Samuel Sosland

Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

In 1890, a Hebrew teacher named Henry Sosland immigrated to the United States to escape persecution in Czarist Russia. Three years later his wife Rosa and their three small boys followed, reuniting in a small, dirt-floored home in the West Bottoms of Kansas City. The youngest of the boys, Samuel, was not more than 4 years old when he traveled thousands of miles from his birthplace near the town of Vilna. Five more Sosland sons and one daughter would be born in Kansas City, and their hard work and smarts led to one of the city’s classic rags-to-riches stories. Like the rest of his siblings, Samuel Sosland never forsook his father’s emphasis on community or his appreciation of his adopted hometown, and the Soslands became one of the most powerful philanthropic forces in its history.

Samuel Sosland’s work life began early; as an errand boy for the Daily Drovers Telegram, he covered much ground amid the bustling Kansas City Stockyards and nearby Union Avenue, then Kansas City’s economic center. His father, who believed the success of the family depended upon their sticking together, made sure that Samuel’s earnings, along with those of his other hard-working siblings, went into a common fund, from which necessities were purchased for each. Samuel graduated from Central High and became a reporter, coupling his now solid reading and writing skills with the business sense he had acquired growing up in the West Bottoms.

In 1922, Samuel and two of his brothers, Sanders and David, founded a business of their own. Although they were young men, each had experience in the newspaper and agricultural industries, and their collective knowledge led to the founding of the Southwestern Miller, a weekly journal of the grain and milling trade. At that time, the Northwestern Miller, a Minneapolis-based publication with a focus on spring wheat, dominated the field, and unsuccessfully attempted to block publication of the Soslands’ upstart magazine, which specialized on the winter wheat produced in states surrounding Kansas City. In an early expression of the spirit of social responsibility that flowered as their fortunes grew, the Sosland brothers began a small fund intended for charity with portions of their first profits.

The Southwestern Miller became an indispensible chronicle of regional agri-business, often referred to as an "oracle" or "Bible" of the industry, a description the Soslands strove to uphold with rigorous reporting and high standards of journalistic ethics. A frequent writer of up to 5,000 words per week, and an editor whose commentaries served to guide the grain trade, Samuel Sosland insisted upon accuracy. David Sosland’s son, Morton, who joined the family business in the 1940s only to find all but his best work relegated to the trashcan by his demanding uncle, later credited Samuel’s high expectations with forming the basis of the journal’s reputation, which has earned it the close attention of officials in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury.

A quality product addressing a marketplace need, the publication was a huge financial success, and the Sosland organization grew to include additional enterprises. In the 1930s, guided by younger brothers Louis and Benjamin, Sosland Press Inc. and Sosland Envelope Co. further advanced the family’s business holdings. Under their stewardship, the Southwestern Miller responded to changes over time; as the grain and publishing industries changed during the postwar period, the journal’s coverage expanded, and in 1972 it was renamed the Milling and Baking News.

Although Samuel Sosland continued to work at the publication he co-founded until the end of his life, philanthropy had become his primary pursuit. His brothers also considered charitable reinvestment in the community to be a joyful obligation. Among their many philanthropies were the Jewish Federation of Kansas City, Menorah Medical Center, Rockhurst College, the Kansas City Art Institute, the Lyric Opera, KCPT, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, for which they endowed the Samuel Sosland Curator of American Art with a gift of $1 million in 1983. Upon his death at age 94 on November 6, 1983, its namesake was mourned as the patriarch of the Kansas City Soslands. The business enterprises Samuel Sosland co-founded, and his generosity toward the community in which they thrived, continue today in the work of Sosland Publishing Company and the Sosland Foundation.

Acknowledgement: 

A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-samuel-sosland-1886-1983-publ...

KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.