A NUMBER of years ago there lived on a small farm in Danville (now a part of Auburn),
Androscoggin County, Me., a boy who from his childhood had a passionate liking for everything pertaining to the
printer’s art. That boy was Mr. P. O. Vickery, who was destined to become one of the greatest publishers and largest
advertisers in the world. Becoming dissatisfied with the toil and hardship of farm life, at sixteen years of age
he took an academic course, and fitted himself to be a teacher. Instead of that he entered a printing office as
an apprentice to the printing business, which he followed until the breaking out of the Civil War, when he entered
the Union army and served in the war with distinction. Returning to Augusta, at its close, he opened a small job
printing office and continued in this business for some years.
Being naturally ambitious and desirous of bettering his condition, Mr. Vickery was continually studying the question
of publishing. After much consideration of the subject he concluded that the vast body of people was almost entirely
unsupplied with light literature. There were some high-class magazines and bound novels for the wealthier, and
another class of literature of a highly sensational character for others; but light fiction of merit for the common
people did not exist. He believed that a monthly story paper of good literary merit, adapted to the tastes of the
great middle class, would not only be popular, but would prove a good investment.
Inspired with this idea he began, in 1874, the publication of Vickery's Fireside Visitor, which, within a couple
of years, had attained a circulation of 165,000. With the wonderful growth of the paper’s circulation, which was
greatly aided by the advertising which he scattered broadcast, the business grew proportionately, and it became
necessary to vacate the large leased building which he then occupied, to move into a large publishing house which
he built for himself in the year 1879.
Meantime the citizens of Augusta, mindful of the push and energy which he was showing in his own business afiàirs,
and wishing to show somewhat of their appreciation of him as a man and fellow.citizen, had elected him, five consecutive
years, Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, to the City Council one year, and to the Board of Aldermen two years.
In 1878, in view of the fact that “his reputation and financial success have been achieved by integrity, fidelity
to business trusts, and vigilant and persevering industry,” he was elected one of Augusta’s Representatives to
the Maine Legislature, and re-elected in 1879. In 1880 and 1881 he was elected Mayor, with large majorities, and
in 1882 without opposition. While he was thus rapidly mounting the ladder of political success, Mr. Vickery’s publishing
business grew to such an extent that he was obliged to retire from the political arena and devote himself entirely
to his publications. At this time his only daughter married a young physician, who had recently graduated at Long
Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, and who had come to Augusta to settle professionally. Dr. John F. Hill is a
descendant of one of the oldest of the York County families, who are famous for their perseverence, strict integrity,
and industry, and he has these characteristics.
Doctor Hill, who has since held high offices under the State, entered into a co-partnership with Mr. Vickery, and
their extensive publishing business has so developed that it has recently (1893) been incorporated, the vastness
of the work rendering a corporation preferable to a simple partnership. Since this union of forces the business
of publishing has developed with striking and wonderful rapidity. Commencing on the same lines of success as marked
the career of the Visitor, there were successively established Happy Hours, Hearth and Home, and Good Stories,
papers designed for home reading for families wherever the English tongue is spoken. The continual growth of this
wonderful business led to the enlargement of the building then used, which was rendered necessary by the continual
growth of the printing plant necessary to do the work. At length the limit of floor room was reached and a new
departure became necessary.
With his usual energy and enterprise, Mr. Vickery at once began to prepare to abandon the magnificent lot of presses
which were then working on his papers. In visiting Europe he had watched the inception of the idea of the mammoth
rotary press, and the progress made by fast web presses in this country had not escaped his attention. The daring
project of coupling the celerity of the perfecting press with the fine work necessary for cuts and book work entered
his mind. For some time experiments were made and the machines abandoned. Press manufacturers everywhere told him
that he was dreaming of an impossibility; that he could get either great speed or very fine work in a press, but
not both. Undaunted by these cold words, Mr. Vickery sought out a Scotch manufacturer, who had located in America,
and whose ability and invention kept pace with the publisher’s desire. In less than a year the old plant was abandoned
and sold, and the new giant, rotary-cut, perfecting press stood working out ioo,ooo papers, like Frank Leslie’s,
every working day. No one but a printer can appreciate the dazzling magnificence of this accomplishment. Since
then the business has continued to grow, and within a year a second press of the same kind has been added. These
presses, though not so rapid as some of the great newspaper presses, are a wonderful combination of speed, accuracy,
and print in the highest perfection of the printer’s art; work that no newspaper press could do or even attempt.
Paper is taken from the roll and delivered printed, folded, and ready for the wrapper.
It is an old saying that “Peace bath her victories no less than war,” and creditable as is the fact that Mr. Vickery
abandoned the walks of peace and went forth to fight at his country’s call, by far the greatest honor in his record
is the fact that in the pathway of peace and industry he has been an untiriug leader; that though but fifty-seven
years of age, he to-day stands the most successful publisher in New England, if not America; that in the successes
of business he has found time to cultivate his mind and to enjoy the rational rewards which come to the successful
man. He is known and respected by all of his fellow-townsmen, who appreciate the fact that, notwithstanding his
wealth, position, and successes, he is always to them simply the neighbor and good friend, living simply and unostentatiously,
with a hand ready to help his fellow-man or less fortunate neighbor; and ever ready to lend his assistance to push
on any work or enterprise of a public nature with both brain and capital. Of such citizens, reflecting, as they
do, honor on the State, Maine may well be proud.
Mr. Vickery entered the printing business at sixteen years of age, and is now fifty-seven years old.