The Michigan Alumnus is the oldest existing alumni publication in the country, with the exception of the Yale Alumni News, and was the first alumni monthly. It was established in 1894 by Alvick A. Pearson ('94), and for some years was continued as a private venture. The first issue contained as its leading article "The Alumni Question — A Review," by Ralph Stone (Swarthmore '89, Michigan '92l), in addition to the class notes, University news, and comment and book reviews which have always formed a feature of the publication. During the first years of publication of the Alumnus, the Commencement Annual, containing a list of the graduating classes and the Class Day and Commencement speeches, which had been published in the University since 1881, was included as a special number of the Alumnus.
Growth of the magazine was slow, however, and in 1898, after the Alumni Association had been reorganized through the consolidation of the departmental organizations, one of the first actions taken by the new Board of Directors was the purchase of the magazine. The subscription price was continued at one dollar a year, and the publication was mailed to all the members of the Alumni Association. Thus, in practice, the subscription payments to the Alumnus became the annual fees of the organization.
James H. Prentiss ('96), just appointed General Secretary of the Alumni Association, became editor-in-chief, Louis A. Pratt ('96), editor of the magazine at the time of its purchase, remained as managing editor, and Professor F. N. Scott ('84, Ph.D. '89) served as University editor. His task was the preparation of news of the University for publication in the alumni magazine. This news was also published in a little fortnightly bulletin known as the News-Letter, which was sent out to the press of the state in the University's first news-service program (see Part II: University News Service). For this service the Alumnus received an appropriation of $100 from the University.
When Shirley W. Smith ('97, A.M. '00) became General Secretary of the Alumni Association in 1901, the monthly issues of the Alumnus were made larger and the appropriation for the News-Letter was increased to $300. In 1902 the total number of subscribers to the Alumnus was 2,849. During the next few years the publication gradually became larger and had more and more subscriptions. In 1904 Wilfred B. Shaw became General Secretary of the Alumni Association and also editor of the Michigan Alumnus. He continued the general form and policy of the magazine, making modifications and improvements in its general appearance as fast as they were justified by the increasing subscription list. This list comprised 7,000 subscriptions in 1907, including copies sent to the senior class.
During the first World War the number of subscribers decreased considerably, but in the expansion after the end of the war the subscription list rapidly grew, so that in 1926 the total was about eleven thousand. The period 1930-39 again saw a circulation loss.
For some time it had been felt desirable to bring the news of the campus and the report of athletic events more promptly to the alumni than was possible in the old monthly form. Therefore, in an editorial in the March, 1910, issue, a change from a monthly to a weekly, with the addition of a quarterly review, Page 396was suggested, but it was not until 1921 that the change to a weekly form for the magazine was authorized by the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association (see Part VIII: Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review).
The Michigan Alumnus was published as a weekly until the next important change, in 1934. At that time it was made a fortnightly, with the Quarterly Review issues included in the publication schedule. Although "fortnightly" best describes the scheduled appearances of the magazine, the term is not entirely descriptive of the manner in which the successive numbers are used to meet the varied demands of subscribers. A weekly schedule is maintained for the first two months of the school year, but a single issue per month suffices for the summer.
Shaw had left the Alumni Association in 1929 to become Director of Alumni Relations, and T. Hawley Tapping had assumed the editorship of the Michigan Alumnus. When the Quarterly Review was created, Shaw was named editor of those issues and Tapping retained editorial charge of the other twenty-two.
Progressively the price of the magazine and the dues to the Association have been increased. In 1911 the subscription was increased to $1.50; in 1916 it was advanced to $2.00; and later increases finally, in 1926, brought the subscription price to $4.00.
Meanwhile publication difficulties had led the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association to consider carefully the problem of printing the magazine. In 1924 an Alumni Press was set up, and for the next seven years the Alumnus was printed in its own plant. The Press also printed a number of other publications, as well as occasional books, and for a period its future seemed assured. Opposition from printers to a printing establishment in effect subsidized by the University to the extent of furnishing quarters, power, and light, however, led to eventual abandonment of the enterprise.
Within this period the page-size of the Alumnus was increased and the typography was redesigned to conform to the formats used by other universities in their weekly alumni publications. The adoption of the larger page-size enabled the Alumnus to join with other magazines in a program of selling space to national advertisers.