Spreading the Word: Henry Parsons Crowell, Mass Media, and the Moody Bible Institute

Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:50 AM
Galvez Room (New Orleans Marriott)
Laura Johnson, State University of New York at Fredonia
The 1899 death of Dwight Moody left the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) on the edge of financial ruin.  But Henry Parsons Crowell, the founder of the Quaker Oats Company, arrived in 1901 and, in his four decades as chairman, innovated new techniques that reversed the Institute’s fortunes.

Crowell succeeded in business through new techniques of marketing, advertising, and merchandizing.  Because of his innovations, the Quaker Oats Company became an industry leader.  He and his son, Henry Coleman Crowell, helped the MBI utilize mass media to promote the message of the Institute.

Crowell extended the MBI’s message into the realm of mass communications, relying on his conviction that all forms of media can be used to share a message. He updated the old Moody Colportage Association and created the Moody Press, utilizing his knowledge of marketing to sell books. He then moved to create a monthly magazine and eventually pushed the Institute to lead the way in a pioneering new technology: radio broadcasting.  He also provided financial support for the publication of The Fundamentals beginning in 1909, laying the foundation for Christian Fundamentalism.

The use of mass media to advance the MBI’s message can be seen as an extension of Dwight Lyman Moody’s and Henry Parsons Crowell’s interest in promotion, advertising, and marketing. Unhappy with the role of religion in American life, they utilized innovations in communications to connect with audiences and to spread their message. This study will explore the uses of mass media for promotional and educational purposes at the MBI before 1920. Through innovative new methods, the Moody Bible Institute penetrated the public sphere to educated the public about its unique perspective on American religion.