Frank P. MacLennan is a fortunate man. Kansas is fortunate in having him as a citizen. As a youth he took from this state the raw materials which by the alehemy of a resourceful and independent mind and a vigorous ambition he transmuted into a career which has been of even greater beneflt to the state than it has been to himself.
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First and last Mr. MacLennan is a newspaper man. He knows how to write, especially when the subject is something not directly counected with himself. In furnishing the data to the editor of this new History of Kansas self-respect and modesty kept the copy boy waiting longer than he ever does when called upon for editorials or column articles on the most diverse subjects and topics. What is said in the following paragraphs concerniug him is partly in his own words, and partly such comment as seems appropriate to a better understanding of the man and his work.
He was born March 1, 1855, in Springfield, Ohio, and lived in that state until at the age of fifteen his parents, Kenneth and Adelia M. (Bliss) MacLennan, moved to Emporia, Kansas. Though the facts are simply told, there is a great deal of moral inspiration in the story of his early eareer.
“When I was a boy at Springfield I hung around the printing offices, folded papers and was a newspapor carrier for the old Springfield Advertiser.
“When I was twenty years old I had completed, in three years, the regular course of the University of Kansas. Abont twelve years later much to my surprise the institution gave me a Master’s degree. At the end of three years at the University my father met with financial reverses, and I started to work. Without my knowledge my mother borrowed three hundred dollars from a friend and sent me back to flnish with my class. It took me a number of years to pay off that note, but I was grateful to my mother for her action.
“When I left the University I had thirteen dollars in money, (most of which I deposited in a bank at Lawrence) and the three hundred dollar debt. I weighed one hundred twenty-three pounds; weight now is two hundred. A school chum and myself walked to Abilene, where there was a big demand for harvest hands. I learned to make a wheat band on the way. That was before the time of the self binder, which was just coming into use. I made from two dollars to two dollars and a half per day and board in the harvest field, and gained fourteen pounds. After harvest I joined a railroad surveying party on the plains of western Kansas and in Colorado. I spent about two years at this sort of work, including a great variety of railroad engineering, and when times were hard worked on the section.
“Having gained a sound constitution by much outside work summer and winter, I went into newspaper work. For about seven years I was employed in practically every department on the Emporia News –mechanical, reportorial, business, editorial, and as one of the proprietors. I worked on the old Taylor drum-cylindor press and in the composing room. I never set much type, and have frequently regretted that I never had the opportunity to become sufficiently proficient to qualify me for a membership in the International Typographical Union, which I consider one of the greatest organizations in the United States. The Typographical Union is a wonderful institution for its members, and does them a world of good. Any good printer should be proud to belong to it.
“I did some ‘make-up’ on the old Emporia Weekly News–with its ten long columns to the page, making long arms necessary–and ran the Mustang mailer, which included setting the names and addresses of the subscribers in type and keeping the dates of their subscriptions correct on the galleys. Jacob Stotler, Alexander Butts and I were equal partners on the Emporia Daily News for several years.
“When my interest in the News was sold I really wanted to take a six months vacation and spend it in Washington, D. C., as a news correspondent and see how the government was conducted and what cougressmen did to earn their salaries; but the Topeka State Journal was advertised to be sold at public auction three weeks after I left the Emporia News, so I came up here and bid for it. I got it.
“A year afterwards I tried to get rid of it, because I found it was in a far worse condition than I imagined any newspaper could be, and I bad sunk so much money in it the first year–all that I had, and all that I could possibly borrow I thought–with no prospects but gloom and expense in sight. Nobody would buy it, so I tried to make the best of what I considered a bad bargain, and about that time the paper began to ‘play even’ and pay a little. My eredit grew better, and I was able to borrow more money.
“Last year I spent almost as much money for new machinery as the paper originally cost me, and this year I am spending about as much for new equipment in order to keep up with the profession. A great part of my earnings from the paper go back into the State Journal.”
Mr. MacLennan has added several lots to the original purchase, and has erected one of the best newspaper buildings in the West. It is a classic three-story strueture whose dominant feature is the Jonic column. The building is of white terra cotta, steel and reinforead concrete, fire proof, and located in the heart of Topeka’s business district and devoted entirely to the daily edition of the paper. Few newspaper men give as close attention to the conduct of their business as does Mr. MacLennan. The fact that he is the sole owner of the plant, that he has-built it from a practically worthless condition to its present status, that he is out of debt and has money in the bank, speaks in Roman capitals of his genius as an editor and business man–requirements rarely seen in those following the “art preservative.”
He is a man in love with his job. “I have always liked reporting on a newspaper, and enjoy work in the composing room, around the forms and make-up, and about the desk where the copy lands, and have an ungratified ambition to learn to operate that wonderful machine, the linotype. I own eight of these machines, including the very latest model ’17,’ now shipping from the factory.”
As an editor Mr. MacLennan has been fearless and outspoken, often contrary to the advice of his friends and many times when it appeared to the laymen that the course pursued would seriously lessen the circulation and advertising patronage. He has the courage of his convictions. His paper is independent republican. He favored the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency in 1916, when the great majority of the progressive party had returned to their former allegiance. It was not a popular course to pursue, but he had to be honest with himself.
The outcome of a campaign in the spring of 1916 in which Mr. MacLennan stood practically alone in criticising the banking interests of Topeka because they declined to pay more than 2 per cent interest on public funds deposited in their vaults, has attracted a nation wide attention to this Kansas editor. The Topeka banks for years had been paying 2 1/2 per cent interest on deposits by the county and 2 per cent on money deposited by the city. The practice might have continued indefinitely had not one or more of the banks made a bid in which they offered 3 per cent for the state money and the city school board money. Mr. MacLennan at once took up the issue and through his newspaper told the banks that if they could afford to pay 3 per cent for the school board money they could pay the same rate for all public moneys. Then the nine banks of Topeka and two trust companies united against him and the State Journal, discrediting the paper and depriving the city and county of a just rate for their separate funds. The banks, while continuing to pay 3 per cent to the state and for school board balances, uniformly agreed to pay only 2 per cent for any city or county funds deposited with them. The sequel should be described in the words of an editorial in the New York Evening Journal: “An ordinary editor under those circumstances, having been officially notified that organized money disapproved of him, would have sunk down on a pile of ashes and put some of the ashes on his head. Mr. MacLennan did not do that. This is what he did: He rented a first class banking house. He engaged as cashier the retiring state treasurer, who knows a good deal about public funds. He organized a capital as big as that of any bank in Topeka. He will offer a fair rate of interest for the public deposits, which average about three hundred thousand dollars a day; he is going to lead money to his readers in Kansas at a reasonable rate to pay overhead charges and a fair profit.”
He believes the new bank will elevate the already high financial standing of the capitol city of Kansas and add strength and influence and business to the city and the banking institutions of Topeka generally.
Thus he became the leading spirit in the organization of Topeka’s newest bank, The Kansas Reserve State Bank, which opened for business November 1, 1916. As Mr. MacLennan states, he was forced into the banking business to defend the integrity, reputation and good faith of his newspaper, and to secure what he considered the rights of his city and county.
The office he accepted in the new organization was as vice president, and while he abates none of his enthusiasm and energetie devotion to his daily paper and can give the bank only an hour or so a day, he has associated with him some of the best bankers and business men in Topeka and Kansas. The capital stock of the bank at the beginning was $200,000, with $50,000 surplus, and the first set of officers were: Ferdinand O. Kaths of Hutchinson, who had long been associated with Larabee Brothers, millers and bankers, president; Frank P. MacLennan, vice president; Earl Akers, retiring state treasurer, cashier; Frank C. Thompson, formerly of the Central National Bank of Topeka, assistant cashier; E. D. McKeever, attorney.
Mr. MacLennan also confesses to another interest, as a farmer. He has a sixty acre place five miles west of Topeka, and uses it to grow about everything needed to supply the table of his present home in Topeka. On May 29, 1890, Mr. MacLennan married Anna Goddard of Emporia. They have one daughter, named Mary.
In all his career, whether on the popular or reverse side of public issues, Mr. MacLennan has voiced his convictions in no uncertain terms. The world loves a fighter, and if this sketch offers anything like a real portrait of the man as he is it shows him as a representative of that type of American manhood. Strangely enough his independent course has brought him both fame and fortune. He is one of the most noted newspaper men of the West.
In private life Mr. MacLennan is sociable and a most agreeable companion. He is a lover of the open, the flowers, the trees and birds, the rough, freshly turned earth in the furrows, the growing stock, the fresh mown hay. He delights in fishing and the philosophies that go with that sport of which the gentle Isaak Walton wrote. Above all he loves his work as a newspaper man, and it is fitting that the last reference in this sketch should be to his efforts to make a better newspaper and to make Topeka and Kansas better places in which to live.