From its beginnings in 1936 as a door-to-door magazine subscription sales company, Birmingham-based EBSCO Industries, founded by Elton B. Stephens, has diversified into a number of areas. In addition to its core business of providing subscription services and both print and electronic publishing, EBSCO operates a metal fabrication business, hunting and fishing equipment manufacturers, and insurance and real estate development agencies.
What would become the company known as EBSCO (which stands for Elton B. Stephens Company) began as a summer job when Stephens recruited fellow students to sell magazine subscriptions to finance his education at Birmingham-Southern College. After graduating from the University of Alabama's law school, Stephens decided to develop further the subscription sales business instead of practicing law. In 1944, Stephens and his wife, Alys, founded the Military Service Company to sell magazines, three-ring binders, and magazine racks to the U.S. military. During the remainder of the decade, Military Service created companies that fabricated magazine racks and binders and acquired a printing company (currently known as EBSCO Media) to print stationery for the military.
During the 1950s, EBSCO established subsidiary Vulcan Enterprises (now EBSCO Professional Partnership Group) to manufacture binders with community-based messages. In 1958, the company officially changed its name to EBSCO Industries Inc. and moved its corporate offices to central Birmingham. In the 1960s, the company significantly expanded its magazine subscription sales services by launching into the library market through an office opened in Boston. Essentially, EBSCO acts as a sales and marketing agent for thousands of magazine titles, both print and electronic. By the end of the decade, its subscription service had 10 branch offices around the country. EBSCO also purchased a Chicago-based magazine subscription agency and a Detroit-based binder manufacturer and built a state-of-the-art binder manufacturing facility in Vincent, Shelby County.
In 1971, Stephens turned the leadership of the company over to his son, J. T. Stephens. By the next year, EBSCO had doubled the size of its subscription services after acquiring the Franklin Square Subscription Agency and opened its first European office in the Netherlands in 1975. Also in the 1970s, EBSCO's purchased Valley Joist, a manufacturer of steel roof joists, and constructed a new facility in Birmingham to quadruple the size of its web-press printing business, renamed EBSCO Media in 1971.
Seeking to diversify , EBSCO purchased PRADCO, a major fishing lure manufacturer. Since then, EBSCO has expanded its Outdoor Group by acquiring businesses that manufacture rifles, treestands for hunters, duck and turkey decoys and calls, and deer scent used by hunters to attract deer. In 1982, the company opened a new 134,000-square-foot corporate headquarters adjacent to Oak Mountain State Park southeast of Birmingham. The company also moved into the digital arena in 1986 by launching its Electronic Information branch, now known as EBSCO Host Electronic Journals Service, positioning the company to move into providing database and other Web-based information aggregation and search services to libraries. By the mid-1990s, EBSCO had firmly established itself in this area and went online with its own Web site in 1994. Also during the 1990s, the company continued to expand its binder operations through expansion of facilities and corporate acquisitions.
EBSCO continued to diversify in the new century by establishing a Web-based book-selling business, acquiring an insurance provider and a publisher of sportsman's magazines, and even moving into residential real estate development. In 2005, J. T. Stephens was succeeded as company president by Dixon Brooke; founder Elton B. Stephens passed away at age 93 that same year. Some realignment of groups took place under Brooke, beginning in 2005.
Currently, EBSCO comprises 40 businesses and has more than 6,200 employees worldwide. Its annual revenues in recent years have exceeded $2 billion. EBSCO recently was ranked among the top 200 privately held corporations in the nation.
James P. Kaetz
Published May 18, 2010
Last updated September 5, 2012