Back to the future
You can’t write a history of Snips magazine without including a lot about the Carter family. A Carter was involved in its publication from 1932 until the day it was sold to BNP Media, then called Business News Publishing Co., in 1997. A fourth-generation Carter even helped close the magazine’s suburban Chicago offices. Edward Charles Carter, the magazine’s founder and a name you’ll read often in this story, was born March 16, 1896, in Chicago. He attended college at what was then known as the Armour Institute, now called Illinois Institute of Technology. He majored in chemistry until leaving the college to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War I. He served in the 1st Gas Regiment and saw combat on the Western Front during 1917 and 1918. He was gassed and wounded in battle, and received the Purple Heart. Returning to Chicago after the war, Carter decided the world didn’t need any more chemists, so he decided to try publishing. His first job was as a writer for Feed & Grain Journal. As part of the job, Carter would travel by train - often in the caboose - visiting grain elevator operators in the Midwest. Many grain elevators were located near railroad tracks to make loading easier. Carter would interview them for news while the train was stopped to take on water for its boilers.
‘Close to the reader'While working at Feed & Grain Journal, he thought about starting up his own trade magazine, one that would be “friendly (and) close to the reader,” as his grandson, Edward C. Carter III, recalled. The “close to the reader” concept meant staffers would frequently travel to readers’ businesses, conventions and trade shows. There they could hear about the problems and concerns of contractors and wholesalers, and write articles to help solve them. “They could know the industry’s business,” Edward Carter III said, “but on a more intimate basis.” Carter left the grain magazine after about four years to become associate editor of Hotel Monthly. In 1928, he left that publication to work for Furnaces & Sheet Metals, which later merged with American Artisan, an HVAC magazine of the era. During this time, Carter taught a warm-air heating training course for furnace dealers at a Chicago high school. Two years later, he tried community newspaper publishing with the North Austin (Ill.) Citizen. But after less than a year, he returned to HVAC trade magazine publishing, an industry Carter said his grandfather loved. “He saw it as a pretty vibrant industry that had a lot going for it,” he said. “He truly enjoyed the people in it.”
‘The SNIPS'This was the beginning of “The Snips” as the magazine would be called. The name was thought up by Carter and Walter J. Joy Sr., then the president of Republic Metals of Chicago, one of the publication’s early advertisers. According to a September 1973 Snips article, the name was chosen because the tool was synonymous with the trade and most similar journals had long titles. It was Carter’s first chance to fully try the “friendly (and) close to the reader” concept he had developed. Many existing sheet metal and HVAC magazines were too technical, he thought, and didn’t serve the needs of independent sheet metal contractors. “They weren’t covering the social aspects of the industry,” Carter said. Snips would also be a way for sheet metal contractors to get the kind of recognition they did not receive in the mainstream press. Launching a new magazine during the Great Depression wasn’t easy. Although Carter had been saving up to launch the publication for more than a year, the bank where he had been depositing the money failed, and Carter lost all of it. Despite the bank’s closing, Carter was able to start the magazine by selling advance subscriptions - $1 per year; three years for $2 - and advertising. The first issue was put together in the basement of the North Luna Avenue house he shared with his wife, Henrietta “Etta” Carter. Etta, who worked for a newspaper in her hometown of Columbus, Wis., before moving to Chicago after World War I, was Snips’ proofreader and bookkeeper for the next 20 years. She also attended many conventions and was active in the associations’ female auxiliary groups.
The ‘baby' debutsIt debuted in April 1932. “The baby makes its bow!” was the headline that welcomed readers to that first 36-page issue. In the opening editorial, Carter, who went by “Ed,” said he hoped the publication would serve the industry well.
Snips makes its bow this month - the baby of the publications serving the sheet metal and warm-air heating industry. In presenting this and succeeding issues, every effort will be made to provide for the craft in the 200-mile circle of Chicago a periodical worthy of their respect and support.
In this opening message, we hesitate to make numerous promises as to what we expect to accomplish, preferring to let Snips enjoy popularity, prestige, reader interest and advertising patronage in direct proportion to the service it is able to perform.
Editorially, Snips will cover the entire sheet metal and warm-air heating industry in the locality wherein the paper is distributed, in the belief that the two crafts are solidly entwined, and will continue to function in that manner.Snips enters the picture at what is generally considered a critical time for our craft - a time when new interests and outsiders would suggest that work, which in the past unquestionably belonged to our industry, would go to specialty shops: plumbers, steam fitters, structural iron workers, shoe stores, grocery stores, and what have you.
The editor and publisher of this new journal has veritably lived with the sheet metal industry for the past 10 years, glorifying its achievements, accomplishments and progress, and at the same time grieving with the trade over its natural shortcomings. With the great majority of his friends and personal acquaintances within this industry, little need be said here about the editorial policy of this magazine, nor of the jealous manner in which Snips will guard the work of our craft.
In this opening editorial, and in connection with the above reference to our many friends in this industry, we want it known that this periodical came into being largely through their support, and as a result of their remittances for advance or charter subscriptions to Snips, before the paper ever made its appearance. This generous advance support from our prospective readers gives us a feeling of confidence beyond our feelings of expression here. It bespeaks well for the reader interest to be enjoyed by Snips. Likewise it obligates the editor and publisher to carry through with his promised activity, namely to keep every piece of work which should go to our craft strictly within those channels where it has been in the past and where it is destined to stay in the future.
To those hundreds of readers, who favored Snips with their subscription patronage, to the readers whose subscriptions we earnestly solicit in the area we will cover, and to the advertising patrons of this issue, who inserted their copy before knowing what the paper would even look like, we promise to faithfully live up to this obligation.
That first issue included news on lawyers’ collection “rackets” that were plaguing area contractors. Carter reported that attorneys, “with nothing to do,” were soliciting furnace dealers to assign them their past-due accounts. Then, the lawyers would return in a few days asking the dealers for money to start the collection process.
Before entering into such an agreement, Carter advised, check with the Chicago Better Business Bureau and only work with well-regarded firms.
Carter also included an article on the resurgence of metal-clad towers in building design, illustrated with a picture of a spire-topped Milwaukee gas station.
A letter from a reader suggested the magazine’s name be changed. He worried people might confuse it with Ballyhoo, a humor magazine of the era known for ribald jokes.
Professional appearanceThe magazine was published bimonthly. Especially in those early issues, Carter included articles on running a business or other topics designed to make the sheet metal industry and workers in it seem more professional. In addition, he would help local contractors create business forms, time cards and estimating charts. This service grew so popular, Snips continued to sell them into the 1970s.
It was during this time that the magazine’s popular mail-order bookstore, stocked with trade manuals, was established. It carried the works of popular authors such as Paul Agrillo, Joseph Kaberlein and Richard Budzik. It continued until the magazine was sold in 1997.
One of the magazine’s most popular early features was “Little Journeys to Interesting Places.” Carter would write about an area contractor, wholesaler or distributor’s facilities and what the company was doing to succeed. This feature would be a mainstay for decades.
In later years, the magazine would also cover the sheet metal work on famous structures such as the Houston Astrodome, the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty, along with residential metal-roofing projects. Coverage of such architectural work was a mainstay in Snips.
Carter’s concern for the industry’s image - and the workers in it - was one reason that although the word “tin knocker” was a common way to describe sheet metal contractors, even before Carter’s time, you would never see it in Snips, Carter III said.
“(He felt) it would have sounded offensive,” he said.
Carter explained that his grandfather regarded sheet metal as a highly skilled craft that used mathematics and hands-on skills. That was another reason why so much space was devoted to reporting on architectural sheet metal projects, whether large or small.
“He always saw that as the best example of the craft,” Carter said.
A ‘handmade' publicationA little over a year after Snips went into production, the magazine had a crisis when its printing company went out of business just before an issue was to come out. With nowhere else available to print it on short notice, Carter picked up the forms from the defunct printer. With the help of two neighbors, he printed the issue himself, two pages at a time, on the small, hand-fed press he used to print the time cards and business forms he sold to local contractors.
With the March 1935 issue, Snips became a monthly publication.
By 1937, Snips had proven so successful, it moved out of Carter’s basement and into two offices on the third floor of a Lake Street building on Chicago’s west side. It would stay there for the next 35 years. Eventually, the magazine would rent the entire third floor.
Around this time, Snips hired its first employee, Lois Kalvog, niece of the owner of Chicago’s Austin Sheet Metal Works. Another longtime employee, Harold Hoy, was hired as advertising salesman. He had worked with Carter on Furnaces & Sheet Metals, and would remain with the magazine until his retirement in 1965.
By the end of the 1930s, some were starting to call Snips “the bible” of the sheet metal industry, a term that is still occasionally heard today. Fueling the trend was its rapidly increasing circulation. Although he only planned to focus coverage on the 200 miles surrounding the Windy City, Snips proved so popular that the magazine soon had readers throughout the Midwest and in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
War effectsThe 1941 start of U.S. involvement in World War II meant changes for the magazine, as it did for most businesses and Americans. Rationing had led to a paper shortage and self-imposed restrictions on travel. New advertisers were rare, since most manufacturers had retooled their factories for the war effort and lacked new products. However, most current advertisers continued to appear in the magazine.
Instead of going to state and local association gatherings in person, Carter would rely on readers to send in reports.
To save on printing costs, Carter shrunk the page margins and fonts. Many articles and advertisements focused on the industry’s war efforts and urged readers to buy war bonds.
After the war ended in 1945, Edward C. “Nick” Carter Jr., just discharged from the Army Air Corps, joined the staff full time as editor. Nick Carter, then 20, had worked at the magazine during elementary and high school. A September 1939 issue lists the then-13-year-old as circulation manager.
“I remember him saying sometimes that my grandfather would give him things to take to the engraver or the printer,” said Edward Carter III, Nick Carter’s son.
It would be Nick Carter’s only full-time job for the next 52 years.
Like the magazine’s founder, Nick Carter was never a sheet metal worker.
“My father was probably the most unmechanically inclined person you’d ever run into,” Carter said. “But he did understand the sheet metal business.”
When he arrived at the magazine, Nick Carter had a lot of ideas about ways to improve Snips, according to his son.
“One thing he wanted to do was upgrade the articles to give them a little more of a professional spin,” along with better-looking layouts and typefaces, Carter said.
In a March 1957 column celebrating Snips’ first 25 years, Ed Carter wrote about Nick’s contributions to the magazine:
(Nick) grew up and soon fell into the work nicely. He likes trade-paper publishing and the people this magazine serves. He has become a most able co-worker of the publisher in getting out this constantly expanding periodical, and along with it has come a friendship with many people in both the reader and supply end of the industry, which means a still-better paper will be forthcoming as time goes on.
The rapid population growth of the Southern states after World War II and into the early 1950s saw Snips circulation increase as well. Large numbers of subscribers were added in North and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia.
The new readers meant Ed and Nick Carter would have to begin attending trade shows and meetings in those states. Nick Carter concentrated on the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia, while his father covered Alabama and Florida.
“Between the two of them, they were on the road a whole heck of a lot,” Carter said.
‘Ed Carter Night'By this time, Ed Carter was a well-known and much-loved person in the HVAC industry. The Associated Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors of Hammond, Ind., organized an “Ed Carter Night” Oct. 22, 1949.
Originally intended to just be a small, local event to recognize Carter and the magazine, it ended up attracting 400 contractors from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.
It received 11 pages of coverage in Snips’ November issue.
In a March 1957 column celebrating Snips’ first 25 years, Ed Carter wrote about the event: “It’s just another thing we wanted to mention in this anniversary issue, to let our many readers who helped put over that event, know how much this unusual tribute to this periodical and its publisher were appreciated.”
Nick Carter pushed to expand the magazine to include manufacturer’s representatives. It was this new focus that led to the magazine’s regional representative directory, which Snips still includes today. “Rambling With the Reps” was also a regular department.
“The idea behind those was to have a directory for contractors,” Carter said.
However, a mid-1960s experiment with regional editions failed, he added. For a short time, Snips published “A” and “B” editions, with news and advertising tailored to different parts of the country.
However, Carter said, the experiment was a failure, not producing any additional revenue and upsetting a number of readers.
“The most interesting thing that came about from that was the complaints. You wouldn’t think someone from the East Coast would care about what was happening in Colorado, but we got complaints like that,” Carter said.
More staffSnips was growing large enough that by the 1950s, additional editorial and sales staff had to be hired. East and West Coast advertising representatives were added. Robert Murphy was named associate editor in 1953. Except for a few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Murphy would stay with the magazine until it was sold to Business News Publishing Co.
Although he was trained as a writer and hired to be an editor, with his ever-present camera, many people assumed he was the magazine’s picture taker.
“I took about 2,000 pictures for (Snips),” Murphy, now 85, recalled. “I thought I was a writer for them, and people always thought I was a photographer.”
Murphy said he has hardly taken a picture since leaving Snips in 1997. But he remembers his time on staff fondly.
“It was really a pleasure working for Snips and meeting the people in the industry,” he said.
Snips’ staff wasn’t the only part of the magazine growing in the decade. The publication itself grew larger. In July 1955, it was decided to increase the size of pages, from a “handy pocket size” 7 inches by 10 inches, to the more common 8 1/2 by 11. The change was made in part to accommodate national advertisers who disliked having to downsize the plates and negatives used to create ads for other publications.
When the 1960s arrived, Snips circulation again grew larger, adding readers in the Southwestern and Western U.S. The fast-growing states of California, Texas, Colorado and Arizona became regular stops for Nick and Ed Carter, as well as Murphy and other staff.
Circulation outside the United States also increased, as Snips signed up readers in Canada and even a few as far away as Europe and Asia.
Full-color photography came to Snips around this time, but just in a handful of advertisements.
“There was never much demand,” Carter III said. “It was just easier to do everything in black and white.”
Although covers started being produced with color photos in February 1987, the magazine would not regularly feature extensive color photography until it was purchased by Business News Publishing Co.
Lifetime subscribersThe popular lifetime subscription program was started in the early 1970s. This allowed individuals to receive the magazine for the rest of their lives for a one-time $10 fee, instead of paying $2 to $3 every year or two, as was then the subscription rate.
As an incentive, such subscribers would receive free Snips-shaped tie tacks and lapel pins.
The program was so successful, it seemed many readers thought of it as more than just a magazine subscription. A number of readers wrote they wanted to “join” or “become a member” of Snips in the letters accompanying their orders.
A few readers even asked if they could include their lifetime subscriptions in their wills, Carter said.
The lifetime subscription program was closed to new members when Business News Publishing Co. purchased the magazine.
Ed Carter diesOn Sept. 6, 1973, Ed Carter, Snips’ founder, passed away at the age of 77. Nick Carter wrote a long tribute to his father in the September issue:
It is with deep regret and profound sorrow that we report the passing, just before this issue went to press, of Edward C. “Ed” Carter Sr., the founder and publisher of the Snips magazine. His death, Sept. 6, 1973, was attributed to a series of heart attacks within a week after surgery.
Ed was the widower of Etta Carter, co-founder of this periodical, and is survived by Nick Carter, editor; daughter-in-law Carol; and grandson Edward Charles III. …
… Through the years Ed had seen the growth of Snips, from a struggling beginning to where it had become known as the “bible” of the industry, and he was justly proud of his and the magazine’s accomplishments.
Throughout the beginning years and even continuing until just a few weeks before his passing, Ed was always busy out in the field, personally contacting the readers of this periodical. This involved attending thousands of local, state, regional and national industry conventions, along with other industry functions put on by dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.
He helped in the founding of many of these groups and was ever generous in his coverage of these affairs over the years, in the news columns of Snips. He was always on the alert for anything that would be of benefit of the independent sheet metal, warm-air heating, air-conditioning, ventilation and roofing contractor. …
… In the early 1940s, long after the old National Sheet Metal Contractors Association had disbanded, Ed was instrumental in the re-organization and re-establishment of this national group, now known as the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association. Many pages of news were devoted to the re-organization meeting prior to its taking place in Detroit, and afterwards, for several issues. …
… Your editor, Nick Carter, and his family, along with the entire staff of this periodical, wish to thank all in the industry for their sympathy, remembrances and condolences, as well as the personal visits to pay their last respects, to Ed Carter. All of the beautiful letters and cards will be acknowledged in due time, and it is our plan to include in these columns, next month, some of the fine tributes paid to Ed Carter by his legion of industry friends. …
… He is gone, but will not soon be forgotten.
Still in the familyDuring this time and through most of the 1980s, Nick’s son, Edward C. “Charley” Carter III worked on the magazine as associate editor. He continued doing so through high school, college and law school, and was a full-time writer for several years afterward.
Carter now works as a supervisor in the Illinois attorney general’s office and is an adjunct professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Nick Carter and Robert Murphy continued to produce Snips during the 1990s. As the decade wore on, it was sometimes a struggle to produce the issue on time each month. Magazines were sometimes late. Nevertheless, readership and advertising remained strong and loyal.
In June 1997, when Nick Carter was 71 years old, Snips was sold to Business News Publishing Co., a family-owned trade magazine publisher based in Troy, Mich., near Detroit. Offices were moved from Melrose Park, Ill., to Michigan.
Edward C. Carter IV, Carter III’s son and Nick Carter’s grandson, helped close the business and pack magazines and materials to ship to BNP.
The first issue of a BNP-produced Snips appeared the next month. Another “Ed” - this one “Bas,” not Carter - was named editor and publisher. Ed Bas, a former Detroit-area newspaper reporter, had worked for BNP for six years. Most recently, he was an editor on the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News, the company’s flagship weekly publication.
New beginningsThe magazine featured a new look, a new logo and a cover in full color. The rest of the magazine was a mix of mostly color photos with mostly black-and-white advertisements. It’s still common to see black-and-white ads, especially smaller ones, in Snips today.
“Welcome to the new Snips!” was the headline on the July Editor’s Page. Bas used the forum to explain that Snips would be different - but not too different from what readers were used to.
Welcome to the first issue of Snips.
I say this with a smile, because most of you already know this 66-year-old publication quite well.
You probably also know Business News Publishing Co., publisher of the 71-year-old weekly tabloid the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News; Refrigeration Service & Contracting; Engineered Systems; Plumbing & Mechanical, etc.
We’re sort of keeping this in the family, you see. BNP Co. is now the proud owner and publisher of Snips, which will faithfully continue to serve the air-conditioning, warm-air heating and sheet metal industries.
It’ll be an all-new Snips we’ll be bringing you, with - we hope - some carefully preserved ties to the old. You’ll notice our mission statement on the front cover: “A journal of constructive help to the sheet metal, air-conditioning, warm-air heating and ventilating contractors.” It’s right off the “old” Snips magazine.
Frankly, we didn’t think we could improve on that. …
…We want to continue to be your eyes and ears on the industry, a friend you can count on and an ally when the going gets tough. Count on us to be there when you need us.
We’ll look out for your interests, but we’ll have to call a spade a spade, when we see fit.
We want you to continue to contact us and send us information - we can’t be everyplace at once, you know. We want to continue to publish photos of your association, your group meetings, your company get-togethers, your announcements and achievements. We’ll proudly display them just as Snips has always done, as quickly as we can and - as always - as space permits.
We’ll be out there, tied to this industry as Snips always was, attending press conferences and conventions, meeting people, interviewing, taking pictures, etc.
Of course, there are a few things we’ll want to do differently, too. Snips, you’ve already noticed, will have an all-new look. New owners have different ways of doing things; you know that. We’ve updated things a bit, moved things around - well, you get the picture.
Bas asked readers to tell him what they thought - and plenty did. Most of the letters printed said they liked the new format, and at least one person said he was glad to receive an issue in the same month printed on the cover. However, several readers complained when Bas dropped the regional news items broken down by state. Ed Carter had received similar complaints more than 30 years earlier when the magazine experimented with regional editions.
The regional news returned within two months.
Still ‘close'As part of BNP, Snips continued to be a people-oriented publication, keeping the “close to the reader” and easy-to-read format pioneered by Ed Carter, although ensuring the magazine published on time each month meant that staff was unable to travel as frequently to local events as Ed Carter and Nick Carter.
High-profile projects covered during this time included newly renovated Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers; Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers; the Washington, D.C. Convention Center; and the midfield terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
The Internet revolution of the mid-1990s reached Snips when the magazine launched a Web site in early 1998. A print column was started a little over a year later, “I-Net Buzz,” written by former associate editor Gina Nowak. It covered the forays of sheet metal and HVAC companies into the new medium. It would later become Internet News.
In January 2002, Snips starts printing “Our 70th year” on the cover, even though it also said Vol. 71. The discrepancy was caused by BNP’s decision to re-number the issues to correspond to the calendar year starting with the January 1998 issue.
Although the magazine’s appearance had been overhauled when BNP purchased it and tweaked in the five years since, the July 2002 issue marked Snips’ first major redesign. New fonts, colors and a different logo featuring a smaller pair of Snips were used.
Over the Fourth of July weekend 2002, Bas, then 48, suffered a stroke. He would not return to work at BNP. Managing editor Michael McConnell, who had been with the publication since 2000; Sally Fraser, who had been the magazine’s advertising manager since 1997; and production manager Karen Coppins assembled the August issue.
Fraser was named interim publisher and longtime BNP employee Wayne Johnson was named interim editor. Bas’ condition is announced to readers in the September issue.
ChangesIn the March 2003 issue, readers are told that publisher Sally Fraser has named Michael McConnell Snips editor.
In his first editorial, McConnell reflected on his past, readers’ opinions of the magazine and relayed some advice Bas had given him.
It's a funny thing about opportunities. They often come when you least expect them. I know that's a cliché, but it's true. No one could have predicted the stroke that Ed Bas, Snips’ former editor and publisher, suffered in July 2002. And if you asked me a year ago if I would become editor of the only national trade magazine covering the sheet metal industry, I would have laughed. I hadn’t even really thought about it.
But here I am. I hope you’ll welcome me as Snips’ new editor. Some of you may already know me from talking on the phone or we may have met at a trade show. And those of you whom I haven’t met, please feel free to call and introduce yourself. One thing I’ve always liked about Snips is it’s a people-oriented publication. Sure, we write about what companies are doing or about this or that project, but it always comes back to people: How did this contractor feel about working on the biggest project in the state in 10 years? It’s something I think sets this magazine apart and something I plan to continue.
When Ed Bas hired me, he told me to think of Snips as a sort of community newspaper for the sheet metal industry - the type of publication where you would look to see your neighbor’s name or picture in print. That was good advice and is something I’ve thought of often.
Snips readers are some of the most passionate and loyal people I know. I get a kick out of visiting your offices and seeing our magazine in your reception areas, right next to Time and Newsweek. I’m also honored. …
… A little bit of background on me: I joined Snips’ staff in the spring of 2000, after working since college at a twice-weekly community newspaper. It would be an understatement to say I didn’t know a plasma table from one used to play pingpong. But during the last three years, that’s certainly changed. I’ve learned just what it takes to create the ductwork that hangs in most buildings and how important its proper installation truly is.
I’m looking forward to making Snips, already a fine publication, even better. Thanks for reading.
An August 2003 feature on Wisconsin contractor Thomas “Bud” Goodman led to the return of sheet metal patterns in the pages of Snips. Goodman has a large collection of antique books on manual sheet metal layout, and operates a Web site dedicated to preserving this craft. He began contributing articles.
Snips added a new associate editor in June 2004 when James J. Siegel joined the staff. Siegel was formerly the education and training editor at BNP’s Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News.
The magazine was again redesigned in late 2005 by art director Nicole Kevonian, who modified the appearance of feature articles and news departments. The new look debuts in January 2006.
An “e-newsletter” is started the same month. Featuring late-breaking news, online exclusives and a preview of upcoming issues, it quickly amasses a loyal following.
In a January 2007 editorial, McConnell announced that Nick Carter passed away Nov. 5, 2006, of cancer. He was 80. Readers send in condolences and remembrances, which are published in subsequent issues.
Snips celebrated its 75th anniversary in March 2007, a month before its actual birthday. Readers and advertisers congratulate the magazine and its staff on the milestone.