa, and Asia, often as part of the Augustana Synod's missionary work.

During the years 1889-1915, ABC printed 3.9 million volumes of which 80% were in the Swedish language. It was not until the 1920s that English-language titles outnumbered those in the Swedish language. This shift coincides with the beginning of a general "Americanization" of the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

In its early phase, ABC's business grew rapidly and the newly erected Italianate three-story brick building at 7th Ave. and 38th St. was extended with an annex after just a decade. Additional expansions followed to meet the increasing publishing demands of the Augustana Lutheran church body in North America. The final addition in 1959 included a three-story addition on the north side and matching new modern brick siding for the original structure.

The expansion and remodeling was completed just three years before the Augustana Book Concern was absorbed by the larger publishing house and began to downsize its business in Rock Island.

For further reading on the history of Augustana Book Concern please consult:

  • Blanck, Dag. Becoming Swedish-American: The Construction Of An Ethnic Identity In The Augustana Synod, 1860-1917. Uppsala : Ubsaliensis S. Academiae; 1997.
  • Brolander, Glen E. An Historical Survey Of The Augustana College Campus. Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Historical Society, Augustana College, 1985.
  • Nystrom, Daniel. A Ministry Of Printing: History Of The Publication House Of Augustana Lutheran Church, 1889-1962, with An Introductory Account Of Earlier Publishing Enterprises. Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Press, 1962.
  • Swenson, Birger. My Story: Immigrant, Executive, Traveler. Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Historical Society, 1979.

The Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College collects and preserves Augustana Book Concern publications and also has several archival collections related to the history of Augustana Book Concern.