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Always intrigued by people and the story of the past, Gibbs M. Smith dreamed of becoming a history professor. His vision took him to Berkeley for grad school in the late 1960s, where he wrote his master’s dissertation on Joe Hill, the American labor martyr, proletarian folk hero, and songwriter.
His dissertation was published as a book and informed the production of a movie. Produced by Swedish filmmakers, Joe Hill won the Jury Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Building on his success and his love of history, Smith and his wife, Cathy, decided to start a publishing company. Their first office was their studio apartment in Santa Barbara.
The company grew, relocating to Utah in 1973. Gibbs and his wife poured their profits back into the business and lived on savings. They spent that first summer converting an old barn (built in 1916) on the Smith family farm into offices. Smith will never forget sharing the barn with cows those first few years. “You could hear them mooing through the walls,” he says with a smile. “People could hear them over the phone, too.” When he would explain the ruckus, the response on the other end of the line was always the same: “You do what? From where?”
Today, the Barn is home to three sheep—Wilma, Mabel, and Frannie, three hens, and a menagerie of cats. There are also humans, who produce beautiful books that can be found all around the world.
Today, Gibbs Smith Publisher is employee-owned, and organized as a B Corp. Its employees are not only concerned with creating works of art with every book they publish, but in promoting social and environmental accountibility. With a warehouse and distribution center ten minutes away from the original barn location, the company continues to thrive in its standing as an independent publisher.
Gibbs M. Smith passed away in 2017, but his wife and co-founder Catherine still maintains an active role on the organization's board of directors.
"Book publishing affords a sense of worldwide community that begins with our staff and partners who share the adventure and expand our vision of what is possible ... and book lovers everywhere who believe that books remain the most important medium of expression in our time."