William Bittle Wells worked in the Pacific Northwest as a manager, editor, advertiser, and writer for a variety of publications. In 1898 Wells founded the western magazine
Pacific Monthly, which focused on the development of the pacific coast, literature, and humor. Wells became northwest editor and manger for
Sunset Magazine from 1907-1912. Wells then became advertiser for
Community Publicity, a publication produced by the Harriman Lines railroad. Next, Wells managed his own printing company, Wells and Company, from 1912 to 1915. For two years, Wells served as editor of
Better Cooking, a publication to publicize cities across the nation. In 1917, Wells signed a contract with New York Life Insurance Company where he worked as an insurance agent for the next forty years. After he retired, he focused on writing extensively on Christian religious topics. The collection consists of biographical material, correspondence, high school scrapbooks, class papers from Wells’ attendance at Stanford University, business files documenting his various career endeavors, and personal papers and mementos, including manuscripts and photographs.
Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
William Bittle Wells was born in Floyd County, Virginia in 1872. After first moving to California in 1874, Wells’ family settled in Portland, Oregon in 1881. He graduated from Stanford University in 1897 with a degree in English and a certificate in education. At Stanford, Wells had developed an interest in publishing and publicity. He was an editor of several school newspapers, including
The Daily Palo Alto and
In 1898 Wells founded the western magazine
Pacific Monthly, which featured book reviews, reports on the development of the pacific coast, literature, and humor. Wells made the magazine into an outlet for the work of young American writers.
Pacific Monthly was not a financial success, and after he encountered difficulties obtaining editorial assistance, Wells finally sold the magazine in 1906. It was later consolidated with
After severing his ties with
Pacific Monthly, Wells began working as an advertising salesman for
Sunset Magazine, which had begun as a publication of Southern Pacific Railway. He became northwest editor and manger for the magazine from 1907-1912.
During his tenure with
Sunset Magazine, Wells began to publish promotional booklets about regions and cities served by the railroad on the west coast. Under his guidance as manager of
Community Publicity, the Harriman Lines railroad began its publicity program with a booklet about the Rouge River Valley and Medford. Wells coordinated not only the advertising for these booklets, but he also oversaw all aspects of the organization of this project, including coordinating writers with the targeted communities.
Wells left Harriman Lines and
Community Publicity after Harriman’s freight department exerted its influence to eliminate the
Sunset Magazine venture, agedly because it adversely affected freight traffic. Although Wells worked hard to counteract these allegations by producing a report with contrary statistics, his efforts proved fruitless. Harriman offered to keep Wells as a passenger agent, but he elected to resign.
Wells next ventured into the printing and publishing business as the proprietor and manager of his own company, Wells and Company, from 1912 to 1915. Wells quickly discovered that he was not suited to the business and abandoned the operation after only three years.
Although at this point Wells was nearly penniless, he undertook the management and editing of a new magazine,
Better Cooking, another publicity venture for cities across the nation. The venture was short-lived; Wells and the owner failed to agree on the direction of the magazine. After two years, Wells once again found himself looking for work.
In 1917, Wells signed a contract with New York Life Insurance Company where he worked during he next forty years. During his career in insurance, Wells not only sold insurance but also wrote promotional literature about the sale and benefit of insurance for businesses and the general public, including
The Beneficiary of Partnership Insurance.
Highly successful as an agent, Wells interrupted his insurance career only during World War II when he worked in the shipyards of the Willamette Iron and Steel Company (WISCO) as chief clerk, editor, and inventory technician. Wells retired from the insurance business in 1940 when he was seventy. Near the end of his career, he had developed an intense interest in religion. After he retired, he spent the remaining eighteen years of his life writing extensively on Christian religious topics. He published several booklets, including
Studies in Modernism,
Heirs of Promise, and
What Shall We Do with Christianity, in which he speculated on the role of religion in mid-century America. He died in 1960 at the age of eighty-eight.
The William Bittle Wells Papers consist of biographical material, correspondence, high school scrapbooks, class papers from Wells’ attendance at Stanford University, business files documenting his various career endeavors, and personal papers and mementos, including manuscripts and photographs.
A major segment of the biographical material is comprised of the Wells Outline, a series of scrapbook pages complied by Wells which roughly conform to the events in his life as they occurred. These papers contain correspondence, photographs, clippings, a variety of printed material and other memorabilia which are all annotated by Wells. Much of this biographical material is duplicated in later series such as the community booklets printed by Harriman Lines. Several drafts of Wells’ autobiographical “Story of My Life” complete the series.
Correspondence is divided into two subseries, business and personal, each arranged chronologically. The business correspondence details Wells’ involvement in
Pacific Monthly magazine (and later
Sunset Magazine) and his career as an insurance agent for New York Life. Wells’ interest in religion is the subject matter of much of the personal correspondence.
The high school scrapbooks contain a miscellany of clippings and student publications as well as personal observations. Materials from his years at Stanford University consist of class notes arranged by academic year, essays, scrapbooks, and yearbooks. Also included is a musical composition written by Wells.
Business files are arranged according to employer in chronological order. Represented in this series is
Pacific Monthly, a magazine founded by Wells;
Sunset Magazine, for which Wells served as editor of its northwest edition; Harriman Lines, a railroad for which Wells was in charge of publicity; and
Better Cooking, a magazine for which Wells was editor of three different west coast editions. Examples of printing done by Wells and Company, another of his ventures, are included. Wells’ career with New York Life Insurance Company is recorded by a number of published materials he authored for the company, certificates of achievement, and a scrapbook he put together detailing the growth of the company and significant events. While employed with Willamette Iron and Steel Company, Wells compiled and published the company’s
Handbook of Abbreviations, Symbols, Terms, and Allied Data as used by its shipyard operations.
The reminder of the collection is comprised of personal papers that documents Wells’ private side as opposed to his business career interests. Most notable are his writings, both published and unpublished, primarily about religion but which also include an interview with Homer Davenport, cartoonist and artist for the Hearst newspaper syndicate as well as Northwest newspapers. There is a file on Wells’ political, financial, and legal activities as well as various kinds of souvenirs, mementos, newspaper clippings, and family photographs.
Use of the Collection
Restrictions on Access :
Collection is open to the public.
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Preferred Citation :
[Identification of item], William Bittle Wells Papers, Ax 095, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
Collection is organized into the following series: Biographical Materials; Correspondence; Educational Memorabilia; Business Files; Wells and Company; New York Life; WISCO (Willamette Iron and Steel Company); Personal Materials; Photographs; List of Community Booklets
Processing Note :
Collection processed by staff.
This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.