Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snarls & Backlashes with Finn Featherfurd: The Long & Twisted History of the Outer's Family of Magazines

In 1901, Milwaukee's Dan Starkey (1862-1949) founded the Northwestern Sportsman Publishing Company and launched a new outdoor magazine called The Northwestern Sportsman. A former newspaper editor, Starkey was particularly attracted to the outdoors, so he launched a magazine focused solely on fishing and hunting in the upper Midwest -- which at the time was still called the Northwest. It included the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Northern Ohio all the way over to Colorado and Montana.

In a major coup, the magazine lined up one of the most important angling voices as the day as its fishing editor -- James Heddon of Dowagiac, Michigan, one of the leaders in the bait casting revolution and maker of some of the finest fishing tackle of all time. Heddon wrote a monthly column on bait casting and other notations on fishing in the region. He covered tournament casting in detail during a very important time in tournament casting history.

Alas, The Northwestern Sportsman was not very successful, and lasted only from 1901to 1907. That year, the magazine was rebranded and renamed Outer's Book. It took on a national focus and immediately grew in popularity, becoming one of the top five or six sporting magazines in America. It attracted a lot of quality writers including O.W. Smith, Samuel G. Camp, Charles Frederick Holder, Robert Page Lincoln, and Sheridan R. Jones.

The most famous contribution by Outer's Book to American culture came in February 1910, when it published the first popularized version of the Paul Bunyan myth -- a myth that was soon expanded upon to take its place among American legend and lore.

The newly renamed magazine carried the name Outer's Book from 1907 to 1917, when the publication incorporated the old and established magazine Recreation, which was founded back in 1883. To reflect this change, it was rebranded in 1917 as Outers' Book Recreation, which remained its name until 1919. It changed its format from a compact 8" x 10" to an oversized 9" x 12" and became very slick in look. Easy to overlook is the moving of the apostrophe to after the "S" in Outer's.

The problem was that Outers' Book Recreation is an awkward name, so in 1919 it was rebranded for a fourth time. From 1919 to 1924 it was called simply Outers' Recreation. The slogan for the magazine was now "The Magazine that Brings the Outdoors In" and they continued with its oversized formatting. It was in this period that the magazine became known for its gorgeous covers.

IBut the tinkering was not done. In 1924, the magazine was renamed for a fourth time, this time taking the title Outdoor Recreation. Very little changed from the previous incarnation except the name, and it still had amazing covers and high quality writing.

The end for this magazine with the convoluted history came in 1927, when it merged with the established magazine Outdoor Life. Interestingly, the new Outdoor Life prominently carried the masthead "Outdoor Life which is Combined with Outdoor Recreation" for the first year or so. This notation became smaller over time until 1931, when the subtitle was so small on the cover as to be almost meaningless. The January 1932 Outdoor Life cover is the first that did not carry the "Outdoor Life which is Combined with Outdoor Recreation" tag, although the magazine continued referring to it until 1936. Also of interest is that it appears that Outdoor Life adopted far more of Outdoor Recreation's style than vice versa. It was only after the merger that Outdoor Life began to distinguish itself from its major competitor, Field & Stream.

Regardless of its name, the Outer's Family of magazines were high quality publications -- especially during the years when Sheridan R. Jones was editor. NFLCC member Joseph R. Hilko has written a charming biography of Jones which has a lot of information on Outer's Recreation and Outer's Book in it. It's one of the best biographies of an outdoor writer I know of.

I have always found this family of magazines to have some of the best articles on tackle history and some of the best ads around. Early copies of this magazine are very, very rare and very difficult to locate.

What follows is a synopsis of the various name changes of this fascinating publication.


OUTER'S BOOK: 1907 - 1917





-- Finn

Finn Featherfurd is the pseudonym of a sad and lonely retired professor and newspaper columnist who has spent the better part of the past four decades (unsuccessfully) chasing fish in the Lower 48. A long-time collector of vintage fishing tackle of all kinds, he is currently fascinated by pre-1920 children's fishing reels (40 yards and smaller). When the spirit moves him, he will contribute occasional pieces and essays to the Fishing for History Blog. He can be reached at

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