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Advertising Postcards from American Business Colleges
By the early twentieth century proprietary business colleges were fixtures in many American cities, located in three or four storey office buildings or in converted mansions. They trained students for work in the changing world of American business, providing graduates with entry-level jobs that became careers or steppingstones to other jobs.
To attract students these now mostly closed and largely forgotten post-secondary schools published numerous postcards. These school cards were often of high quality, and they emphasized their excellence and future success for their students. There are not many of these postcards from any given city, but when looked at together, they offer an interesting overview of business schools. The depiction of shifting areas in study is also telling.
The Drake Business School started in 1873 to teach typing to men. By its closure in 2004 it had expanded to include campuses in Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island (New York). It was perhaps the victim of poor management over time plus events it could not control: the efforts of New York State to balance its budget by delaying payments to schools, government efforts to shut down fly-by-night schools which made it more difficult for legitimate schools to operate, and the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, only blocks away from its main Manhattan campus.
Leander Clark College, originally named Western College and founded by the United Brethren in Christ church, operated from 1857 to 1919, when it was absorbed into Coe College.
Founded in 1894 as the Scranton Business College, this school merged in 1912 with the nearby Lackawanna Business College. It continues today as Lackawanna College.
The Lain Business College was founded in 1906 by Marvin M. Lain and his wife Minnie. It appears that this school lasted until 1974 under the names Lain Business Institute, Lain Drafting College, or Lain Technical Institute.
Since the year 2020 this college has been known as Ensign College. It is part of a group of educational institutions run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was founded in 1886 as the Salt Lake State Academy.
Since the Success Business and Reporting College has no history online, this Curt Teich postcard dating from 1940 may be all we’ll know about it. This school certainly must have been busy during WWII when America massively mobilized for the war against Germany and Japan.
The American Institute of Business was founded in 1921 by Everett O. Fenton and Ray Hansen. The campus closed in 2016 after the assets of the school were transferred to the University of Iowa.
[Editor’s note: In 1955, Everett Fenton was awarded the American Veterans Citizens Salute for his dedication to programs that were designed and taught for handicapped and disabled veterans, in the schools he administered. He died in 1968 at his home in Arizona. He was 70.]
The Central City Business School in Syracuse, New York, appears to have changed its name to the Central City Business Institute. It operated until the 1990s when it lost its accreditation.
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More information about these schools and others like them can be found on the website www.lostcolleges.com.
My mother was a graduate of Drake Business School.
I’m in Indianapolis and wondered what’s on the land once occupied by Lain Business College. Turns out it’s a parking lot, helpfully described as having 0 bedrooms and 0 baths.
Beautiful postcards and a wonderful story to go along with them. Thank you for your hard work.
A very informative article about an important part of education history. Growing up I remember business colleges and schools in my home city of Hamilton, Ontario.
Thank you for reminding me that I wrote “Looking for ‘Wide Awake’ Young People: Commercial Business Colleges in Nebraska, 1873-1950,” Nebraska History 90:1(Spring 2009): 42-50.