The publishing firm of R. L. Bryan Company is Columbia’s oldest industry. It began in 1844, when Richard Lathan Bryan of Charleston began to operate a newsstand and stationery shop on Richardson Street in Columbia that was owned by his brother-in-law, James J. McCarter. The business of Bryan & McCarter was ravaged by fire on February 18, 1865, but quickly resumed operations at a temporary location.
When McCarter died in 1872, Bryan continued the concern under his own name until he retired in 1882. His nephew, Thomas S. Bryan, and his son, R. Berkeley Bryan, assumed control and changed the firm’s name to the R. L Bryan Company. In 1884 the company added a printing department. It began printing bills and journals for the General Assembly in 1898, triggering a long association. In 1922 the printing operation moved to a new two-story facility on Sumter Street. At the turn of the twentieth century, the company became the state’s textbook distributor, and it had to expand its depository storage several times over the years. The firm entered the office furniture market in 1910 and in time became involved in interior design and health-care design. A fire that destroyed the office at 1440 Main Street in 1915 stymied the firm only briefly. In 1969, on its 125th anniversary, R. L. Bryan began a move to the Greystone Complex, consolidating all operations. The corporation, previously closely held, in 1985 established an employee stock ownership plan. The firm became one hundred percent employee owned in 1991.
In 2004 the company employed two hundred people and had offices in Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville in South Carolina, and in Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina. The firm, ever reshaped by technology, maintained a core business of printing, office furniture and design, and children’s books. The General Assembly cited R. L. Bryan as a major economic contributor to the state, and in 1990 the Richland County Council hailed R. L. Bryan as the county’s oldest industry.
Barberousse, Deborah. The History of the R. L. Bryan Company. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1994.