Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William O. Brown of the Vindicator

William O. Brown as a young man

The beginnings of The Vindicator and its history is wrapped up in two families, the Maag family and the Brown family. William O. Brown often seems to be left out of the histories I’ve seen of The Vindicator, I think, because he was never one of the publishers. But he was the key link of the passage of Vindicator ownership and leadership from the Maag to Brown families.

He was the grandson of Nathaniel E. Brown, a founder of the Brown-Bonnell Iron Works in Youngstown. Brown himself was born in Portsmouth, Ohio March 29, 1876 and moved with his family to Youngstown in 1878. The family lived in Brown’s grandfather’s home. He graduated from Rayen High School in 1897 and worked with the Ohio Steel Company. He began working at The Vindicator in 1902 and on September 9, 1903, married the daughter of the publisher, William F. Maag, Sr., Alma M. Maag. Brown’s marriage formed the link in this publishing dynasty.

William O. Brown started his work at The Vindicator in the advertising department. While working in advertising he worked tirelessly with large advertising accounts including General Motors and established the paper’s reputation with advertisers. At one point, he was called “Ohio’s Amon Carter.” Amon Carter was a famous Texas publisher. During World War I he served as a captain and ordinance officer in the National Guard.

He became business manager, treasurer and secretary upon William F. Maag, Sr.’s death in 1924. During World War II, he demonstrated his business acumen in making sure the paper always had a good supply of newsprint, which often had to be transported from Canada. In 1945 he became president of The Vindicator while continuing as business manager until his son William J. Brown took over the position in 1955.

Brown had a variety of interests. He was a champion pistol shot and treasurer of the Youngstown Rifle and Revolver Club. He also was a vociferous reader, especially of Dickens, Rider Haggard, and Conan Doyle. He was a foodie, and loved discovering small restaurants with special dishes.

William O. Brown later in life. Photo from The Vindicator, February 23, 1956.

Late in life he had serious heart problems and was confined to his home after December 1954. He died on February 23, 1956. When Brown came to The Vindicator it had a circulation of 15,000. At the time of his death, daily circulation was 100,000 and Sundays 140,000.

When William F. Maag, Jr. died in 1968, William J. Brown became publisher. He passed away in 1981.  Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president and her son, Mark Brown general manager. They continued to serve in these roles until The Vindicator ended publication on August 31, 2019, to be succeeded by a new Vindicator owned by the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

William O. Brown began three generations of Brown family involvement with The Vindicator. He helped build The Vindicator into a nationally known paper and his tenure spanned 54 of his family’s 117 year history with the paper. An editorial tribute appearing the day after his death said of him:

The Vindicator was his life and in more than half a century there were few days when he was not at his desk. The men and women who get out the paper were all his friends, and even in his last illness he ran the risk of setbacks to be among them.

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