"The Call of The Wild" at The Henry Ford
In 1903, Jack London was a young writer still in the early stages of his career. He was 27 years old when he published The Call of the Wild, the story that was destined to become an American classic and earn him a place in the canon of American literature. Drawing upon London’s experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush, The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a dog who is kidnapped from his idyllic home in northern California and thrown into the harsh life of a sled dog in the cold wilderness of the Yukon.
The Call of the Wild was first published in The Saturday Evening Post, a popular weekly magazine that featured a variety of content including articles on current events, editorials, illustrations, cartoons, poetry, and fiction. The magazine paid Jack London a sum of $750 for his story, the equivalent of almost $20,000 today. The Call of the Wild was published in five consecutive issues from June 20, 1903 to July 18, 1903. The first two of these issues are held in the collections of The Henry Ford, including the initial issue which features The Call of the Wild on the cover.
The Saturday Evening Post had widespread circulation; in fact, even Clara Ford had a subscription. Several of The Henry Ford’s issues from around 1903 bear an address label for Mrs. H. Ford at 332 Hendrie Ave., the address of the Fords’ residence in Detroit at the time. Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903, just four days before The Call of the Wild was first published. When the final installment of The Call of the Wild was published a month later, Ford Motor Company had just sold their first car for $850, as recorded in their first checkbook. Coincidentally, the base price of the Model A car was $750, the same amount that Jack London received from The Saturday Evening Post for his story. (Ford Motor Company’s first customer paid an extra $100 for a tonneau, or backseat compartment, bringing the total for the car to $850.) I imagine that Henry Ford was quite busy building his fledgling company and didn’t have much time for leisure reading. However, it is interesting to think that he or his wife Clara might have read The Call of the Wild when it was first published, especially at a time when both Henry Ford and Jack London were on the verge of success that would lead them to become icons in American industrial and literary history, respectively.
Linda Choo is former Librarian at The Henry Ford.