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Printing - Entrance to the Trade

( Originally Published 1930 )

Education and Training Required.—Every pressman should have a good, general education. This should include a study of arithmetic as far as fractions and decimals to enable him to figure stock, compute weights of paper, and determine the relation between the speed of the press and the time required to do the work. In addition, the prospective pressman should be able to write legibly, and he should have a knowledge of elementary English and elementary art. Familiarity with the simple principles of chemistry and physics will enable the beginners to do their work more intelligently. This is the minimum amount of general education required for entrance to the trade.

It is advisable but not necessary to have technical education and training before the trade is entered. When a boy once begins to work at the minor jobs, however, he should also commence the process of securing the technical knowledge which will aid him to do his work efficiently. This type of education should include a study of the names of the presses, their sizes and dimensions, the harmony of color, the mixing of colors, and the qualities of paper, and the care of the mechanism. It should also include a knowledge of the chemistry of inks, the proper inks to use for various kinds of paper, the composition of the rollers and how to care for them, and the cost of materials used in the pressroom. Practical training, in addition to the technical knowledge, is necessary to make an efficient pressman. This practical training acquaints the beginner with the process of making ready, which means learning to make overlays, underlays, to register, and to prepare the packing, among other things. It trains him to feed the presses properly, to adjust the mechanism for various jobs, and to regulate the flow of ink. The boy who wishes to become an all-round pressman should know something about the work of the composing room and the materials used there. A knowledge of the items mentioned and of many other things which have not been mentioned can be gained either in the day or the night classes conducted at the part-time vocational school, the trade school, and at the technical high school. It must be remembered that success in this trade is based on the ability of the worker to obtain the essential technical education and to make use of it.

The Age of Entrance.—Boys under the age of eighteen are not usually hired for work in pressrooms. This is due to several reasons. One of these is that some states prohibit boys under that age from working around moving machinery. Another is that they are not strong enough, as a rule, to do the required work which at times is quite heavy. Finally, younger boys are not able to assume the responsibilities connected with the operation of printing presses, and usually they are not able to understand all of the details of the work. However, general work such as running errands, stockroom work, and performing odd jobs can be secured in printing plants by boys of sixteen and seventeen years of age. Upon reaching the age of eighteen years, they are then better prepared to take up the work in the pressroom.

Physical and Personal Requirements.—The physical requirements for this work are not very great. The pressman must be in good general health; he must have the use of his limbs; and he should have good eyesight. When working on the cylinder or the rotary web press, he may be required to lift forms that are quite heavy. He should have the strength to do this.

The nature of the work in the pressroom requires that every pressman, feeder, and apprentice should possess certain personal qualities. Every boy who enters this line of work should recognize that he must be accurate, dexterous with his hands, alert to everything connected with the operation of the presses, and able to keep at jobs that do not vary much from day to day. He should also be willing to work hard; he should have some artistic sense and ability to distinguish between colors; and he should have a liking for machine work. The person who possesses these qualities, and who is able to secure the necessary education and practical experience can be sure of a measure of success in the printing industry.

Methods of Entrance.—There is no definite way in which this branch of the printing industry can be entered. The method of entrance is not the same in the different shops. Most beginners start in as errand boys in the job-shop pressrooms, or as flyboys in the newspaper pressrooms. There is a system of apprenticeship in practice in the newspaper plants, but in the other shops nothing of this nature is usually found.

The period of apprenticeship in the newspaper press-rooms is five years as a rule. During this time the learner assists the pressmen, and is taught the fundamentals of the trade. In the other types of pressrooms there is no definite learning period required. The ability of the individual to learn by observation and to secure the necessary technical training outside of the shop will determine how soon he will be able to become a journeyman. Knowledge of the work connected with the operation of one type of press is not sufficient to enable any one to become an all-round pressman. A platen pressman, for instance, cannot become a cylinder pressman unless he starts in as a feeder on that type of press. To gain this training, requires years of preparation, and a shifting from one job to another until all the details are mastered. Some men remain at one type of presswork after they have learned it, and make no effort to secure further training. The period of learning for these men is much shorter than it is for those who desire to have an all-round experience. The all-round man, however, is more valuable to his employer.


The working conditions in the printing industry compare favorably with those in the other industries of this city. The weekly working hours are not the same in all pressrooms. Some operate 44, while others run 48 hours per week. Overtime work is requested of the pressmen and their assistants at those times when rush jobs come into the shop.

The wages of the men in the pressrooms of the printing establishments also compare favorably with those paid to the employees in other industrial establishments. Most employers pay a minimum wage scale to their pressmen and feeders and give them an opportunity to earn above this scale as the result of efficient work, and of overtime work. This industry is not a seasonal one. As a rule, the work is steady all year round, and it is only in times of depression when business in general is slack that the printers may find it necessary to work shorter hours. Newspaper pressmen, however, are the most steadily employed of any in the industry.

It was a common thing in the past to locate printing establishments as well as other industrial establishments in buildings where the light was poor and the arrangements for ventilation and sanitation were inadequate. The result was that the printers of those days were subject to several types of diseases which people thought were natural to the trade. Due to the development of buildings which provide adequate lighting, and to the installation of the latest sanitary and ventilating devices, many of the hazards of the trade have been eliminated. Pressmen are subjected to the possibility of eyestrain because they must watch the type and the colors very carefully. Pressroom windows are usually closed to exclude drafts and moisture and pressrooms are well heated to insure the proper manipulation and spread of the ink. A regular amount of exercise in the fresh air may overcome any effect which such surroundings may cause. The vibration and the noise of the presses may cause some nervous strain, but, otherwise, there are no particular dangers encountered in this field of work.


The Promotional Steps.—Promotion in the press-room is not a very rapid process even for those who have secured the necessary technical training and practical experience. The man who stands out in many ways above his fellow workers, therefore, is the one who will be advanced. Advancement in the newspaper press-room follows along a more definite line than it does in the job shop or periodical pressrooms. A boy may enter as an apprentice or, as he is sometimes called, a flyboy. After serving his period of training, he becomes a journeyman. If a position is vacant, he is put to work immediately. If there is no opening, he is given a job in another plant or he is put on the reserve list until he can be used permanently. After working for many years, he may be put in charge of a unit of the big press. Then he may become assistant foreman and, finally, he may reach the foremanship of the pressroom. Not many pressmen reach this position and few ever go any higher, since the work in a newspaper establishment is of a very specialized nature.

In the other types of pressrooms, advancement is on a different basis. A boy may start as a platen-press feeder and work up to the position of platen pressman, and he may be put in charge of the platen-press section and the men who work there. If he wishes to operate any other type of press, however, he must start at the bottom again. For example, he must become a cylinder-press feeder and learn the details of the operation of that particular press before he can secure a position as a cylinder pressman. A pressman is usually put in charge of two presses, and if he works in a very large establishment, he may some day have charge of all the presses of one type. With the proper experience and education a pressman may be promoted to an assistant foremanship and later to a foremanship. Some men have become plant superintendents, while others have opened shops of their own.

The Value of Education.—Technical training and general education are as necessary as practical experience if advancement is to be gained in this field of work. This is due to the fact that a shop includes in its range of activity more than machinery and materials. It includes the people who work there and, in an indirect way, those for whom it is engaged to produce certain pieces of work. The most modern equipment and the best material are valueless without the people who can operate and make use to them. In order to advance to the position of foreman, superintendent, or owner, the pressroom worker should know how to plan and work with other people, and he should be able to manage the shop from a business point of view. To plan work or to manage a shop successfully requires a thorough knowledge of the practical and the technical details of the trade together with the ability to direct the work and the various operations. Education along technical lines will enable the prospective executive to teach those who work for him, and at the same time it will aid him to keep up with the latest developments in his line of activity. To manage the business successfully, a knowledge of cost accounting for printing shops, business English and letter writing, mathematics, and office management is essential. A study of these subjects can be made either in part-time, full-time or night schools, or by correspondence with the extension divisions of the various universities. When the pressman has mastered the subjects mentioned above, he will be in a position to advance rapidly when the opportunity is open.

While we are workers in the industrial world, we are also citizens of the communities in which we live. In order to be good citizens, which means that we should take an intelligent and constructive part in the affairs of our city, we must know something about how our community is managed and our own personal responsibilities in it. A study of civics will help us to understand something about the problems of running a city. It will give us information about the duties of the various officials, how they secure office, and the length of time which they serve. All of this is of assistance to us when we are called upon to perform the duties of good citizens. A mere knowledge of civics alone will not make good citizens of us, however. We must also know something about health so that we may be able to practice good habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing in order to be fit for anything at all times. The ability to enjoy our leisure time by reading good literature, by indulging in the proper physical recreation, and by selecting good entertainment is another necessary quality which we should try to acquire.

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