Zondervan Publishing House

Zondervan Publishing House

Entering through the front lobby, visitors to the Raybrook Estates II Building of the Holland Home in Grand Rapids will see the Zondervan Library to their right. Apparently, this is not the only Zondervan Library. Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a Zondervan Library as well. It may be safely assumed that these libraries were generously endowed with funds from the Zondervan Corporation.

By the 1920s the William Eerdmans publishing business was in full swing, and he hired his two nephews, Peter (Pat) and Bernard (Bernie) Zondervan, to work for him. Reading peaked in American homes in the 1920s; the radio had been invented but had not yet infiltrated every home. The Zondervan brothers realized there was a living to be made in books, left their uncle’s employ, and set up shop-keeping in their parents’ home. They visited various publishing houses in New York to purchase books that would appeal to the Dutch market in and around Grand Rapids.  

In true entrepreneurial style, they conceived the idea of using the Christian Reformed yearbooks to compile lists of names and addresses to mail out their first four-page catalog to 2,000 homes. They followed up by traveling across the country selling books out of their trucks and by buying up used books from their customers (chiefly pastors and teachers) to resell in Grand Rapids.

By early 1932 they were able to move out of their parents' home and rent a storefront on 543 Eastern Ave. SE. Fully intending to not only sell books, but to publish them as well, they chose the name Zondervan Publishing House. Their total sales for the first year amounted to $1,800! The company went public in 1976. In 1988 it was acquired by Harper & Row (later Harper/Collins) for a mere $56.7 million. In 2012 Thomas Nelson, another huge Christian Publishing company, merged with Harper/Collins and altogether now they publish under twenty-two imprints. Truly, an American success story.  

(Submitted by Janet Sheeres, interim editor of Origins. Photo shows Pat and Bernie in front of the family farmhouse where the business began).

- Posted December 15, 2017 by Kathy DeMey (1:02 PM)