Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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W. H. Smith and Son

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1899. Newspaper Van.
January 1944.
March 1944.
May 1944.
June 1944.
April 1946.
March 1949.
June 1949.
September 1949.
1949. Alacra.
November 1954.
Advertising sign.
1961. Plymouth Branches.
June 1989.

of Stamford St, London and Alacra Factory, Western Avenue, Acton, London, W3. Telephone: Acorn 5801. Cables: "Bookstalls, Estrand, London"

1792 Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna established a business as news(paper) vendors in London.

After their deaths, the business was taken over by their son William Henry Smith.

1846 The firm became W. H. Smith and Son when his son, also William Henry Smith, became a partner.

1848 The firm took advantage of the railway boom by opening news-stands on railway stations, starting with Euston. They also made use of the railways to become the leading national distributor of newspapers.

1868 The younger W. H. Smith used the success of the firm as a springboard into politics, becoming an MP in 1868, and serving as a minister in several Conservative governments.

After the death of W H Smith the younger, his widow was created Viscountess Hambleden in her own right; their son inherited the business from his father and the Viscountcy from his mother.

1928 After the death of the second Viscount, the business was reconstituted as a limited company, in which his son, the third Viscount, owned all the ordinary shares.

1947 British Industries Fair Advert as Manufacturers of "Alacra" Equipment and Business Systems. "Alacra" Registrators for Hand Written Records; "Alacra" Sprocket Feed Typewriter, Tabulator and Addressing Machine Attachments for Precision production of Continuous Multiple Copy Records; "Alacra" Precision Continuous Business Forms; "Alacra" Binders. (Office Appliances Section - Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. B.1444) [1]

1948 On the death of the third Viscount, the death duties were so severe that a public holding company had to be formed and shares sold to W. H. Smith staff and the public.

1966 W. H. Smith originated a 9-digit code for uniquely referencing books, called Standard Book Numbering or SBN. It was adopted as international standard (ISO 2108) in 1970, and was used until 1974, when it became the ISBN scheme.

1966 Began a partnership with the American publishing and book club enterprise, Doubleday called Book Club Associates (BCA) to jointly purchase the Reprint Society, which had been in business since before the Second World War and operated a book club, World Books.

From the 1970s, W. H. Smith began to expand into other areas of retailing.

1972 A younger brother of the third Viscount remained chairman until 1972.

1973 W. H. Smith Travel operated from 1973 to 1991.

1979 The Do It All chain of DIY stores was started with an acquisition

1986 W. H. Smith bought the Our Price music chain.

By 1987 BCA's book clubs had grown to a membership of 1,660,000, and in the year to 30 April 1987 sold some 13,253,000 books.

By 1988 W H Smith had 428 stores, selling newspapers, magazines, books, stationery and recorded music (including 63 bookstalls, of which 17 were at airports); 44 Sherratt & Hughes specialist booksellers; 172 Our Price music stores; 81 Do It All stores; 20 WHS Travel shops; and six Paperchase stores selling high fashion cards and paper products. There are also over 250 W H Smith retail stores in USA and a similar number in Canada.

1989 The bookshop chain Waterstone's, founded by former W. H. Smith executive Tim Waterstone in 1982, was bought in 1989.

1990 Do It All became a joint venture with the Payless DIY chain belonging to Boots.

1990s The company bought other music retailers including the Virgin Group's smaller (non-Megastore) shops.

1996 the Smith family's control had been slipping away; the last family member left the board in 1996.

1996 Do It All was sold

1998 The Company acquired John Menzies which for many years had been the main rival to both the Company's small railway-station outlets and their news distribution business.

1998 Waterstone's was sold

1998 Our Price was sold to Virgin Retail Group Ltd

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 376; and p255
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • Competition Commission report on BCA