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History

Jim and Merna Eisenbraun established Eisenbrauns in the summer of 1975 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The goal of the business was very modest: to buy books, particularly books published outside the U.S., in ancient Near Eastern and biblical studies at a reduced cost for Jim and fellow graduate students at the University of Michigan.

Within a year, friends at other institutions had learned of the service and the mail-order book sales business was born. Distribution of flyers at the SBL meetings in St. Louis in 1976 resulted in the addition of scores of customers, and within three years, the business had grown so that the avocation that had required only a few hours on Saturday mornings was becoming a full-time job.

By 1978, the last year that the firm operated in Ann Arbor, the fledgling operation also decided to enter the typesetting business. With funds borrowed from a relative and only the possibility of some typesetting work, the first piece of equipment was ordered. By the time it was delivered and installed in space granted by the American Schools of Oriental Research on the university campus (in exchange partly for work done for ASOR), several jobs were in hand and a part-time employee was hired.

At the same time, Eisenbrauns entered publishing by issuing two reprints and beginning work on two original publications. Temporary storage space for inventory was rented, and Jim and the part-time employee performed all typesetting operations. Jim and Merna did all of the book distribution work, ordering and filling orders and handling all correspondence. The living room had a baby and shelves of books!

In July of 1978, the Eisenbrauns moved to Winona Lake/Warsaw, Indiana, where Jim had accepted a teaching position. For the first two or three months, the business occupied the recreation room of the house Jim and Merna purchased, and the garage was filled with the published book inventory. Two full-time employees were hired, one to work in typesetting and one to handle some of the bookselling division’s work. After a short time, 960 square feet of space was rented in a small strip mall on the east side of Warsaw, where the business remained for two years. There were three rooms: one for book shelving/inventory, one for typesetting, and one for packing/shipping. Within a year, there were five employees. It was during this year that the typesetting division began work on journals for a major university press, a relationship that has been important throughout the history of the company.

By the summer of 1980, it was clear that the rented facilities would not be adequate much longer and that other options must be pursued. After some negotiation, bare ground at 600 North Bay Drive was purchased and a contractor was hired to build an inexpensive steel structure, with the promise from a potential tenant of use of about 1/4 of the building. The building was erected during the fall and winter of 1980, and Eisenbrauns moved into the building on January 15, 1981, occupying the back 3/4, with the tenant occupying the front 1/4 and one office.

During the 1980s, the business experienced rapid growth, particularly in the book sales division. Within a short period, Eisenbrauns had about a dozen employees. After leaving teaching in the summer of 1982, Jim entered the business full time. In 1985, Eisenbrauns occupied the entire building, with the book sales division moving into the front.

In the late 1980s, technological changes in the typesetting industry resulted in new opportunities and higher productivity for the typesetting department, and in late 1990, the company changed to PostScript as the major pagination and typesetting software.

Growth continued steadily during the 1990s, with new challenges and opportunities as a result of the advent of the Internet. The property immediately adjacent, at 560 North Bay Drive, became available and this additional facility was purchased in January 2000. Warehousing, shipping, and receiving are now housed in this new building.

Eisenbrauns now maintains three divisions: book marketing and sales, prepress, and publishing. Click here to meet the staff.

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