Brainerd, Paul (b. 1947)

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/22/2006
  • Essay 7657
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Paul Brainerd founded the Aldus software company, which produced the first desktop publishing program, Pagemaker. The product transformed printing and publishing almost as dramatically as had moveable type or the rotary press, and it catapulted Brainerd into the ranks of the youthful millionaires of the dot-com boom. In his second career, Brainerd devoted himself to environmental protection and to organizing his contemporaries into useful philanthropic efforts. Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Paul Brainerd First Citizen of 1999.

Growing Up in Oregon

Paul Brainerd was born in 1947 to Phil and VerNetta Brainerd in Medford, Oregon. He grew up working in his parents' portrait studio and camera shop on Main Street where he learned about business and customer service. He was an above-average student in high school and played some basketball and football. He used his interest in photography to contribute to the high school yearbook.

As a student at the University of Oregon, he worked on the Daily Emerald and got involved in the business, technical, and editorial side of printing and publishing. Learning that a Springfield newspaper was not using its presses at night, he got the Emerald to shift from linotype to the more efficient offset process, saving 50 percent on production costs. This allowed for an expanded paper, causing the student staff to complain about having so many pages to fill. He also organized the Emerald into a not-for-profit corporation, establishing its independence from the University. He went on to the University of Minnesota for a degree in journalism, helped manage the school paper there, and then got a job as an assistant to the operations director for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

As a draft-age male in the late 1960s, Brainerd was subject to military service, but chose not to serve. He learned that the Selective Service System was a bureaucracy run by often-contradictory regulations and he did his homework. Whenever he was summoned to be inducted, he presented his draft board with a memorandum that demonstrated that his draft notice was improper.

At the Star Tribune, Brainerd started working with Atex, a Boston company that was computerizing many of the steps of newspaper production. He started working for Atex and wrote the specifications for the word processing system used by major magazines and newspapers. Brainerd moved to the Northwest where Atex had a research and manufacturing center in Redmond. Kodak bought Atex and closed the Redmond operation in January 1984. Kodak offered Brainerd a job in Boston, but he declined the move and lost his job. He told his mother, "I'll either be very rich by the time I'm 40, or I'll be very poor" (The Seattle Times, July 17, 1994).

Aldus and Pagemaker

Through Jonathan Seybold, Brainerd met with people from Apple who were planning a new laser printer to work with the Macintosh computer. Brainerd saw an opportunity to merge his publishing and computer experience with Apple's computer and printer. He organized the Aldus Corporation, named after Aldus Manutius, a sixteenth-century  Venetian scholar and printer, in the summer of 1984 with some former Atex employees to develop publishing software for the Macintosh. A venture capitalist whom Brainerd was courting mentioned another project using the word "desktop." Brainerd coined the term "desktop publishing" for his enterprise.

Aldus produced Pagemaker, which allowed anyone with a Macintosh and Apple's new printer to lay out charts, graphs, headlines, and text, and produce a magazine, newsletter, or newspaper. "It was the first product [Apple] saw that really demonstrated the capabilities of their printer," Brainerd recalled (The Seattle Times, April 10, 1986).

Revolution in Publishing

Journalist Paul Andrews described the development as follows:

"To anyone who remembered the tedious act of justifying columns in high school newspapers, of physically cutting and pasting headlines or awkward pieces of type onto glue-smudged page dummies, and of missing publication deadlines because the printer had four jobs ahead of theirs, desktop publishing was an occupational epiphany. It gave control to the creator of the document -- control over the appearance, content, production and timing of the entire publishing process" (The Seattle Times, July 17, 1994).

Aldus started working on programs for IBM and for the PC personal computer from offices in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. In the first year, Aldus sold $12 million in software. In just five years, sales reached $100 million. In the first three months of 1994, revenues hit $57.2 million.

Brainerd personally cited two examples of the impact of his software. The first involved the abortive coup in Russia in 1991. The pro-Soviet coup leaders locked down the traditional newspaper and magazine presses, but they ignored telephone lines and modems. Russians used Pagemaker to produce handouts and have them distributed throughout Moscow and the nation. The second story was from a mother from San Francisco who thanked Brainerd for allowing her to design and produce her own story book for her children.

In 1991, Brainerd stepped out of day-to-day management of Aldus to focus on long-term and strategic planning. He had to come back and take over two years later when the company posted quarterly loses. His search for a new executive team led to a breakfast meeting with leaders from Adobe, manufacturer of the PostScript Printer language.

In March 1994, Brainerd announced that Aldus would merge with Adobe. He traded his job and three million shares of Aldus in for a seat on the Adobe board and anywhere from $88 million to $112 million in Adobe stock. Former Aldus employees -- Aldusians -- spun off to form at least 22 businesses called Baby Pauls.

Moving into Philanthropy

Out of work once again, Brainerd formed the Brainerd Foundation to organize and fund a number of groups with an environmental focus. He spoke out and wrote to focus attention on solutions to issues such as global warming.

In June 1997, Brainerd announced his next enterprise. "Historically, technology professionals have had only a modest record of philanthropy," he told a reporter. "But recently, we've seen a new breed of 'social entrepreneurs' in the Puget Sound Region who has achieved professional and financial success at an early age and is now ready to return its fortune by giving time, expertise, and money to the community" (Puget Sound Business Journal, June 20. 1997).

He organized Social Venture Partners, a group of 100 successful people such as himself, who would operate like a venture capital company. They each give $5,000 and voted on the programs they would fund. He wanted to give the individual investors a chance to become more closely involved in the organizations they were funding, often as trustees, instead of just writing checks. As member Tina Podlodowski, a former Microsoft executive and member of the Seattle City Council put it, "Don't ask me for my money. Ask me for my brains" (Washington Post).

Social Venture Partners was also a way for newly wealthy people to get their feet wet with philanthropy. They could see how a charitable foundation was structured and how it targeted its giving. The partners' first two priorities were public education and children.


In 1998, through the Brainerd Foundation, Brainerd and his wife Debbi announced plans to turn 255 acres of Bainbridge Island into an environmental learning center for children. The former property of the Port Blakely Mill Co. on the southeast side of the island became the $52 million IslandWood, which opened in 2002. Paul and Debbi Brainerd provided half the cost.

In 1999, the Seattle King County Association of Realtors picked Brainerd to be the recipient of their annual First Citizen award, citing his career as a philanthropist and for organizing Social Venture Partners. Paul Brainerd remains active in his philanthropic interests.


Paul Andrews, "A New Page: Mr. Desktop Publishing Embarks on His Post Computer Existence," The Seattle Times, July 17, 1994, p. 12; Richard Buck, "Aldus Corporation Teams with Apple," Ibid., April 10, 1986, p. H-1; David Gering, "Aldus Flexing Its Muscles in Desktop Publishing," Ibid., October 25, 1987, p. D-1; "Brainerd Receives Entrepreneur Honor," Ibid., March 15, 1991, p. C-6; Paul Andrews, "Strategies: Aldus Fights to Stay at Desktop's Top," Ibid., May 4, 1992, p. C-1; Polly Lane, "Aldus Founder Named Chairman," Ibid., August 30, 1993, p. E-1; Scott Williams, "Market Drop Puts Dent in Aldus' Value," Ibid., April 7, 1994, p. D-1; Scott Williams, "A Friendly Merger," Ibid., April 19, 1994, p. E-1; "Couple Plans Environmental Camp," Ibid., December 15, 1998, p. B-2; "In The Chips," Ibid., Aug 21, 1995.  p. E-1; Paul Andrews, "Road Ahead: Gates and Our PC Future," Ibid., November 22, 1995, p. C-1; Ferdinand M. De Leon, "Sharing the Green," Ibid., April 12, 1998, p. L-1; "Realtors Pick Brainerd for First Citizen Award," Ibid., October 6, 1998, p. C-1; Susan Byrnes, "Sowing the Seeds of Philanthropy," Ibid., February 15, 1999, p. A-1; Susan Nielsen, "And on the Eighth Day, God Created Millionaires," Ibid., April 8, 1999, p. B-4; Paul Andrews, "Gates Tugs Communist Thread Again," Ibid., January 17, 2005, p. C-1; Imbert Matthee, "Aldus Founder Quits CEO Post," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 31, 1993, C-1; Paul Brainerd, "High-Tech Holds Antidote to Global Warming Dangers," Ibid., November 1, 1996, p. A-15; Thomas W. Haines, "Foundation Goes High-Tech," Ibid., June 11, 1997, p. D-1; Susan Paynter, "High Tech Paying Back," Ibid., November 17, 1997, p. B-1; "Brainerd and Allen Will Get Business Awards," Ibid., March 17, 1998, p. C-2; Robert L. Jamieson, "Software Magnate Brainerd is Building Kids' Nature Center," Ibid., December 15, 1998, p. B-2; Debra Prinzing, "Social Venture Partners to Tap High-Tech Fortunes," Puget Sound Business Journal, June 20, 1997 (; Carol Tice, "Social Venture Partners Sharpens Mission, Values," Ibid., June 25, 1999, p. 4; Sharon Baker, "Aldus-Adobe Merger is Part of an Industrywide Consolidation," Ibid., March 18, 1994, p. 12; Larry Liebman, "The 'Baby Pauls' Among Us," Ibid., February 9, 1996, p. 1; Judith Havemann, "Philanthropy: The Next Generation," The Washington Post, November 16, 1997, p. A-1; IslandWood website accessed November 4, 2005 (

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