Tag Archives: printing press

He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay



What if you could make paper out of something cheap, that’s not cloth? Cloth rags are expensive. Cloth rags have fiber that can be made into a pulp. What else has fiber? I mean besides broccoli. Imagine living in North America—in Canada—and you’re surrounded by literal millions of big humongous huge growths that are nothing but fiber. I’m talking about trees. Pine wood is soft enough to break down into a pulp.

Paper from wood fiber is called newsprint—can you guess why? It was invented by Charles Fenerty, a 17-year-old lumberjack and poet. He figured that wood fibers would make decent paper. He was right. It was good enough to print newspapers on. Charlie lived in Canada, where they have tons of wood and lumberjacks to harvest it. The Fenerty family business was farming and lumber. They grew trees, cut them down, milled them and sold the lumber.

Newsprint is the name of the paper that newspapers are printed on nowadays. It’s ridiculously inexpensive. Newsprint is made out of wood pulp instead of rags. Newsprint turns yellow quickly because wood has a lot of acid in it. But that’s okay—nobody minds. Newspapers are only meant to be read once and then thrown away or recycled. Because newsprint is cheaper than cloth-fiber paper, printers can sell newspapers at a much lower cost. What’s that mean? That means more people can afford the newspaper.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fenerty
https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/newsprint/m0122b5?hl=en
https://www.paperindex.com/academy/paper-grades/newsprint-primer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FshU58nI0Ts
https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lumberjacks

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Worth the paper it’s printed on

Those newspaper printers wanted to make a buck. They needed to pay close attention to that ol’ bottom line. ‘Bottom line’ is a jokey way of saying what you get when you subtract how much you spent from how much you made. You get a bigger bottom line (more profit) by reducing what you spend.

Take paper, for instance. Paper is one of the expenses of printing a newspaper. Making paper hadn’t changed much since its invention. It was good stuff. Fiber from linen, wool and cotton rags was broken down into a watery slurry that got pressed into a gorgeous piece of paper.*

Paper must have been a big overhead expense for a newspaper operation in those days. Think about it—what happens to a newspaper the day after it’s published? It lines bird cage floors. Kids make hats out of it. British people use it like a cone to hold their fish ‘n’ chips. Nobody needs a newspaper once it becomes yesterday’s news. Seems a waste of top-quality paper, doesn’t it?

* I know all about it. I shell out extra samolians for rag content paper because it’s such a treat to draw on (I like Borden & Riley #37 Boris Layout Bond. I draw on it with a 2B lead pencil).

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You gotta be authorized!

Newspapers provided news, information and opinion at a reasonable cost. As we saw in past cultures, the big-shots in charge like to exercise tight control on news, information and opinion. The early newspapers of the 1600s & 1700s had to be ‘authorized.’ Authorized newspaper printers were given permission to publish by the government. Maybe the government covered some of the costs of running an authorized newspaper. Running an unauthorized newspaper had some downsides. In England and her colonies, unauthorized newspaper printers were shut down by government officials, all copies destroyed and everybody who worked there arrested.

This happened to America’s very first newspaper publisher in Boston on September 25, 1690. Today, only one copy of that first newspaper—Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick—exists.

http://blog.rarenewspapers.com/?p=7294
https://prabook.com/web/benjamin.harris/3760332
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Benjamin-Harris
https://localhistories.org/a-history-of-newspapers/
https://newspaperlinks.com/facts/history-of-the-newspaper/
https://patrickmurfin.blogspot.com/2019/09/first-colonial-newspaper-quashed-as.html

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Newspapers and coffee

Around the same time that newspapers first appeared, coffee houses were becoming a thing in London, England. Coffee is a hot beverage that was first imported from Turkey. People (okay, men) gathered at coffee houses to meet, talk, exchange ideas and gather news. It was natural that newspapers were sold there.

For the cartoon up top, I redrew part of this wonderful drawing pretty much as is. It’s the interior of Lloyd’s coffee house in the late 1600s. Right away you can see everybody has a newspaper—newspapers were much smaller then than what we’re used to, and just one sheet of paper. Business was conducted here. Lloyd’s insured ship’s cargoes so they depended on being up-to-the-minute on world events. Coffee was served in saucers. Look at the serving-boy on the left—he knows how to pour coffee, from a height. That way you get some froth into the drink.

Lloyd’s still exists as a big insurance company today. They insure everything.
https://www.lloyds.com/
https://www.thebalancesmb.com/oddities-insured-by-lloyd-s-462503

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And now, the news



We talked about pamphleteers and pamphlets. The mechanized printing press made it feasible (you wouldn’t go broke doing it) to write up an essay or an article and get copies of it printed, distributed and sold. There were enough literate (they could read) customers to support a pamphlet business. Some of those pamphleteers got rich and famous. It must have become clear after awhile that news could be reported, printed and published in a larger format and on a regular schedule—weekly or even daily—at an affordable cost. A newspaper! A newspaper could tell you what was going on and also offer opinions about current events. If you can make money from a pamphlet, why not make money from a newspaper?

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Okay, where were we?

Oh, yeah—we’d started to talk about newspapers.


What is a newspaper?

: a paper that is printed and distributed usually daily or weekly and that contains news, articles of opinion, features, and advertising
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/newspaper

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Early newspapers



First newspaper printed in Europe—1605, Belgium
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/when-and-where-was-the-first-newspaper-published/articleshow/2477418.cms
First newspaper in America
https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2014/today-in-media-history-first-colonial-newspaper-published-in-1690/ (I think there may have been a South American colony with a newspaper earlier than that)
Okay, okay—I’m not sure this counts but it is true that in 59 bc there was a newspaper in Rome. No printing press yet, of course, so every copy of every edition was chiseled in stone.* No, really. I’m not kidding you—check the link. Newspapers were stone slabs, you guys. The cartoons practically draw themselves: Roman newspaper boys riding their bicycles in the early morning and flinging copies onto people’s front stoops, shattering potted plants and braining pets. The Sunday paper weighed about 700 pounds. You had to bust up the Sunday circular with a sledgehammer to clip a coupon (alright, yes, now I’m kidding you).



https://www.psprint.com/resources/history-of-the-printed-newspaper/
*The late President Ronald Reagan (who was famous for his one-liners) beat me to this gag: https://apnews.com/article/838395d21680de45ca7d4657bc3ee3a3

https://www.quintype.com/blog/business/a-brief-history-of-newspapers

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Maybe having one guy in charge who has absolute power wasn’t our brightest idea


As their colony grew, the principles of the Mayflower Compact could be enlarged upon: all people are created equal; God-given rights are something we’re born with; top-down governance is something to be wary of. Although they promised to remain subjects of England, the Pilgrims set up a representative government in Plymouth. They elected their governor. They chose him by voting for him—that was a big deal.

The printing press was useful for explaining these new ideas through pamphlets and soon newspapers. The Plymouth Colony government became a model for the way the United States would be run one day.


The Signing of the Compact painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris in 1899—the painting I lampooned in my sketch above. I thought it would be funny if everybody signing the Compact had to deal with the Mayflower’s cramped conditions.

https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/mayflower-compact
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/the-pilgrim-press-from-illegal-printing-to-thanksgiving
https://www.history.com/news/mayflower-compact-colonial-america-plymouth
How about this—a Bible translated into the Wampanoags’ language was the first one printed in the New World: https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/2006/04/03/the-first-bible-printed-in-the-western-hemisphere/

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Pilgrims and printing

More fuel-efficient, better mileage

I paid special attention to the Pilgrims and Plymouth colony for a reason. Even though I can’t be certain that William Brewster’s press ever made it to North America, it’s still true that the first North American printing operation (1638) was in Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth.

The Pilgrims saw their adventure as providential. They believed God landed them in Plymouth and not Jamestown, Virginia on purpose.

In Jamestown, there was an English colony already established. Things like a colonial government and culture (very different from the stern impassioned Pilgrim culture) were up and humming along nicely. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims had to start from scratch. They needed a system of government. The compact they made with each other (and God) aboard the Mayflower was how they governed themselves on land. Their congregation was a ‘covenant’ congregation—a covenant is a contract with God. They answered to God first, before a king or anybody else. If you’re accountable to God, you understand that your rights come from Him. As a contrast, King James said that his subjects’ rights came from King James himself (because of his divine right to rule). The Pilgrims didn’t like that idea so much.

Stern impassioned Pilgrims, or at least their feet, show up in verse 317 or 318 of America The Beautiful:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful
Ray Charles nails it (though he doesn’t get to that particular verse):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRUjr8EVgBg

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William Brewster

And then…I don’t find evidence of the Pilgrims setting up their printing press in Plymouth. Not surprising, really, when you think about it. They’d landed by accident in a place where everything had to be built from scratch. No houses, no barricades or fort for protection, very little food. Setting up a printing operation wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.

Besides, when they packed the press, the Pilgrims expected to land in Virginia where there might’ve been a market for pamphlets and books—a large audience who spoke and read English.



I assume the press was William Brewster’s. In Holland he’d been an underground printer, printing pamphlets and books that were critical of the Church of England and King James I. This made Brewster an internationally wanted man, in hiding from King James’ men for a year before the Pilgrims set sail.



As far as that goes, all the Pilgrims/Puritans were underground. To be English and not worship with the Church of England was to question the divine right of kings (King James was the head of the C of E, just as Henry was). The Pilgrims worshiped privately at somebody’s house—usually in the country, so they wouldn’t be caught at it. They all faced the possibility of arrest and punishment. There was no religious freedom in the Pilgrims’ home country.


Anyhoo, it would be a few years before a press began running in North America.

https://www.prphbooks.com/blog/pilgrim
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://plymrock.org/william-brewster-and-the-pilgrim-press/
https://americanminute.com/blogs/todays-american-minute/william-brewster-and-how-pilgrim-covenant-twisted-into-social-contract-then-socialism-american-minute-with-bill-federer
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pilgrims-progress-135067108/

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