Regnery, Henry

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Regnery, Henry

(b. 5 January 1912 in Hinsdale, Illinois; d. 18 June 1996 in Chicago, Illinois), conservative publisher who founded the Henry Regnery Company, which published books by William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Wyndham Lewis, and T. S. Eliot.

Regnery was born in a suburb of Chicago, the next to youngest of the five children of William Henry Regnery, a wealthy textile manufacturer of western German descent, and Frances Susan Thrasher, of English and Welsh descent. Although the family was Catholic and as an adult Regnery published Catholic books, he never made a commitment to the church. His memorial service was held in an Episcopal church. In 1929 Regnery entered the Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology) to study mechanical engineering. In 1931 he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he took numerous humanities courses and received a B.S. degree in mathematics in 1934.

As the result of a friendship with a German exchange student, Regnery studied economics at the University of Bonn from 1934 to 1936. He later stated that he had little direct contact with the horrors of Nazism, then in its early stages, and that most of the people he met in Bonn were indifferent to or opposed to Nazism. In 1936 Regnery began doctoral studies in economics at Harvard, where he began to move toward a free-market position. Two years later he left Harvard with an M.A. degree, having decided to enter government service rather than teaching.

During the summer of 1937 Regnery held a temporary post in the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency involved with housing. From that position he gained employment with the American Friends Service Committee in connection with the development of a new community near Pittsburgh. While working there Regnery met Eleanor Scattergood, a member of an old Quaker family. They married on 12 November 1938 and subsequently had four children. In June 1941 Regnery returned to Illinois and entered the family textile business, Joanna Western Mills Company. He was an officer of this firm for six years and at one time was chairman of its board of directors. Nevertheless, he wrote in his memoirs that “Armour Institute of Technology convinced me that I would never be a businessman, MIT that I would never be a mathematician, Harvard Graduate School that I would never be a scholar, my father’s business that I would never be a businessman.”

During World War II, with the encouragement and financial assistance of his family, Regnery gradually entered publishing in 1944. He became a financial adviser for the newly established conservative weekly Human Events, headed by Felix Morley, whose books Regnery later published. In 1945 Regnery financed the publication of two pamphlets by the University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins. Regnery directed the publication of other pamphlets bearing the imprint Human Events, Inc., and covering various subjects and viewpoints. Many dealt with current events and foreign policy.

On 9 September 1947 the name of the nonprofit publishing organization headed by Regnery (Morley became president of Haverford College) changed from Human Events Associates to Henry Regnery Company. The first three books published under the new name were two highly critical examinations of the Allied occupation of Germany written by the left-wing British journalist Victor Gollancz and a book about “the sickness of the modern world” by the Swiss Catholic writer Max Picard. Six books, including works on history and philosophy, appeared in 1948, some of which were reviewed-by-the Christian Science Monitor, Saturday Review, and American Historical Review. However, that year the Internal Revenue Service denied the firm a tax exemption, forcing it to become a for-profit business. In 1948 Regnery began publishing Catholic religious works, later a major source of income for the company. Mortimer Brewster Smith’s And Madly Teach, a criticism of progressive education, sold very well after it was favorably reviewed by Time magazine. By 1949 Regnery was publishing books for the University of Chicago’s Great Books Program as well as books by Raymond Aron and Gabriel Marcel.

In 1951 Regnery published God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley, Jr. The recent graduate contended that the faculty at Yale University and by implication at other elite American universities had come to be dominated by atheists and political leftists. Amid the ensuing uproar in the academic community, the University of Chicago canceled its publishing contract with Regnery. In 1953, to somewhat less controversy, Regnery published Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana, a seminal work in American conservative thought. In later years Regnery published major works by other conservative authors, including Richard Weaver, Willmoore Kendall, and James Burnham, whom the more liberal-minded mainstream publishers, mostly in New York, would not touch. Although many of these books sold well, over the years much of the company’s profits continued to come from Roman Catholic religious works. Thomas Aquinas, it was said, was Regnery’s best-selling author. Regnery established a quality paperback line called Gateway Editions. After 1960, for financial reasons, he began publishing books on baseball and civil service examinations.

In 1966 Regnery left the presidency of his firm but became chairman of the board of directors the following year. In 1977 he sold the firm, which was renamed Contemporary Books and published books on sports and automobile repairs. He established two new publishing houses in Washington, D.C.—Gateway Editions Limited and Regnery Publishers. Regnery headed these businesses until his retirement in 1983, when his son Alfred Regnery took over.

Regnery wrote Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher (1979). His book on intellectual life in Chicago, Creative Chicago, was published in 1993, and a collection of his essays, A Few Reasonable Words (1996), was published shortly before his death. Another essay collection, Perfect Sowing: Reflections of a Bookman (1999), was released posthumously. Regnery died in Chicago of complications from brain surgery and was buried in that city.

In addition to Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher, some information on Regnery’s life is in his other books. An obituary is in the New York Times (23 June 1996).

Stephen A. Stertz