Fall 2014

The first Edwards Brothers building was on Main Street.


A Page in Michigan Law History: Printing Course Packs, One Mimeograph at a Time

In the late 1800s, the Edwards Brothers wrote the first chapter on entrepreneurship.

Thomas Edwards Jr. (JD 1899), Daniel Edwards (JD 1894, LLB 1896), and John Edwards founded their printing company in 1893, starting with the sale of lecture notes.
Thomas Edwards Jr. (JD 1899), Daniel Edwards (JD 1894, LLB 1896), and John Edwards founded their printing company in 1893, starting with the sale of lecture notes.

While the Computer Age has produced countless companies whose origins can be traced to their founders’ dorm rooms, college-age ingenuity didn’t begin with Facebook, Google, or Microsoft. 

For Ann Arbor-based book printer and manufacturer Edwards Brothers Malloy, it started with the mimeograph. (Readers born after 1970 should think of the mimeograph as the great-grandfather of the photocopier.)

To set the timeline, consider that at the same time Thomas, Daniel, and John J. (J.J.) Edwards were developing their side-business at Michigan Law, Chicago World’s Fair visitors were getting their first glimpse of a new observation ride called the “Ferris wheel” and Henry Ford was still a decade away from incorporating his auto company.

The year was 1893 and the Edwards brothers were trying their luck with a business model still common on high school and college campuses today: the sale of lecture notes.

“It’s the American story,” says John Edwards, BGS ’83, the company’s fourth-generation president and CEO. “You see a business opportunity and you figure out how to make it work. The brothers started it together, and 120 years later the Edwards family is still in the printing business.”

The great-grandson of J.J. Edwards, John Edwards grew up hearing what he calls his “family legend.” The story went something like this: Three brothers studying at Michigan Law discovered they could supplement the cost of their education by copying and then selling professors’ lecture notes, or course packs, to their fellow students.

“They would take turns running the business. One of them would sit out a term while the others attended law school. My great-grandfather took over the business when Thomas and Daniel went on to become lawyers, or so the story goes,” John Edwards says.

Daniel was the first to complete his degree, graduating from Michigan Law with the Class of 1894 and earning his LLB two years later. Thomas followed in the Class of 1899. (Enrollment information for J.J. was unavailable.) Although not much is known about the brothers’ time in law school, alumni records show that both Thomas and Daniel went on to practice and serve in a number of public and private posts in Washington, D.C., throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, the mimeograph business continued to grow under the direction of J.J.’s children and grandchildren, many of whom earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Michigan—although Thomas and Daniel remain the only two Michigan Law graduates on the family tree.

In the decades since opening the first Edwards Brothers storefront on Main Street, the family enterprise has remained rooted in Ann Arbor while also making significant expansions, merging with fellow book printer Malloy Incorporated in 2012, adding printing plants across the country, and forming partnerships abroad to accommodate the changing scope of a business that has evolved from mimeographed lecture notes to short- and medium-run books and journals printed with the industry’s latest technology.

“The print business has gone from the mimeograph to the letter press to offset, and now we’re putting our first inkjet machine in the Ann Arbor plant,” says John Edwards. “We print textbooks for major publishers and the latest best seller, but also custom products made-to-order. Custom publishing is the fastest-growing segment of higher education publishing and really where Edwards Brothers started. Those mimeographed notes, like today’s short-run print products, were tailored to the class and even the student. In a way, we’re going back to our roots.”

Editor’s note: The University of Michigan has purchased the Edwards Brothers property at 2500 S. State Street. Edwards Brothers Malloy plans to consolidate its Ann Arbor operations at the company’s Jackson Road facility.

Entrepreneurship at the Law School Continues Today

At 121-years-old, Edwards Brothers Malloy is one of Michigan Law’s earliest entrepreneurial success stories, but it is far from the last, with an entirely new chapter being written in just the past few years through the launch of the Law School’s Entrepreneurship Clinic.

“Since we started the clinic in January 2012, the excitement among students and clients has not diminished,” says Director and Clinical Professor Dana Thompson, ’99. “It’s been remarkable to see how many law students are interested in participating in the clinic and how many of them have caught the entrepreneurship bug as well. Law students are attracted to the idea of working with entrepreneurs developing cutting-edge technology, and every semester we have more applications than spaces in the clinic.”

The Entrepreneurship Clinic, which pairs law students with U-M student-led ventures, is a mutually beneficial arrangement, providing law students with real-world experience in representing early-stage ventures while offering valuable legal services to U-M entrepreneurs free of charge. Part of the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law (ZEAL) Program—named for another Michigan Law entrepreneur, Sam Zell, JD ’66, HLLD ’05­­­—the clinic represents just one of the ways in which Michigan Law has responded to an ever-increasing student demand for programs and classes in the entrepreneurial sphere, Thompson says.