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 the Rayen 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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William F. Maag, Sr.

william f maag sr

William F. Maag, Sr at the time he was elected to the Ohio Assembly. Photo via New York Public Library Digital Collections

With the passing of the “old” Vindicator on August 31, 2019, there have been many stories of the family who owned the paper through most of its history. William F. Maag, Jr. has received a great deal of attention. He was editor and publisher of the paper from 1924 until his death in 1968. His initials form the call letters for WFMJ radio and TV. Maag Library at Youngstown State is named after him. Maag opened in my last year at Youngstown State and quickly became a favorite place to study. However, not only would there not have been a William F. Maag, Jr. Without his father, there is a good chance that there would have been no Vindicator.

William F. Maag, Sr. was born in Ebingen, in the state of Wurtemberg in southern Germany on February 28, 1850. At age 14, he was apprenticed to a printer. Three years later, before completing the four year apprenticeship, he came to America, settling first in Milwaukee working for The Daily Herald, a German paper, then moving to Watertown, Wisconsin, working for another German paper. It was there he met his wife, Elizabeth Ducasse, marrying her in 1872. After several years with another German paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he came to Youngstown in 1875 and purchased the Rundschau. The name could be translated “magazine” or “review” but also could be translated “panorama,” “wide view,” or “full view in all directions.” Under Maag, it performed that function in two ways as the only German language newspaper between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and by drawing on correspondence from throughout Germany, giving a “panorama” of German news.

The Vindicator was started in July of 1869 by J. H. Odell as a weekly. The paper passed through a succession of owners up until 1887. At about that time, they tried a twice daily paper which struggled financially. A fire in the newsroom led to the paper being put up for auction. Maag was there, putting in what turned out to be the only bid, even though he didn’t want to purchase the paper. He actually didn’t really have enough money to make a go of it alone and entered into a partnership with John H. Webb, who had both the money, and a pleasing writing style. Webb became president and Maag treasurer and business manager. They launched a daily in 1889. In 1893, they built the Vindicator building, installed new equipment, and began a long history at Boardman and Phelps.

In the early days, The Vindicator shared offices with the Rundschau, which Maag continued to publish until 1917, around the time of America’s entry into World War I. On September 28 of that year, the Associated Press reported the suspension of the Rundschau from being published “on account of misunderstandings which frequently arise through German newspapers.”

Maag not only set The Vindicator on a firm financial footing. He was elected for a term to the Ohio Assembly. He served as a presidential elector in 1912, a trustee of the Glenwood Avenue Children’s Home and was active with the Masonic order. He continued his active leadership of The Vindicator until days before his death on April 10, 1924. The Vindicator for that date described him as “dying in the harness.” He was 75 years old.

His son succeeded him in 1924, publishing the paper until 1968. When William F. Maag, Jr. died, William J. Brown succeeded as publisher and president. When he died in 1981 Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president. Soon, her son Mark Brown took over as general manager, a position in which he served until the paper ceased publication on August 31.

Sad as the ending of this family dynasty of publishing The Vindicator is, it might be encouraging to remember that were it not for William F. Maag, Sr., and a lone bid at an auction, we would not be talking about a paper with a 150 year history, but one that was only a minor footnote in journalistic history, lasting a mere 18 years.