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Weekly 150

J. Frank Barlow: Newspaper and Printing Visionary

Posted 1/7/20

Continuing on the rich history of The McKenzie Banner, I felt it necessary to tell the tale of an owner who modernized our newspaper. J. Frank Barlow purchased The Banner from Harry and Vida …

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Weekly 150

J. Frank Barlow: Newspaper and Printing Visionary


Continuing on the rich history of The McKenzie Banner, I felt it necessary to tell the tale of an owner who modernized our newspaper. J. Frank Barlow purchased The Banner from Harry and Vida Williamson and revolutionized the newspaper and printing industry in this area. His movement away from hot-metal type was key to revitalizing and aesthetically improving The McKenzie Banner.

Jeremiah Franklin Barlow was born in Cass County, Texas on May 10, 1902, to Charles and Cornelia Martin Barlow. When Frank was 13, his father was killed when a railroad tank car exploded in Texarkana, Texas.

With little formal education, J. Frank attended business college where he learned spelling and rapid calculation. He could do mathematical equations faster than most people could put them down. One of his expressions was, “I ain’t got no education so I gotta use my head.”

Barlow’s first love was printing. Someone gave him a small printing press and some metal type which he set up in a chicken coop in the backyard. Several years later he opened a “job shop” (print shop) in Syracuse, New York.

July 6, 1928, he married Anna Elizabeth White. Her parents were John Thomas White of Springfield, Tennessee and Elizabeth Sabin of Westfield, New York. The Whites were school teachers with degrees from Illinois College in Jacksonville. They had settled in the lumber-railroad towns of Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas.

During the Great Depression, Barlow became a truck driver for Greyhound Moving Line and Nu Car Hauling out of Chester, Pennsylvania.

In 1941, he built a house, store building, and garage in DeKalb, Texas. Barlow was known for his mechanical ingenuity and handiness. After ordering and studying a pamphlet, he was able to install electricity and indoor plumbing to the home.

During World War II, he began working in a nitrate plant. Suffering from asthma since he was 14 (following an explosion at a sulfur plant in Texarkana), he was forced to leave the nitrate plant as his breathing condition worsened.

Looking for a career change, Barlow chased after his dream of owning a small-town newspaper. He studied every book he could find about the newspaper industry. On January 1, 1945, he purchased the Dresden Enterprise from Joe L. Holbrook.

After three years, he sold the paper to the Burroughs Brothers, Incorporated. Barlow moved the family back to Texas and later to Alabama where he worked in a job shop. With newspapering still on his mind, he found his way back to West Tennessee.

On May 10, 1949, he bought The McKenzie Banner and moved to McKenzie. Barlow purchased the Dresden Enterprise a second time in November 1950. The two newspapers merged their printing into one large plant on Waldran Street.

When he first purchased the McKenzie newspaper, a contest was held in which the person who sold the most subscriptions to the paper received a brand new automobile.

In 1962, he was the first in the state to convert his printing operation to the offset printing method, gradually getting away from the hot-metal typesetting. (Offset printing is a technique where an inked image is transferred or “offset” from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to paper. The offset process is a lithographic process. The process is based on the repulsion of oil and water.)

J. Frank Barlow editorialized the story on the difficulty of making the transition:

We have continued to produce the newspaper in the same way that he produced it (referring to Joe Holbrook). Now we are changing to a new process, offset printing. It is the most revolutionary method of printing since Guttenberg. Let’s call it a picture paper, for that, is what we are trying to make it. Instead of casting metal type as we have done heretofore, a picture is made of the type and photograph. These production facilities will produce a newspaper which will be easier to read and which will contain more pictures and pictorial features.

During the past 17 years, we have enlarged our plant and made many improvements. Each piece of letterpress equipment had been replaced with new and more modern equipment. We expanded into another building to house the job shop where new equipment was added for the efficient production of high-quality commercial printing.

A couple of years ago we remodeled another building (located on Waldran Street in McKenzie) to house the offset press, camera, and dark rooms. Our struggle for the last two years to perfect this method has been enormous, but we think we are ready.

In McKenzie, Barlow was civic-minded and helped with industrial growth. He played a vital role in Gaines Manufacturing Company locating to McKenzie.

In spite of his asthma, he always had a cheerful disposition. His warm heart and kindness allowed him to have a special way with children. Barlow loved music and invariably had a funny story to tell.

With faith in his editors and staffers, the Barlows began wintering in the one place Frank’s asthma didn’t cause him problems, the Florida Keys. On April 1, 1968, Frank and Elizabeth made Florida their permanent home as they sold the newspapers to James Washburn and their son, Karl.

The Barlows built a home on Big Pine Key. In retirement, he became the local “fix-it man” helping neighbors with various problems around the house. He built several boat lifts from parts of old print presses he had retired over the years. One old small-job press was mounted in front of their home as a newspaper box.

On March 20, 1984, Frank died and was buried at Carroll Memorial Gardens in McKenzie. Elizabeth returned to McKenzie to be closer to two of her three children.


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