Always intrigued by people and the story of the past, Gibbs Smith dreamed of becoming a history professor. His vision took him to Berkeley for grad school in the late 1960s, where he wrote his master’s dissertation on Joe Hill, the American labor martyr, proletarian folk hero, and songwriter. His dissertation was published as a book and informed the production of a movie. Produced by Swedish filmmakers, Joe Hill won the Jury Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.
Building on his success and his love of history, Smith and his wife, Cathy, decided to start a publishing company. Their first office was their studio apartment in Santa Barbara, and they published four supplementary history textbooks for college classrooms with only $12,000 of seed money.
The company grew, relocating to Utah in 1973. Gibbs and his wife poured their profits back into the business and lived on savings. They spent that first summer converting an old barn (built in 1916) on the Smith family farm into offices. They managed to publish their first state history textbook, Utah’s Heritage. With no sales force or distribution network, the couple packed up their truck and traveled throughout the state to sell the textbook to as many schools as possible. Their perseverance and the quality of the book paid off.
Smith will never forget sharing the barn with cows those first few years. “You could hear them mooing through the walls,” he says with a smile. “People could hear them over the phone, too.” When he would explain the ruckus, the response on the other end of the line was always the same: “You do what? From where?”
Today, the Barn is home to three sheep—Wilma, Mabel, and Frannie, a few hens, and a menagerie of cats. There are also a few editors who produce beautiful books for our trade department. Among the books published by our trade side are design, craft, cooking, how-to, outdoors, regional interest, home reference, and children’s literature.