William Eerdmans arrived in the United States in 1902 as a Dutch immigrant. He headed for Grand Rapids, Michigan, probably because it was known as the center of nineteenth century Dutch immigration, and also as a center of Calvinism. He was the son of a Dutch textile manufacturer, and as such he probably did not arrive as a pauper. It is not clear whether he intended to study for the ministry upon his arrival in the United States, but several years after his arrival, he ended up as a student in the Calvin Theological Seminary, the seminary of the conservative Christian Reformed Church, which then still had strong ties with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
While a seminary student, Eerdmans was able to support himself as a peddler of books, probably to his Dutch American customers. He was apparently more successful as a book peddler than as a seminary student, and in 1911 he decided to give up his seminary studies and become a full time book dealer. Eerdmans with his partner, Brant Sevensma, formed the Eerdmans-Sevensma book dealership, specializing in theological textbooks. The Dutch, at that time, were known for their interest in theological topics, and the two partners’ choice of theological books was probably based on that premise.
The partnership did not last long. In 1915, Sevensma left, and Eeerdans continued as sole owner of the renamed William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. The term publishing in the company name indicates that Eerdmans was not going to be just a book dealer, but also a book publisher. Many of the earliest Eerdmans publications were theological works by European theological scholars, and the earlier ones were printed in the Dutch language.
As the interest of his contemporaries was in Calvinism, it is not surprising that Eerdmans’ earlier publications were on and about John Calvin, the theological philosopher. The firm’s major early publication was a new printing of the 50-volume, “Commentary of John Calvin”, published at a cost of $ 300,000, an enormous sum for that time period.
For about the first 20 years of Eerdmans’ book selling and book publishing operations, its business was the only one serving the market for religious books with a Calvinist orientation. But it the early 1930’s, a competitor appeared, literally in their proverbial back yard. The Zondervan brothers started their religious-oriented book selling and book publishing business in the Grand Rapids area. I am sure their arrival was not met with enthusiasm by Eerdmans, especially since one of the Zondervan brothers had worked for Eerdmans for a number of years. And several years later, in 1939, Herman Baker, another Dutch American compatriot began his religious-oriented book selling and publishing business, also in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
With all the competition, Eerdmans continued to do well during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. Over the years the firm published books by such well known authors as C. S. Lewis, Karl Barth, Richard J. Neuhaus, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw, Martin Marty, Rowan Williams, Joan Chittister, and Dorothy Day, among numerous others.
In 1966, William B. Eerdmans, the original founder passed away. He was succeeded by his son, William B. Eerdmans, Jr., and under the new leadership, the high literary and intellectual standards were maintained by the company. The focus and mainstay of Eerdmans publishing output have been biblical and theological reference works such as commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, and handbooks. In the late 1990’s, Eerdmans published, “The Encyclopedia of Christianity”, a translation of the acclaimed German reference work, “Evangelisches Kirchenlexicon”. And in the year 2000, Eerdmans published, “Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible”.
Grand Rapids, http://library.thinkquest.org/C005615/data/english_text/rapids2.html
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