The Budget History 1890 – Present
The Budget’s first editor sat in a straight-backed wooden chair just up the road from where the current home of the newspaper is located in Sugarcreek, Ohio. His name was J. M. Richardson. He worked as the first editor under the guidance of proprietor J. C. Miller.
An experienced printer, John C. Miller thought Sugarcreek needed its own newspaper. If Miller were describing his new paper in 1890, he surely would say, “It is a community newspaper.” Community newspapers have had a long history in the United States starting in 1704 when Postmaster John Campbell published a one-page News Letter on a weekly basis, in Boston.
Miller hired on Richardson and together the first issue was produced. That first edition, dated May 15, 1890, was a four-page layout that had three columns per page of text and advertisements.
Miller sent the premiere edition of The Budget to some personal acquaintances via area post offices. The purpose of the paper that could be purchased for just 50 cents per year was simple and pure in its journalistic mission. He wrote: “In presenting to the public the first issue of The Budget we feel that sense of humility that usually emanates from knowledge of the criticisms which our little paper and all others of its kind usually meet on being introduced to the reading public. But, dear reader, all we ask is that we may meet your recognition. It is not our object to attempt social, political or religious reforms. It would seem that a new publication brought out without any of these objects was without purpose. Such, however, is not the case. Our purpose is to conduct our newspaper in the interest of our village and the vicinity, to give the current news and to aid in propagating any movement for the general good … Independent in all things, we maintain the ground of neutrality, and we fearlessly publish whatever may be of interest and conducive of good morals.”
That first edition of The Budget was mailed to a whopping 600 potential subscribers. Miller sent two more issues to the same people. After the third issue, it was requested that anyone who did not wish to continue receiving the newspaper send a postcard notifying the publisher of this. If no contact was made after a period of time, the recipient was considered a subscriber and would be billed. Thus, a mailing list was born.
That autumn Richardson left to assume duties as a school principal, leaving Miller as owner and editor. The next summer Miller was laid up with a broken arm and printing was interrupted. Printing resumed a few weeks later which resulted in a few missed issues for the bi-monthly publication. The issue dated December 3, 1891 marked another significant change as the newspaper was renamed The Weekly Budget, and became a weekly visitor in nearly 500 homes. The Ohio Amish and Mennonite communities, especially, were embracing the newspaper. Anabaptist readers were devouring the news in the paper written by like correspondents. Amish and Mennonite readers everywhere were sharing news from their communities with Budget readers.
The Budget’s appeal was growing beyond its central Ohio borders reaching Amish and Mennonite communities not only throughout Ohio but in other regions of the United States. Its mission statement was renewed, as well, to its current mission: “The Budget is a hometown community newspaper for Sugarcreek, the surrounding communities and communities of Amish and Mennonite throughout the Americas."
By the mid-1890s The Budget was mailed to post offices in 18 states. In 1906, circulation hit its first milestone of 5,000. The Budget was on its trek to becoming the nation’s most widely circulated small town newspaper. It was niche publishing decades before “niche” was a popular industry buzzword.
The Budget continued to grow. In January, 1910, the paper began to publish twice a week – each Tuesday and Friday. However, Miller grew ill and sold the paper on October 1, 1910 to Reverend Samuel H. Miller and a board of Mennonite churchmen. The Budget was reverted to a weekly publication schedule. John C. Miller continued to print the final product but no longer dealt with editorial matters. In March, 1912, he sold his equipment to Ammon A. Middaugh, a longtime, loyal employee, and retired from the business. Rev. Miller’s son, John S. Miller, moved to Sugarcreek and became the paper’s editor.
The Budget, always published in Sugarcreek, Ohio, moved its operations to its current home on Factory Street, in January 1914. Two years later the first Linotype machine was purchased and operated by Middaugh. The cost of a one-year subscription was $1.
As time progressed, Rev. Miller was more consumed with speaking engagements. In 1920 he offered The Budget for sale and he found an enthusiastic buyer: S.A. Smith published The Budget and he operated as the Royal Printing Company. The Budget, as so many businesses experienced, suffered through the depression; readership dropped below 2,500. In 1936, S. A. Smith became the Postmaster in Sugarcreek. He turned the publishing reins over to his son George who had been a part of business since he was 14 and his father had purchased The Budget. George Smith was already familiar with much of the publishing business by the age of 30, and he dedicated himself to the task of recommitting the newspaper to its mission and restoring its stature in Sugarcreek and Anabaptist communities across the country.
In 1950 George Smith purchased the business that included not only The Budget but the entire printing operations, including lots of commercial print work for local businesses ranging from office staples to signage. The company name was changed to Budget Printing Company. But the newspaper was the jewel in George Smith’s eye, and six years later he sold the commercial printing business to L. Wade Middaugh, son of Ammon. The Budget continued to print on site, and the newspaper began to flourish.
Under George Smith’s watchful eye The Budget rededicated its mission to publish a paper that was universally regarded as the Voice of Plain People’s Communities everywhere; locally, the newspaper committed itself to reporting on the Sugarcreek community where its readers “Live, Work, Play and Pray.”
To better serve its readership, The Budget evolved into two editions in 1961, and that format continues to the present time. The Local Edition was a paper filled with local news coverage from Sugarcreek and the surrounding communities in east-central Ohio; The National Edition became known as “The Amish Newspaper.” It was mailed to subscribers in mostly Plain People communities throughout the United States; it consists almost entirely of “newsletters” from Amish and Mennonite writers reporting news and lifestyle events from their individual communities. The two editions were combined as the Home Edition in Ohio: the Home Edition was mailed to all in-state subscribers providing them with extensive news from both “English” and Anabaptist communities.
The multiple edition approach proved successful. By 1969, total circulation numbers were hovering at the 15,000 mark, mailed to subscribers in over 25 states.
Smith leased the business to two employees in 1969, but he continued to work as editor. The new owners, Sylvester R. Miller and Don E. Sprankle, publishing as Sugarcreek Budget Publishers, converted the press operations to offset printing and computerized typesetting. The Budget dismantled its press and began to print off site. The Budget changed paper size, increased the page count and readership continued steady growth. Smith sold the business in 1974, Sylvester Miller secured controlling interest, but Smith agreed to stay on in an editorial leadership position.
Miller retired in 1980, and with Smith’s help he brokered a deal with Albert Spector, who owned the Spector Stores, a group of popular Amish Dry Goods stores. Spector was a principle advertiser in The Budget and he understood the value in the paper. However, he purchased the paper with one condition: that George Smith, known affectionately to subscribers as “Mr. Budget,” stay on in an editorial role with the National Edition.
Spector purchased The Budget in 1980 to “protect my investment in the dry goods stores.” The stores spent 100 percent of its advertising budget in The Budget and Spector wanted to guarantee the paper’s survival to assure his own stores’ survival.
Keith Rathbun joined The Budget in 2000, becoming the first professionally-trained journalist to ever lead the newspaper. George Smith died in October, 2000, just three weeks after Rathbun took the helm. Smith was writing an occasional column for The Budget until weeks before his death at the age of 94. Rathbun purchased Albert Spector’s shares in 2008; he is a partner with the Spector family.
“Unique” is a much abused and often misused word. Something is either unique or it is not. The Budget is truly a unique paper. Fellow publishers remark that The Budget may very well become “the last paper standing.” The Budget’s Local Edition has a very minimalistic Web presence, and its National Edition is unavailable on any/all digital platforms. A printed newspaper version of The Budget is a certainty for as long as anyone can see into the future.
The Budget continues to grow in every aspect of the business, especially in content, page count and advertising. The number of Plain People correspondents continues to grow; currently there are nearly 950 “scribes,” representing a like number of Amish and Mennonite communities across the country, writing for the newspaper. The scribes are “down home” people; they are not specially trained writers. They are not professional journalists. Most are volunteer writers who contribute regularly to The Budget, documenting births, deaths, marriages, tragedies, fatalities, invention … all that which comprises the basics of news coverage for any other newspaper.
The Budget, except for a few dozen newsstands, is fully reliant on the USPS for weekly delivery to its nearly 20,000 readers in Amish and Mennonite rural communities all across the United States and beyond. The Budget currently mails to subscribers in 49 states, Canada, Europe, Africa, Central and South America.