If you have ever visited Silver Lake State Park you have probably driven through the small town of Mears. You may have seen the life size bronze statue of a man wearing a bowler hat which is usually adorned with a red necktie. It is a statue of Swift Lathers, a newspaper publisher known for wearing a blue shirt with a red tie who lived and worked in the small town of Mears. When I say “newspaper publisher” I am not referring to someone like William Randolf Hearst, who ran the largest newspaper chain in the nation. Rather, Swift Lathers ran what he himself claimed was the smallest newspaper in the world. He wrote, edited and printed it from his West-Michgian home.
Swift was born in 1889 and grew up near Detroit. His mother, an english teacher, taught young Swift at home for many years. He went on to graduate as a teacher from Michigan State Normal School which eventually became Eastern Michigan University. He also graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, but never took the bar exam or practiced law. He worked for a few years as a journalist in Dearborn before moving to the small town of Mears, located on the west side of the state between Ludington and Muskegon.
In 1914, Swift started his newspaper, printing it on a manual foot operated printing press. It was a small paper in physical size, only about five by seven inches. Originally he called it the Mears News but he changed the name to Mears Newz. When he first began circulating his newspaper he sold it for twenty five cents and was told that it would not last six months. A yearly subscription to the Mears Newz was fifty cents or one dollar for six months. He personally delivered his paper to local residents and mailed them to customers who lived further away. Eventually there were almost three thousand subscribers in several states, some as far away as Colorado.
At one point he was not able to keep up with circulation so he took his alphabetized list of subscribers and cut off everyone above the letter D and below the letter S. Swift was a rather eccentric person but also extremely intelligent and a master of the English language. He wrote many editorials speaking out for individual rights, the support of rural schools, and many other social causes. Charges were filed against him a few times to suppress what he published, but he successfully defended himself and the freedom of the press. One of the cases went all the way to the State Supreme Court in which he successfully argued in his defense. He published his paper for fifty six years until his death in 1970. The whole time he kept his annual subscription price to fifty cents. His home in Mears is now a museum.
Reminder: I will be at Charlin’s Book Nook in Frankenmuth on Sunday April 2nd from 1-4 signing books. I hope you can stop by and say hello.
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