Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Text is from the “Made in the Valley” Exhibit at the Wood Museum of Springfield History

The Merriam brothers, George and Charles, were apprenticed to printers by their father as a way of alleviating family financial burdens. In this way the young West Brookfield natives learned various aspects of the trade before coming to Springfield to open a bookstore in 1831. Engaged in both printing and publishing, the business issued textbooks, law books, and Bibles, as well as wholesale and retail wallpaper and stationery. Excelling in promotion and marketing, the Merriam Company rapidly grew and prospered.

When Noah Webster died in 1843, the manuscript for his, as then, unsuccessful dictionary was acquired at auction by J. S. & C. Adams of Amherst. They in turn happily sold it to the Merriam brothers for only $1,000.  Following revisions and editing by Yale graduate and Webster son-in-law, Chauncey Goodrich, the work was transformed into an updated, single-volume product without archaic spelling. In 1847 the Merriam bothers introduced their new version for six dollars. The original Webster’s had sold for a prohibitive fifteen dollars. The brothers had realized that they could sell more by making their dictionary more affordable for the average family.

The legendary dictionary was a smashing success, with 104 members of Congress declaring it “the most complete, accurate and reliable dictionary of the language”. By 1850 the Massachusetts Legislature ordered a copy placed in every school in the state. The term “Merriam‑Webster” soon became synonymous with quality, serving as the unquestionable standard in all matters concerning the English language.

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