Celebrating 25 Years of MHM Press
If you’ve ever read a Missouri History Museum Press book, you can thank Mary Plant Faust, a local philanthropist and the widow of Leicester Busch Faust (grandson of brewer Adolphus Busch and restaurateur Tony Faust). Back in the mid-1980s, Faust came to the Missouri Historical Society with an idea: Someone should create an illustrated history of St. Louis that could serve as a more accessible counterpart to historian James Neal Primm’s rather scholarly Lion of the Valley, published in 1981.
Enter Charles van Ravenswaay, the Boonville, Missouri, native who served as the Society’s first paid director from 1946 to 1962 and later served as the director of the Winterthur Museum in Washington, DC. During his time in St. Louis, van Ravenswaay had conducted the research that formed the basis for Saint Louis: An Informal History of the City and Its People, 1764–1865. In 1989, van Ravenswaay supplied the manuscript—in the form of several hundred typed pages—to the Missouri Historical Society. When Faust reviewed the text, she threw her support behind the book wholeheartedly and committed $75,000 to ensuring a well-illustrated version of it would be published.
The result, published in 1991, was a 568-page, richly informative, and beautifully illustrated coffee table book that follows St. Louis from its birth as a fur trading post through its booming growth on America’s frontier up to the end of the Civil War. Van Ravenswaay’s 10 years spent poring over family letters, diaries, early manuscripts, newspapers, and secondary sources—combined with his gathering of oral histories from “individuals who had personal reminiscences or family stories to tell”—provide an anecdotal take on this ever-evolving city that reads much like a novel. More than 400 images from the Missouri Historical Society collections pepper the pages, drawing the eye and intimately connecting readers with the rich history of the city and its people.
The Society’s publishing efforts might have ended there if not for Faust who, as part of funding Saint Louis: An Informal History, had requested that all proceeds from the book be put toward funding future publications related to St. Louis and Missouri history.
Twenty-five years and more than 60 titles later, the Missouri History Museum Press has consistently focused on sharing perspectives of St. Louis and Missouri that you don’t tend to hear about in classrooms. Topics we’ve covered range from the Civil War to the 1904 World's Fair, African American history to immigrant history, vigilantism to sports, literary St. Louis to the city's architecture. Our most popular book to date—which has been reprinted four times—shares the stories of notable St. Louis residents buried within Bellefontaine Cemetery.
We’ve also published books in numerous formats, including biographies, memoirs, art and photography books, and children’s books. Recently we’ve expanded our offerings even further:
As we look ahead to the next 25 years, we're working on our first interactive eBook, Captured and Exposed: The First Police Rogues' Gallery in America (April 2017) and planning future publications that will resonate with our readers and highlight our shared history. If you'd like to support these efforts, please consider becoming a member of the Missouri History Museum. Have a book idea you'd like to share? Please review our author guidelines.
Here's to the next 25 years of the Missouri History Museum Press!
—Jen Tebbe, Editor