Beadle in Nebraska

Erastus F. Beadle (1821-98), best known for his Dime Novel series launched in 1860, left Buffalo, New York, in March 1857 to seek his fortune in the new Nebraska Territory. He was already a successful publisher in partnership with Irwin Beadle, his brother, and Robert Adams. But in 1857 he left his business and headed for Omaha, then called Omaha City, intending to make his fortune in real estate and resettle his family in the West.

Beadle kept a diary of his 1857 journey that covered the period from March 9 to October 1. It reveals that he had made one previous trip (during the fall of 1856) to Nebraska Territory. The particular venture that interested him in 1857 was the development of a new town to be called Saratoga, located between Omaha and Florence, where hot springs were considered a prime attraction. Beadle became an employee of the town site company, appropriately named the Sulphur Springs Land Company, and promoted the new town, for which he was to receive a free lot and an undisclosed amount of money.

Beadle’s interest was in the development of the town of Saratoga, not Omaha, but he lived in Omaha, and for a period of time, used it as his base of operation. He boarded in the home of Experience Estabrook, U.S. attorney for the territory, and took the opportunity to mingle with members of the political and cultural elite that visited there and to observe firsthand the discussion of important territorial political issues.

However, Beadle lost interest in the Saratoga project as the booming real estate market began to sag and rumors of financial distress spread. He resigned from the town site company and filed preemption papers on another site west of Omaha that he called Rock Brook Farm. He hoped to resettle his family at Rock Brook Farm, but an ensuing financial panic prevented this. Most of the territorial banks collapsed.

By October 1857 the Saratoga project was ruined, and the town site was deserted. Omaha had lost three quarters of its population, and there was general financial distress throughout the territory. The panic was made worse in eastern Nebraska because of the lack of hard money. Beadle left the territory with almost nothing except his claim to Rock Brook Farm, which he later sold. He returned to his family in the East and reentered the publishing business with his brother and Robert Adams.

The two Beadles and Adams in 1860 launched the Dime Novel series, focusing on the struggles of American pioneers. The Dime Novel format was only one of more than fifty different publication formats produced by the publishing house of Beadle and Adams, but it is the one for which Beadle is best remembered. The 321 dime novels (and later the New Dime Novel and Half-Dime Library formats) were such a success and in such demand that they revolutionized the publishing industry and reshaped the reading habits of millions of Americans. Beadle died a millionaire on his estate at Cooperstown, New York, in 1894.

(November 2008)

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