Friendship Poems

Edgar A. Guest Biography

Edgar A. Guest, born in Birmingham, England in 1881, moved to Michigan as a young child. He was educated in Michigan.

In 1895, Edgar A. Guest signed on with the Free Press as a 13-year-old office boy. He would stay for 60 years. In those six decades, while Detroit underwent half a dozen identity changes, Edgar A. Guest became a steadfast character on the changing scene.

Just three years after he joined the Free Press, Guest became a cub reporter. He quickly worked his way through the labor beat, a much less consequential beat than it is today, the waterfront beat and the police beat, where he worked “the dog watch”, 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. By the end of that year when he should have been completing high school, Guest had a reputation as a scrappy reporter in a competitive town.

It did not occur to Guest to write in verse until late in 1898, while he was working as Assistant Exchange Editor. It was his job to cull items from the newspapers with which the Free Press exchanged papers for use as fillers. Many of the items were verses and Guest figured he might just as well write verse as clip it and submitted one of his own, a dialect verse, to Sunday editor Arthur Mosley. The Free Press was highly selective about publishing the literary efforts of staff members and Guest, a 17-year-old dropout, might have been seen as something of an upstart. But Mosley decided to publish the verse anyway and Guest’s verse ran on Dec. 11, 1898.

More contributions of verse and observations then led to a weekly column, “Blue Monday Chat,” and then a daily column, “Breakfast Table Chat.” Readers loved it.

Readers were constantly asking where they could find collections of his folksy verses. Guest talked it over his younger brother Harry, a typesetter, and they bought a case of type and, with that, they were in the book publishing business.

After supper, Harry would climb the stairs to the attic to set Eddie’s poetry. It has been reported that Harry could set as many as eight pages, provided the verses didn’t have too many “e’s” in them, before he had to print what he had and break up the forms for eight more pages. Using this method they printed 800 copies of a 136-page book, Home Rhymes. Two years later and still working in eight-page morsels, they printed Just Glad Things, but upped the press order to 1,500 copies.

While they escaped the limits of their type case with the third book, published in 1914, Guest had some misgivings about the large press run of 3,500 copies. He should not have worried since they sold out in two Christmases. More books then followed, and before he was done, Guest had filled more than 20. Sales ran into the millions and his most popular collection, It Takes a Heap o’ Livin’, sold more than a million copies by itself.

Guest’s verses, originally clipped by exchange editors at other papers, went into syndication and he was carried by more than 300 newspapers. His popularity then led to one of earliest and longest-running radio shows, appearances on television, in Hollywood and in banquet halls and meeting rooms from coast to coast.

Through it all, however, Edgar A. Guest remained, at heart, and in fact, a newspaper man. For more than 30 years, there was not a day that the Free Press went to press without Guest’s verse on its pages.

Edgar Guest died August 5, 1959 in Detroit, Michigan, the city he loved and wrote about for more than 6 decades.

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