Biography Edgar Albert Guest

Edgar Albert Guest

photo of Edgar Albert Guest
  • Time Period1881 - 1959
  • PlaceBirmingham
  • CountryEngland

Poet Biography

Eddie Guest was born in Birmingham, England in 1881, moving to Michigan USA as a young child, it was here he was educated.

In 1895, the year before Henry Ford took his first ride in a motor carriage, Eddie Guest signed on with the Free Press as a 13-year-old office boy. He stayed for 60 years.

In those six decades, Detroit underwent half a dozen identity changes, but Eddie Guest became a steadfast character on the changing scene.

Three years after he joined the Free Press, Guest became a cub reporter. He quickly worked his way through the labor beat -- a much less consequential beat than it is today -- the waterfront beat and the police beat, where he worked "the dog watch" -- 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

By the end of that year -- the year he should have been completing high school -- Guest had a reputation as a scrappy reporter in a competitive town.

It did not occur to Guest to write in verse until late in 1898 when he was working as assistant exchange editor. It was his job to cull timeless items from the newspapers with which the Free Press exchanged papers for use as fillers. Many of the items were verses. Guest figured he might just as well write verse as clip it and submitted one of his own, a dialect verse, to Sunday editor Arthur Mosley. The Free Press was choosy about publishing the literary efforts of staff members and Guest, a 17-year-old dropout, might have been seen as something of an upstart. But Mosley decided to publish the verse, His verse ran on Dec. 11, 1898.

More contributions of verse and observations led to a weekly column, "Blue Monday Chat," and then a daily column, "Breakfast Table Chat."

Verse had always been part of Guest's writing, but he had more or less followed the workaday road of many newsmen for 10 years. In 1908, standing in the rain as the solitary mourner for one such journalist who had long since been forgotten and relegated to the newspaper's morgue, Guest resolved to escape that fate by becoming a specialist. From that day forward, nearly all of his writing was in meter and rhyme.

And readers loved it.

They asked where they could find collections of his folksy verses. Guest talked it over his younger brother Harry, a typesetter, and they bought a case of type. They were in the book publishing business.

After supper, Harry climbed the stairs to the attic to set Eddie's poetry. Harry could set as many as eight pages -- provided the verses didn't have too many "e's" in them -- before he had to print what he had and break up the forms for eight more pages. They printed 800 copies of a 136-page book, "Home Rhymes."

Two years later, in 1911 and still working in eight-page morsels, they printed "Just Glad Things," but upped the press order to 1,500 copies.

They escaped the limits of their type case with the third book, published in 1914, but Guest had some misgivings about the large press run -- 3,500 copies. It sold out in two Christmases.

More books followed, and before he was done Guest had filled more than 20. Sales ran into the millions and his most popular collection, "It Takes a Heap o' Livin'," sold more than a million copies by itself.

Guest's verses, originally clipped by exchange editors at other papers, went into syndication and he was carried by more than 300 newspapers. His popularity led to one of early radios longest-running radio shows, appearances on television, in Hollywood and in banquet halls and meeting rooms from coast to coast.

But Edgar A. Guest remained, at heart and in fact, a newspaper man. In 1939, he told "Editor & Publisher," "I've never been late with my copy and I've never missed an edition. And that's seven days a week." For more than 30 years, there was not a day that the Free Press went to press without Guest's verse on its pages. He worked for the Free Press for more than six decades. Thousands of Detroiters were born, grew up and had children of their own before a Free Press ever arrived at their homes without Guest's gentle human touch.

Shunned by "those highbrow, longhair intellectual critics and writers," Guest followed a clear and simple formula to journalistic success: "I take simple everyday things that happen to me and I figure it happens to a lot of other people and I make simple rhymes out of them."