Herman Baker was the founder, in 1939, of Baker Book House, or also known as the Baker Publishing Group, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the present time, , the company has seven divisions, consisting of Bethany House Publishers, Revell, Baker Books, Baker Academic, Chosen, Brazos Press, and Cambridge Bibles. Although initially started as a strictly religious book store and religious material publisher, the company has evolved into a more general product line including children’s books, social studies oriented books, academic books, but most with a religiously conservative orientation.
Herman Baker came over to the United States in 1925, when his family decided to emigrate from the Netherlands. The Baker family settled in the western Michigan area. Although Herman was only 14 years old, upon the family’s arrival in the Grand Rapids area, he was put to work, shortly following his family’s arrival, in the book store of his uncle Louis Kregel. His responsibility was in the used books department, and was focused on religious books. He developed a love of books, and especially a love of books on theological subjects. So in 1939, at age 28, after many years of experience in the book store field, he decided to strike out on his own, focusing on used religious books. The initial inventory of his book store consisted of 500 used religious books, he had collected over the past several years.
Baker intended to become not just a book seller, but also a book publisher. In 1940, he was able to publish his first book, entitled, “More Than Conquerors”, by William Hendriksen. During the first ten years of the Baker Book business, relatively few books were published. There was, of course, the Second World War with all its disruptions, and during that time, the book selling part of the business remained the core of the new enterprise. But in 1949, Baker Books decided to become more active in the publishing field, and initially focused on reprints of old established and popular religious volumes. The firm’s first selection was “Barnes’ Notes on the Old and New Testaments”, first published in 1852. The Notes consisted of numerous volumes, and the volumes were published over a multi-month period. The project was a success as the first printing quickly sold out.
Over the next several years, Baker continued to focus on reprints of older, but successful volumes, again largely focusing on biblical, or at least religious, subjects. The result was that in 1959, 20 years following the establishment of the firm, 175 active titles were on the Baker Book list.
Baker’s first business acquisition occurred in 1968, when the firm acquired the W. A. Wilde Company, a 100 year old Massachusetts book publisher, focused on Sunday school materials. The acquisition brought 100 additional active titles to Baker. In 1975, Baker also acquired Canon Press. During the remainder of the 1970’s and the 1980’s, Baker continued to expand by publishing numerous titles. The company also expanded its breadth by adding college level text books in the social science field, such as textbooks on economics, psychology, philosophy, English, sociology, and political science. The 1989 Baker catalog of available books listed about 1300 active titles.
During the 1990’s, additional new book publishers were acquired, or joint ventures were started. The new acquisitions included Chosen Books and Fleming H. Revell. Also Baker teamed up with Cambridge University Press to become the North American distributor for the Cambridge Premier Bible line. Another joint venture was the launch of a line of children’s books with New Kids Media, located in Wheaton, Illinois.
Around and following the turn of the century, two other major changes were implemented. In 1999, a new division, entitled Brazos Press, was created to focus on the most important topics of the day. And in 2003, Bethany Publishers was acquired. The latter acquisition was one of Baker’s largest, and doubled Baker’s book inventory, and expanded their sales by 60 percent.
During the above growth and expansion of Baker Book House many managerial changes occurred. In the 1980’s, Herman Baker turned over many of his managerial duties to his son, Richard Baker. Richard became the firm’s president, but this father, Herman Baker, remained chairman of the board and “publisher at large”. In 1991, Herman Baker passed away, and in honor of the founder, Herman Baker, his son Richard Baker, did not take up the title of board chairman until 1997. Also in 1997, Richard Baker’s son, and Herman Baker’s grandson, Dwight Baker, took on the position of president, after having been in several managerial capacities with the firm since 1979.
Herman Baker married Angeline Sterkenberg in 1932, when he was only 21 years old, and still working for his uncle in the Kregel book business. The couple had at least two children, Richard Baker, the son who took over the presidency from his father, and Peter Baker, who was vice president of retail sales for Baker Books, and passed away in 1996 from leukemia. Herman and Angelina Baker probably had other children but there is no information available.
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