A Career In Printing
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Printing is an activity of an advanced state of civilization. The beginning of modem history is dated from the century of the discovery of printing, in 1440. Before that time all maim-scripts had to be copied by hand. They were very rare and valuable, and were usually in the possession of the monasteries where the monks copied them and exchanged them with other monasteries. Very few people knew how to read besides the monks and priests.
Printing is fundamentally a social activity. Printing is needed to disseminate the knowledge that has been accumulated in the past, and the knowledge of what is going on in the present. A man living before 1440 had no communication with the world more than 30 miles away. He lived and died in the same village, with the same amusements, the same position in society and the same standard of living. If one stops a moment to think of the changes that have taken place in politics, religion, geography, education, agriculture, manufacturing in every human activity and in ways of living since the fifteenth century—one realizes how large a part of this progress is due to the spread of knowledge through printing. If one were to write down every idea that came to mind during the day, he would be astounded to find how many of them came from a newspaper or a book. Thus one may appreciate how poor was the store of ideas of any man and of the world in general before printing, and how large a part printing plays in our lives.
Today more than a half million people are employed in the United States in the printing trades. Printing is a highly specialized industry, and each division has many separate processes. Although printing was invented in the fifteenth century, the industry remained in a comparatively elementary state for years, and most of the wonderful machinery in use today has been invented within the past fifty years.
Printing may be divided into three processes: typography,in which printing is done with raised letters; copperplate, in which the letter is sunk, the center being filled with ink; and lithography, done by using the surface of stone which is capable of absorbing grease. Lithography is used in illustration, mainly colored poster work, and copperplate, for cards and announcements, as well as illustration. Typography is the process used for ordinary printing.
Typography may be roughly divided into two parts: composition and presswork; but the work is specialized, and in a large establishment there may be twenty or more different kinds of workmen in each division. There are many different machines for both composition and presswork, and often a printer is trained to operate one kind of machine and sticks to it for a lifetime.
Composition is the process of putting the letters of type together. In small establishments this is done by hand and is a tedious and lengthy process, in which great deftness and dexterity must be acquired. In larger establishments machines for composition are used, known as the linotype and the monotype, which run on the keyboard principle like a typewriter.
After the material is set up in type, proofs are printed, usually on a hand press, and the material is looked over by a proofreader, who corrects all the errors, assisted by a copyholder, who reads the original manuscript to the proofreader. The corrector of the press takes the proofread material and changes the type to correspond with it. Then a stoneman arranges the type pages on the imposing stone so as to cause them to appear in their proper places on the folded sheet. This work is called imposition. The forms are then locked and ready for the press.
In the pressroom, print is transferred to paper. There are three types of presses; platen, cylinder and rotary. The platen press, which is used in job printing, is the smallest and easiest to use. It has two flat surfaces, one of which has the type form, and on the other the paper is placed. In the cylinder press the paper is revolved on a roller, and does not have to be fed and removed for each impression. The rotary press has two revolving cylinders, one for the paper and one for the type. News-paper presses are composed of several rotary presses together with machines for cutting and other operations. A modern newspaper press prints, folds, cuts, counts and stacks, in pack-ages of 50, as many as 75,000 papers an hour.
A pressman on the ordinary cylinder or platen press must adjust the forms on the press, feed the paper, supply the ink and regulate the press. A pressman on a rotary or a newspaper press must be a thorough mechanic. A newspaper pressman has assistants who act as brakemen, oilers and flyboys, who are kept constantly oiling and cleaning the press, besides regulating it.
Two important processes now used in typographical work are stereotyping and electrotyping. Stereotyping is the process by which a mold of the printing surface is made of paper pulp, which is then curved, and hot stereotype metal poured in to make a cylindrical form. This process is used chiefly for news-paper work. For books and other permanent work, electrotyping is used. An electrotype is made by taking a wax impression of the type form, and depositing in this mold a thin shell of copper by an electroplating process, and backing this with type metal. This is then mounted type-high either on wood or metal, and used in the same manner as type.
Illustration is chiefly done by photoengraving and lithography. These processes are the best paid in the trade, and offer opportunities to anyone with an artistic inclination. Photoengraving is used in newspaper work, and it employs artists, skilled photographers and etchers, besides the regular skilled workmen in the branch. Lithography is used for poster work, for all sorts of colored advertisements and for magazine covers, etc. Artists in this line are well paid.
Printing establishments commonly do only one kind of work. Small shops do job printing, such as letterheads, cards and announcements, and larger firms do book printing, magazines or newspapers. Some shops specialize in ruled notebooks or check books, and some do only posters and illustrative work. This makes the average printer proficient in one process on one kind of work and makes it difficult for him to transfer to other shops.
However, there are many distinct advantages over other skilled trades in the printing industry, for printing is an essential industry, and only slightly affected by the seasons of the year. It is the sixth industry of the United States by the last evaluation. It is growing, and will not be revolutionized by new machinery in a day. The advent of machinery only increased the possibilities of the industry a thousandfold and required more skilled workmen than before. Printing is a well organized industry, where the owners as well as the workingmen are organized, and there are rarely any prolonged strikes. The unions regulate wages, sanitation, ventilation, lighting and safeguards on machinery; they provide technical schools, life insurance and pensions; and they have even established a sanitarium at Colorado Springs for their members.
Printing is a comparatively healthful trade. Cases of plumb-ism, or lead poisoning, have occurred, but the ventilation and sanitation of modern shops almost eliminates any danger of it. The slightly stooped position of the printer has caused tuberculosis in men with weak lungs, but a normally healthy young man who takes outdoor exercise has little to fear in this direction. There is eyestrain in printing, and a printer must have keen, healthy eyes; but there is eyestrain in studying a profession and even in an ordinary college course. There are practically no machine hazards in printing, and no exposure to bad weather. The work is interesting, for the printer sees all the books or papers before they are published, and he has something to occupy his mind while working.
Printing is one of the best paid of the skilled trades. In a limited survey made in 1915, printing ranked second in wages. It was exceeded only by the building trades, and it ranked higher than the clothing trades, the steel industry and the auto-mobile and foundry occupations. The work is steadier than other trades. The printing trade is distinguished by its use of more American-born labor than the other trades. It also appeals to a young man because it is distinctly an industry of small establishments. In the city of Cleveland it was estimated that 50 per cent of the shops had only one to five men. This provides splendid opportunity for advancement and for going into business for oneself.
The printer, as was mentioned, should have normally good health and eyesight, intelligence, alertness, a sense of order and neatness, ability to read quickly, an artistic nature and a creative instinct. Since printing is a trade which requires considerable skill gained through experience, there is usually four or five years of apprenticeship, and it is said that it takes from six to ten years to make a good pressman. An apprentice in the composing room begins by cleaning up the room, and becoming familiar with the type through washing it. Soon he begins to assist in setting up type, which requires long practice. He then learns to lock up the forms. He may also act as copyholder. An educated young man may be assigned to the work of the copy editor, who corrects the errors in spelling and punctuation before the manuscript is given to the compositor. Where there are linotype machines the apprentice begins by cleaning the machine or parts. In the presssroom the apprentices are errand boys, they clean ink from the presses, wash type forms, feed paper into the press and do other useful work. An apprentice in the pressroom can take evening courses in a technical school and become a highly paid pressman or foreman. There is no formal apprenticeship in the other printing branches, and a young man must break in and do the best he can. The poster artists in lithography, however, have an apprenticeship system.
The wages of a journeyman printer, or experienced worker in any of the different branches, vary from $20 to $40 a week, according to the skill required in the process, and individual skill and experience. Foremen and mechanics earn from $40 to $50 a week. In New York City, and in other large cities where there is a great demand for skilled printers, the union scale for compositors is $50 a week, and shops pay even more for men of ability. A printer with initiative and business ability can start out in his own establishment more profitably than in many other trades.
Apprenticeship is necessary to acquire skill and deftness, but a printer, in order to learn more than one process, and to be eligible for advancement, should attend a trade school. A printer must have a good knowledge of the English language, of gram-mar, spelling, punctuation and a fund of general information. A mechanic must know some physics and chemistry, and at least two years of high school training is desirable. An ambitious boy can go to evening high school and work in the daytime. There are many technical high schools in the large cities that give evening courses, and there are a number of schools of printing. In some cities the union demands that in the fourth and fifth years of apprenticeship the young man attend the evening school of the union.
The United Typothetae of America has published a series of about sixty handbooks on printing, which an apprentice might easily study in his spare time. In many high schools there is a printing shop and a young man who is in earnest might profitably spend his time working there in his spare time. Information about the schools in each city can be obtained from the local union headquarters, or the Board of Education. The young man who wishes to go into the printing industry should, while in high school, take a particular interest in English, physics and chemistry, and in art drawing, lettering, design, color harmony. A printer should be able to do arithmetic mentally, for much time is wasted in figuring out the position of designs or words on paper. A boy who intends to open his own establishment should take a business course in cost accounting, bookkeeping, etc., for a business that is not run on a black-on-white basis is not likely to succeed.
The printing trade is a good, solid trade; it pays well, offers pleasant work and gives many opportunities to young men of different inclinations, such as artistic, mechanical or literary, as well as an opportunity to open one's own establishment.
DE VINNE, THEO.: "Correct Composition," The Century Co., 1908. GRESS, EDWARD G.: "Handbook of Printing," Oswald Publishing Co., New York, 1907.
HAGUE, C. W.: "Printing Occupation," The Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis., 1922.
LOOMIS, RALPH : "Progressive Exercises in Typography," Taylor-Holden Co., Springfield, Mass., 1915.
SHAW, FRANK L.: "The Printing Trades," (Cleveland Educational Survey).
"Typographical Technical Series for Apprentices," United Typothetae of America, Chicago.
WEAVER, E. W.: "Profitable Vocations for Boys," The A. S. Barnes Co., New York, 1915.
American Printer, Oswald Publishing Co., New York.
Inland Printer, Inland Printer Co., Inc., Chicago.
National Lithographer, National Lithographer Publishing Co., Inc., New York.
Printing Art, University Press, Cambridge, Mass.