The Bookmobiles of the John Birch Society

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The John Birch Society was founded by millionaire candy magnate Robert Welch in 1958. The sole purpose of this group was to stop the spread of Communism, both abroad and especially at home in the United States. “Our own country has suffered from as much turpitude and treason as would ordinarily require a generation to put together,” the very serious Welch explained in the introduction to the fourth printing of the Blue Book of the John Birch Society. “You have only a few more years before the country in which you live will become four separate provinces in a world-wide Communist dominion ruled by police-state methods from the Kremlin.” While the JBS took on a bellicose tone, its weapons of choice were words, and lots of ‘em. The Society’s printing outfit, Western Islands, printed thousands of books, pamphlets, and periodicals. These were to be distributed by loyal Birchers. In the Blue Book chapter titled “And So, Let’s Act…” Welch called for the creation of hundreds of reading rooms across the country. These would be rental libraries similar to their public counterparts, the difference being that they would be stocked solely with literature that told the truth about the Communist threat. They also sold books and always had the latest copies of American Opinion, the Society’s official newsletter. Indeed, these special libraries were often called “American Opinion” libraries.

It’s estimated that in their peak years of the mid 60s, about 350 American Opinion libraries existed. Welch also called for his publications to be distributed via a network of doctors and dentists waiting rooms, along with barber shops, college libraries, and even frat houses.

Another method of distribution was a special fleet of roughly a dozen bookmobiles, mostly beige Volkswagen buses that typically popped up at political rallies, esp. those attended by conservatives mostly likely to hear the call. The American Opinion bookmobiles sold the latest copies of the periodical after which they were named, along with Society books, and had samples of other publications that could be ordered from the JBS.

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