Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5)


The Word Reaches Ellen White

That Tuesday night, Ellen White at her Elmshaven home had slept but little. In vision she had agonized over conditions in Battle Creek. As she came down for breakfast on Wednesday morning, Sara McEnterfer told her that the Review and Herald publishing plant had burned the night before. C. H. Jones had telephoned the news. It came as no surprise to Ellen White. Only a few days before, with pen in hand, she lost consciousness of her surroundings and again saw a sword of fire over Battle Creek, “turning first in one direction and then in another,” with disaster following disaster (Letter 37, 1903). 5BIO 225.2

The Sanitarium had burned in February; now the Review was gone. Picking up her pen, she wrote to Edson: 5BIO 225.3

Oh, I am feeling so sad, because ... the Lord has permitted this, because His people would not hear His warnings and repent, and be converted, that He should heal them. Many have despised the words of warning. Oh, how sad it is. How large the loss is of books and furniture and facilities.... May the Lord have mercy upon us is my prayer.—Letter 214, 1902. 5BIO 225.4

That day her mind must have retraced a great deal of history. There was the publishing of the Present Truth at Middletown, Connecticut, in the summer of 1849. How they prayed over the little stack of papers before sending them out! Then followed the meeting in 1852 at Saratoga Springs, New York, and the decision to buy a hand press, that the paper might be printed on a press owned by Sabbathkeepers. With type and other equipment it would cost $650. Hiram Edson advanced the money from the sale of his farm and in the following weeks the believers sent in money to repay Edson. This was the first concerted financial effort in which Sabbathkeeping Adventists joined hands to herald the message. 5BIO 225.5

What memories there were of setting up the press that summer in their big rented house in Rochester, New York—a home that was to serve as family residence, boardinghouse, and printing office. 5BIO 226.1

In 1855, as James White found he must divest himself of the cares of publishing, brethren in Battle Creek, Michigan, provided a publishing house—a brand-new two-story frame building in the west end, at the corner of Washington and Main streets. Two years later a power press was installed in the little publishing house. Now the printing of papers, tracts, and small books became easier. But what days of sacrifice these were. James White's pay averaged $4.57 a week. James was 36; Uriah Smith, resident editor of the Review, was ten years younger, and the others were in their late teens and 20's. 5BIO 226.2

Then there was the new brick building erected in 1861 at the side of the first little plant. It was part of the complex of three three-story buildings linked together that had just burned. 5BIO 226.3

The “cause” in those days centered largely upon the publishing plant, its staff, and its products. To give the organization that was formed to handle it a name, a term was devised—“Seventh-day Adventists.” When church organization was finally attained, the Review plant was all the office the church leaders had. This was to be so for another forty years. 5BIO 226.4

As the work had grown, the pocketknife that Uriah Smith used to trim the pamphlets (the Review was not even trimmed) gave way to a paper cutter. The shoe awl and needle and thread were replaced by simple but more efficient binding equipment. Book printing and binding called for more sophisticated equipment and better-trained workmen. 5BIO 226.5

But there was not enough denominational work to keep the machines and men busy. Printing for other concerns was the answer. Idle equipment would spell disaster—so the Review and Herald became a commercial printer, and a good one too. This was fully justified, but in it were seeds for trouble. 5BIO 226.6

Dedicated businessmen, some of them recent converts, were brought in by James White to manage the growing interests. This procedure, not without its perils, was continued after his death in 1881. 5BIO 226.7

How much must have passed through Ellen White's mind that day after the fire! The Review and Herald publishing plant was a very part of her life. She must have thought of her writing in the library in the old brick building, as she sought a quiet place to work. At the death of her husband it was reported that under his perceptive leadership the institution was among “the first of first-class offices in the State,” and it was declared that 5BIO 227.1

the business principles and the habits of industry and painstaking which were introduced in the infancy of the work, have left their impress upon its management, and have been characteristic of its operations. Therefore its reputation in business circles has always been deservedly high.—Life Sketches of James and Ellen White (1888), 373.

Growing demands had called for additions to the plant, first in 1871 on the west, crowding to Washington Street, doubling its working space; another in 1873, on the east; then the addition of a story in 1878, tying the whole plant together in one four-story building. No doubt Ellen White recalled the warnings given about overbuilding. Why had they not been heeded? 5BIO 227.2