Phinney, Frank D.

1857 - 1922
Missionary to Burma (Printer)

During the 1800s, as Protestant mission work advanced, Myanmar (Burma) stands out as the place where the translation and publishing of God's word were of the utmost importance. When Adoniram Judson took on translating God's word, the need for its spread and printing became an overwhelming task. As mission work made advancements among the Sgaw Karen, Pwo Karen, Mon (Talking), Shan, Kachin, and Chin, the need for translating God's word into these languages and more became all the more apparent.

Many missionary printers came to Myanmar (Burma) to perform this task: Mr. George H. Hough (1816-1859), Rev. Cephas Bennett (1830-1882), Mr. O.T. Cutter ( 1 8 3 2 - 1 8 5 2 ) , M r. R . B . H a n c o c k (1832-1840), Rev. Sewall M. Osgood (1834-1846), Mr. L. Stinson (1837-1851), Mr. T.S. Ranney (1843-1856), Mr. I.D. Colburn (1861-1862), Mr. W.H.S. Hascall (1872), Rev. W.H. Sloan (1875-1878). While Cephas Bennett's longevity as a missionary printer stands out, he was the one who handed over the superintendent role to Mr. Frank D. Phinney which he maintained for forty-one years.

Frank D. Phinney was born in Hornell, N. Y., on 7 December 1857. Phinney received his entire education in Rochester, New York, from primary school until attaining his M.A. degree at the University of Rochester. During his college studies, he became an apprentice and learned the printing trade. After his university, he had begun a successful printing business that specialized in producing legal documents. With such talents and abilities, the ABMU soon sought him to join the Burma mission field. On 5 September 1881, Phinney received his ABMU appointment. In April 1882, Phinney arrived in Yangon and began his language study, and tried to grasp the immense work ahead of him. In October 1882, Cephas Bennett formally retired and handed the reigns of running the press to Phinney. Phinney helped modernize the printing presses, reorganized the labor force, and established Rangoon's press as a self-supporting endeavor. His diligence and administrative abilities were considerable, and he was soon appointed treasurer of the American Baptist Mission in Burma. A position he held for 38 years until his death.

On 22 March 1892, Mr. Phinney was married to Miss Lenna A. Smith, who served as a single missionary at the Kemendine School. Regrettably, it was to be a short marriage as Lenna Smith Phinney died 4 May 1894. On 20 April 1897, Phinney remarried Miss. Jennie Wayte (10 May 1851 d. 6 June 1929). Jennie was an American Baptist missionary serving in Nellore, India, and fortuitously was from Frank Phinney's hometown of Rochester, NY.

After twenty years of work since Phinney's arrival in 1882, Rangoon's press was doing ten times more work. It soon became apparent to the rest of the mission that the press was entirely inadequate to meet the Burma Mission's demands. Phinney sought funds for this building, and after a few years of raising funds and planning, the new building's cornerstone was laid in October 1903. After a year of construction work, this massive new building began operations again in late 1904. It was an enormous operation with a height of 300 employees who spoke 15 different languages.

Phinney was not only an accomplished printer but an author, compiler, and editor. His works include: The Judson Centennial Celebrations in Burma, 1813-1913, Burmese Pocket Dictionary from Dr. Judson's Dictionaries, The American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon, Burma, 1816-1908, Guide to a Practical Knowledge of the Burmese Language, and Rev. John Doe, Missionary, His Accounts.

While Phinney's primary and heartfelt work was for God's Mission, he played an integral role in the Rangoon community as President of the Rangoon Trade Association for three successive terms and as their representative on the Board of Commissioners for the Port of Rangoon. In a country under British colonial rule and being an American citizen, it shows the esteem Phinney had throughout the Rangoon business community. Phinney was also an inventor and mechanical tinkerer. He transformed a Remington typewriter with 42 keys into a Burmese typewriter. Remarkably, the Burmese language contains seven-hundred distinct characters.

On 15 December 1922, F.D. Phinney passed away in Rangoon. At his funeral were members of all the trade unions, high government officials, and many locals from the various people groups and religions. On the day of his funeral, a high government official remarked, "Mr. Phinney was the finest American who has ever lived in Burma."


Austin House

The author, lives and serves in SE Asia has a Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Western Seminary (Portland, Oregon)

This article is reproduced with permission from


American Baptist Missionary Union Reports/American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society Reports 1882-1923, 1930.

Loved by All.” Missions - American Baptist International Magazine Vol. 14 (March 1923) 177.

“News and Notes from the Missions Societies - Forty-One Years of Service.” Missions - American Baptist International Magazine Vol. 14 (February, 1923) 120.

Phinney, F.D., The American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon Burma 1816-1908 Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1908.