W. H. SMITH Biography - People in the News and Media


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Name: W. H. Smith                                                                       
W H Smith plc (known colloquially as Smiths) is a British retailer,                     
headquartered in Swindon, Wiltshire. It is best known for its chain of high             
street, railway station and airport shops selling books, stationery, magazines,         
newspapers, and entertainment products. It was a major distributor of newspapers       
and magazines (demerged in September 2006 as Smiths News plc), and formerly             
owned publishing businesses, and a number of other retail chains in the United         
Kingdom, North America, and the Pacific Rim. It is part of the FTSE 250 Index.         
The initial foundations of the business which became W H Smith was the founding         
of a newsagency service for the public by Henry Everett and William Smith in           
1790. However Everett wished to provide an overseas service while Smith wanted         
to concentrate inland. Eventually this led to a parting of the ways, but each           
party subsequently follows their chosen path and ideas.                                 
In 1792 Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna established W H Smith as a news           
vendor business in London. After their deaths, the business valued in 1812 at           
£1,280 was taken over by their son William Henry Smith, and in 1846 the firm           
became W H Smith & Son when his son, also William Henry, became a partner. The         
firm took advantage of the railway boom by opening newsstands on railway               
stations, starting with Euston in 1848. They also made use of the railways to           
become the leading national distributor of newspapers. The younger W H Smith           
used the success of the firm as a springboard into politics, becoming an MP in         
1868 and serving as a minister in several Conservative governments.                     
After the death of W H Smith the younger, his widow was created Viscountess             
Hambleden in her own right; their son inherited the business from his father and       
the Viscountcy from his mother. After the death of the second Viscount in 1928,         
the business was reconstituted as a limited company, in which his son, the third       
Viscount, owned all the ordinary shares. On the death of the third Viscount in         
1948, the death duties were so severe that a public holding company had to be           
formed and shares sold to W H Smith staff and the public. A younger brother of         
the third Viscount remained chairman until 1972, but the Smith family's control         
slipped away, and the last family member left the board in 1996.                       
In the late 1966, W H Smith originated a 9-digit code for uniquely referencing         
books, called Standard Book Numbering or SBN. It was adopted as international           
standard ISO 2108 in 1970, and was used until 1974, when it became the ISBN             
WH Smith logo until the early 1990s, featuring the then-familiar 3D cube of             
From the 1970s, W H Smith began to expand into other areas of retail. W H Smith         
Travel operated from 1973 to 1991, The Do It All chain of DIY stores started           
with a 1979 acquisition, became a joint venture with Boots in 1990 and was sold         
in 1996. The upmarket bookshop chain Waterstone's, founded by former W H Smith         
executive Tim Waterstone in 1982, was bought in 1989 and sold in 1998. In 1986 W       
H Smith bought the Our Price music chain; in the 1990s it also bought other             
music retailers including the Virgin Group's smaller (non-Megastore) shops.             
Virgin Our Price was sold to Virgin Retail Group Ltd in 1998.                           
On April 18, 2007, the Post Office announced that 70 of its branches nationwide         
are to move into W H Smith stores by autumn 2008. The Post Office says all             
its services will continue to be available at W H Smith.