Thomas Publishing Company History

5 Penn Plaza
New York, New York 10001

Telephone: (212) 290-7200
Fax: (212) 290-7362

Private Company
Incorporated: 1898
Employees: 500
Sales: $450 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 2721 Periodicals, Publishing; 2731 Books, Publishing; 8732 Market Research, Commercial

Company Perspectives:

For 100 years, Thomas Publishing Company has concentrated its full energies on filling one of industry's greatest needs ... the need for up-to-date product information. No other publisher is as totally dedicated to this mission.

Company History:

Celebrating its centennial in 1998, Thomas Publishing Company is a niche reference book publisher dedicated to marketing product information and other materials relevant to both domestic and international industry. It is best known for its Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. The company also publishes 27 product news magazines, 23 major buying guides, and is the acknowledged originator of both the industrial product classification system and the reader service card.

Founded in 1898

Thomas Publishing was started in 1890 by Harvey Mark Thomas. It has been family-owned and -managed ever since. The company was incorporated on January 28, 1898, at 106 Wall Street, New York City. Later in the year Thomas's American Grocery Trades Reference Book was launched. It was the predecessor of the Thomas Grocery Register (TGR), and in 1993 it became the Thomas Food Industry Register (TFIR).

When it was first published, the American Grocery Trades Reference Book was the first directory of the food industry. Over the years the American Grocery Trades Reference Book evolved from a one-volume directory of grocery merchants to a three-volume, industrywide buying guide. The 1998 edition listed more than 30,000 companies and 120,000 suppliers and featured more than 6,000 product classifications. Long before then, of course, it was recognized as the single most comprehensive, nationwide buying guide for the food industry. As the company's original publication, it led to the development of Thomas Publishing's extensive line of industrial buying guides, including the well-known Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, which is the company's flagship publication.

Thomas Register of American Manufacturers Introduced in 1905

What became the company's best-known publication, the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, was launched as the Thomas' Register of American Manufacturers and First Hands in All Lines in 1905. The original publication featured product classifications grouped by state. In 1969 Thomas added a catalog section to the Thomas Register, which included advertisers' catalogs in separate volumes. This publication would become known as ThomCat.

In 1984 the content of the Thomas Register became available online through Dialog Information Services, and the 75th anniversary edition was published in 1985. It contained more than 61,000 individual advertisements by 17,000 companies. To mark the occasion, Thomas Publishing donated 1,000 sets of the 19-volume work to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That same year, Inbound Logistics magazine was first published as an outgrowth of the Inbound Traffic Guide section of the Thomas Register. In 1993 the content of the Thomas Register was first published in CD-ROM format and in 1995 was made available on the Internet.

Published annually, the 1998 edition of the Thomas Register included 34 volumes containing sourcing information on nearly 56,000 industrial products and services. Together with detailed specifications and availability information from manufacturers, the work included more than 1.7 million individual product or service sources. The publication also included a complete three-volume Company Profiles section and a comprehensive eight-volume Catalog File section. More than 152,000 U.S. and Canadian firms were listed.

In 1915 the Thomas Register acquired an eight-person sales force, marking the start of the independent sales contractor system for Thomas Publishing. The newly acquired sales force included Sam Hendricks, a former competitor who had founded the Hendricks Register. Over the year Thomas Publishing's sales force grew to over 1,000 independent sales contractors, of which about 600 were devoted to selling the Thomas Register. In 1923 Thomas Publishing moved to the Printing Crafts Building on 461 Eighth Avenue in New York City, now known as Five Penn Plaza.

First New Product News Tabloid, 1933

In 1933 Thomas began publishing Industry Equipment News (IEN), the earliest new product tabloid to be published. It would spawn many imitators. The next year IEN became the first publication to include a "bingo card," a reader reply card which readers could send in to obtain more information from the periodical's advertisers.

The concept for IEN was brought to Harvey Mark Thomas, publisher of the then 26-year-old Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, by F. Morse ("Mo") Smith. Smith noticed that the new product sections of most business publications tended to be the most well-read, indicating a basic need for new product news. It was a need that Harvey Mark Thomas also recognized, and together with Smith and editor Bill Irish they developed the first product news magazine.

The first edition of Industry Equipment News was mailed in May 1933. By the end of the year it was clear that the publication had achieved sufficient reader acceptance to begin taking advertising. The publication was noted for several innovations in product news reporting. It featured a tightly written style that allowed for the maximum number of new products in each issue. It employed an oversized tabloid page format with ads surrounding a center column of editorial content. The pages reported on a wide range of new products from all industries, so that readers could find solutions to their manufacturing needs.

IEN aimed to make it easy for prospective buyers to contact manufacturers, and it assigned a number to each ad and editorial item. In 1934 IEN introduced the "bingo card," the now familiar reader service card that could be sent back to the magazine to obtain additional product information from the manufacturers. IEN later improved upon the bingo card by providing a write-in card on which readers could spell out in greater detail their specific needs.

IEN's circulation policy was also innovative. It was offered free to all qualified subscribers, thus speeding up the process of getting new product information to decision-makers in industry. IEN was among the first publications to use free "controlled circulation" exclusively, a method which became the dominant way specialized business periodicals were distributed.

Almost from its very beginning, IEN began to expand internationally. In 1938 Mo Smith licensed IEN in Canada and the United Kingdom. Some 40 years later IEN began an international network with editions being published in different countries by local partners. Still expanding in the 1990s, this international network covered pan-Europe, France, Germany, Holland, the Mideast, Brazil, Latin America, Japan, and Korea.

Continuing its tradition of innovation, Thomas created an Internet database of product news called the Product News Network (PNN). It was launched in March 1998 with 50,000 products and was expected to expand dramatically. Another source of product news, IENOnline, was scheduled to launch in the spring of 1999. IENOnline would be a web site that would uniquely interact with the print publication.

Thomas Marketing Information Center (TMIC) Established, 1969

In 1969 Thomas established the Thomas Marketing Information Center (TMIC) to market industrial information and databases the company had collected. In 1977 TMIC began offering industrial marketing research services to outside companies. In the early 1990s TMIC published the company's first manufacturing software guides.

Thomas International Publishing Co. (TIPCo) was established to develop international ventures for the company. In its first year TIPCo teamed up with INCOM K.K. of Japan to produce the first foreign-language version of IEN. It was the company's first joint venture. The next year it established a joint venture in Brazil with T/L Publicacoes Industrials Ltda. to produce Portuguese editions of IEN and the Thomas Register. In 1975 TIPCo established joint ventures in Belgium and Germany. In 1978 a joint venture was established in France, called Editions Elsevier-Thomas S.A. By 1998 Thomas was publishing 21 titles in seven languages worldwide. TIPCo also published the Thomas Register of European Manufacturers, and the first CD-ROM edition of that title was published in 1996.

Thomas Regional Directory Company Established, 1976-77

Thomas Regional Directory Company began as a division of Thomas Publishing in 1976. The idea for publishing regional information had been circulating around Thomas for some time, because it spoke to the core of Thomas's publishing mission: to provide industrial purchasing information to buyers and specifiers. During 1976 Philip O'Keefe, who eventually became president of Thomas Regional Directory Company, and a group of Thomas staffers developed a regional publication for northern New Jersey, a heavily industrialized area. In March 1977, Thomas Regional Directory Company published its first regional industrial buying guide covering the North Jersey region. Eventually it would publish 19 regional editions covering much of the United States.

With the success of the North Jersey volume, Thomas Regional Directory Company was officially incorporated as a subsidiary of Thomas Publishing Company in 1977. By the early 1980s, Thomas Regional had published other regional industrial buying guides. In 1986 Philip O'Keefe resigned as president of Thomas Regional and was replaced by Eileen Markowitz, previously a vice-president with Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.

Ever since the early 1990s, more and more directories were being published on CD-ROM as librarians and small business owners were discovering the benefits of this electronic format. After forming a task group to study CD-ROMs, Thomas Regional published its first Thomas Regional Electronic Network Directory (TREND) in November 1996. That year Thomas Regional released a total of 19 CD-ROMs, one for each region.

At the same time, the TREND team oversaw the development of the Thomas Regional Internet site. This site would become the web's largest and most comprehensive database of regional industrial suppliers, providing information on more than 480,000 industrial companies. The company's new CD-ROMs would provide seamless web connectivity to Thomas Regional on the Internet, so that the company's CD-ROM customers would have access to the entire web database. Thomas Regional's busy publishing schedule--one print guide and one CD-ROM every three weeks--was handled by an in-house staff of 75 people, which also took care of updating the Thomas Regional web site.

Began Publishing American Export Register, 1980

Known as the American Export Register since it was acquired by Thomas Publishing, the American Register of Exporters and Importers was first published in 1948 by another publisher. It was designed to help European industry recover from World War II by providing contact information for American suppliers of goods and services. Thomas acquired the publication in 1979 from its current publisher, S. John Cousins, and renamed the 1980 edition the American Export Register.

The 1998 edition of the American Export Register contained more than 1,100 paid advertisers, 5,500 product and service categories, and more than 44,000 listings for U.S. companies. The work was published annually and circulated to nearly 200 countries, reaching more than 20,000 users worldwide.

In March 1998 the American Export Register became the first and only directory for exporters to make its information available on both a multilingual CD-ROM and on the Internet. The electronic formats, published in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, facilitated contact between international buyers and American exporters through fax forms and hotlinks. In addition, the electronic products contained the linecards, catalogs, brochures, and videos of the American export companies.

Toward the end of 1998 the American Export Group announced that a new Chinese-language edition of the American Export Register would be published in China in 1999 by a new venture called International Business Directories, Inc. The new edition was endorsed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and would be distributed to 20,000 qualified purchasers of imported industrial products and services.

Thomas Launched Managing Automation, 1986

In 1986 a new magazine devoted to advanced manufacturing, Managing Automation, was first published by Thomas Publishing. It grew out of a recognition on the part of IEN management that automating a manufacturing facility was a complex process. While automation was becoming essential to the survival of manufacturing in America, there was a marked lack of information about the necessary automation solutions. As a result, Managing Automation focused on the increased use and influence of computers on integrated manufacturing. It covered the factory and manufacturing from the point of view of systems integration.

To define its audience, Managing Automation developed a new circulation definition system. Instead of using traditional definitions such as job title, function, or SIC code, the new system categorized readers on the basis of their involvement in various stages of the automation process.

Over the next decade and more, integration of the manufacturing process advanced rapidly, from factory floor integration to plantwide integration to efforts to integrate the entire supply chain globally. Managing Automation changed, too, from a focus on individual hardware components toward systems and software-controlled supply chain integration.

Thomas Began Publishing Software Guides, 1992

Thomas began publishing software guides and a directory of software manufacturers in 1992. The first guide, Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) Software Directory and Comparison Guide, was published in 1992 by the Thomas Marketing Information Center. The publication grew into a family of guides that would help users compare and select manufacturing software. These software guides were later published in electronic format by the Managing Automation Software Guides division of the Thomas Magazine Group.

A second software guide and directory was published in 1995. It covered factory software and was published under the title Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) Directory and Comparison Guide. It was published by Managing Automation Software Guides, first in print form, then in 1996 on CD-ROM. The CMMS guide was also made available in CD-ROM format.

In 1997 Thomas debuted the Manufacturing Enterprise Applications (MEA) Comparison CD-ROM. It contained detailed information on 150 software systems and suppliers of enterprise-wide software. Also included on the CD-ROMs were electronic advertisements. With widespread acceptance of the CD-ROM versions of its software guides, Thomas stopped publishing them in print form.

In addition to publishing new manufacturing software guides in 1997, Thomas acquired three computer-assisted design (CAD) titles originally launched by Autodesk: PartSpec, PlantSpec, and CADBlocks. These titles provided design engineers, plant engineers, and architects with an online library of product drawings for use in their own designs.

In December 1997 Thomas entered into a partnership with Advanced Manufacturing Research, Inc., a respected industry and market analysis firm specializing in enterprise applications and related trends and technologies. The partnership created Total Applications Selection Kits (T.A.S.K.) for mid-size manufacturers to provide complete solutions to the software selection process. T.A.S.K. provided all of the necessary research, tools, advice, and information for identifying, comparing, selecting, and purchasing the appropriate software.

To facilitate adding new information to its database of manufacturing software, Managing Automation Software Guides published in January 1998 an editorial questionnaire on the Internet in a secure web site for software suppliers to provide Thomas with updated information on their systems and companies.

Web Sites and Online Services

After moving back to 5 Penn Plaza, originally 461 Eighth Avenue, in 1993, Thomas Publishing made the content of the Thomas Register available on the Internet at www. in 1995. In early 1998 the web site was relaunched. The redesign helped increase site traffic by 20 percent a month to 13 million page views per month.

In 1997 a joint venture was established between Thomas Publishing and General Electric Information Services (GEIS) of Rockville, Maryland, to provide web-based procurement solutions to buyers and sellers worldwide. Called the Trading Partner Services Register, or TPN Register, the system allowed users to conduct business electronically using Thomas's classification system and Internet programs. It was reported that the service could reduce procurement cycles by up to 50 percent and reduce costs by 30 percent.

TPN Register grew out of a 1996 partnership between a Thomas subsidiary, Electronic Purchasing Information Corporation (EPIC), and GEIS. The two companies teamed to create ConnectUs, a public database that allowed firms to choose suppliers internationally. With ConnectUs, companies could make online purchases using a purchasing card and electronic data interchange (EDI) messages. Thomas had created the Electronic Purchasing Information Corporation (EPIC) to develop ways to enhance and administer electronic commerce using information contained in Thomas Publishing's databases.

In 1998 SoluSource was introduced as a "next generation" online service to help design engineers. It was based on Thomas's vast library of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) catalogs. It incorporated specially designed search tools and functionality-based indexing that facilitated side-by-side product comparisons.

By 1998 all of Thomas's major directories were available as databases on the World Wide Web, including the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, the Thomas Register of European Manufacturers, Thomas Regional Directories, and the Thomas Food Industry Register. The Thomas databases could be accessed for free by users, with advertisers footing the bill.

Celebrated 100th Anniversary, 1998

Thomas Publishing celebrated the company's 100th anniversary in 1998. A number of commemorative activities were scheduled, including a nationwide industrial marketplace study of leading companies; donations of Thomas's electronic products to colleges and universities; and sponsorship of a nationwide essay contest among students of purchasing.

Throughout its 100-year history, Thomas Publishing has created products to bring buyers and sellers together. Its pioneering supplier directory and other new products helped establish it as the industrial information authority throughout the 20th century. As a result, Thomas Publishing was positioned as the recognized leader in providing U.S. industry with product information through both print and electronic publishing.

Principal Subsidiaries: Thomas International Publishing Company, Inc.; Thomas Regional Directory Company; Thomcomp Incorporated.

Further Reading:

  • "America's Leading Export Directory Becomes First to Publish Multi-Lingual CD and Internet Site," March 16, 1998, http://www.
  • Brennan, Patricia L., "Thomas Register Marks 75th Year As the Leader of Buying Guides for Businesses," Indianapolis Business Journal, June 17, 1985, p. 2B.
  • "Efficient Procurement," Industry Week, April 7, 1997, p. 120.
  • Fitch, Thomas P., "Two Vendor Info Networks Boost Electronic Business," Corporate Cashflow Magazine, April 1996, p. 5.
  • Hargraves, Allison, "Thomas Register Marks 75th Year," Pittsburgh Business Times and Journal, February 25, 1985, p. 4S.
  • "Industrial Equipment News,"
  • Kaydo, Chad, "Does Nepotism Work?," Sales and Marketing Management, July 1998, p. 16.
  • O'Leary, Mick, "Thomas Brings Register--and More--to the Web," Database, June-July 1998, p. 80.
  • "Pop Goes Purchasing," Industry Week, February 5, 1996, p. 43.
  • Raffaele, Elizabeth, "Thomas Publishing Sues Industry.Net over Copyright," Pittsburgh Business Times and Journal, February 10, 1997, p. 9.
  • "Thomas Food Industry Register,"
  • "Thomas Publishing Announces China Directory," October 1, 1998,
  • "Thomas Publishing Company Timeline,"
  • "Thomas Publishing Company Celebrates 100 Years of Bringing Buyers and Sellers Together," March 11, 1998,
  • "Thomas Regional Directory Company,"
  • "Thomas Regional Settles Internet Copyright Infringement Lawsuits Brought Against IndustryNet," February 26, 1998, http://www.
  • "Thomas Register of American Manufacturers," http://www.
  • "ThomasNet Launches SoluSource," June 9, 1998,
  • Walsh, Mark, "Thomas Gains Purchase on Web, but Success Comes at a Cost," Crain's New York Business, May 4, 1998, p. 32.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 26. St. James Press, 1999.