stationery seller

William Henry Smith (businessman)

William Henry Smith (July 7, 1792July 28, 1865), was an entrepreneur whose business was about both newsagents and book shops. He ran his business in London, where he was born and died.

After finding success with his family business — especially in commercialising at London's railway stations by many shops — he seeded the contemporary WH Smith Co.

Early life

W. H. Smith's father was William Walton Smith. He was descendant of a Smith family whose ancestors were Irish. Walton's particular branch stemmed also from Walton, Somerset — which is the origin of his unusual forename. His relatives were aristocrats by the Viscounts of Hambleden. Originally, Walton Smith was an employee at an antique house.

In 1784, Walton Smith married Anna Eastaugh. She was a humble maid at a house which was near St. Paul's Cathedral. By this reason, Walton Smith lost his inheritance rights from his noble family.

Nonetheless, in 1792 they ventured together into a newsagent business, at London's The Strand. It took the H. W. Smith name.

In that same year, W. H. Smith was born and he was baptised on August 6. Already he had two brothers: Henry Edward who was born 1787 and Mary Anne who was born in 1789. Tragically, Walton Smith died just two weeks later.

H. W. Smith (1789 to 1816)

After Walton Smith's death, Anna took over the business reins and also she added the selling of stationery items. Also she associated with Zaccheus Coates until he died in 1812. Then, the control of the business which was valuated at £1,280 was jointly taken by both male brothers, Henry Edward Smith and William Henry Smith, together with Anna, their mother.

H. & W. Smith (1816) - W. H. Smith (1828)

In 1816, Anna died and the business was equally divided between the two brothers. Thus, the company was renamed H. & W. Smith. Still it was operating as both news vendor and stationery seller.

The next year, in 1817, William Henry married Mary Ann Cooper. Her family was rigorous practitioner of Wesley's Protestantism. They married at St. George's Hanover Sq. and eventually they had eight children: seven girls, and one boy, who was christened junior William Henry Smith.

In 1821, H. & W. Smith opened a reading room at The Strand. Though, from both brothers, with his enthusiastic attitude William Henry proved better predisposition for the business eventually. This breached the relationship definitively and it was formally broken up in 1828 when Henry Edward left and the company became the W. H. Smith only after William Henry. Later on, the "First with the news" catchphrase was adopted.

W. H. Smith & Son (1846)

Junior W. H. Smith was born in 1825. He attended Tavistock School whose Master, Reverend William Beal from the Church of England, had also married one of W. H. Smith's daughters. From that school, of Junior 's fellows some finished as company partners.

Finally in 1846, Junior W. H. Smith joined the family business and the & Son-ending was added.

The railway system

With the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the 1840s the British railways became a true behemoth. The railway stations were overcrowded with waiting passengers. For them the most common pastime was reading practically any material. Publications were sold by an informal network which was formed by railway employees who had suffered some physical disability. Junior W. H. Smith had grown particularly imbued by these opportune circumstances, and he foresaw the potential for new businesses.

In 1848, at Euston Station W. H. Smith & Son opened a shop for selling both newspapers and books. The next year, the company inked a massive exclusive contract with the London and North Western Railway, for installing their shops at the foremost railway stations, such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham. The terms were established initially for five years, with an £1500 annual cost. It included free transportation for W. H. Smith & Son 's products, all along the railway network.

It was a swift hit. By both rail mail coaches and road carts W. H. Smith & Son 's distribution system reached the most important cities along United Kingdom where they tied secured partnerships with the many small local distributors.

In the 1850s, W. H. Smith & Son became the most important newspaper distributor of United Kingdom while it monopolised almost all bookshops at London's railway stations. Both father and son became wealthy men and they were recognised by London's high-society as well.

The last years

Senior William Henry Smith retired in 1857. In the enterprise managing Junior replaced him although in 1864 he retired too, entering into politics.

In 1865, Senior William Henry Smith died.


  • After the company's railway bonanza, on one occasion, the company unsuccessfully attempted to force LNWR's to change its timetableing to wait for the regular delivery of The Times.
  • At the station shops, the books could be also rented.
  • The company sold books which were known as yellow-backs. They consisted of cheap reprints of old works which were already out of copyright.
  • In contrast to traditional reading matter at stations, the company launched a rigorous decency campaign.


See also


  • First With The News: The History of WH.Smith, 1792-1972. By Charles Wilson. WHS, 1985.

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