The iPad: What is a Gutenberg moment, anyway?
george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Apr 7 14:48:05 UTC 2010
I'm interested in the history of printing in the early 19th C because it affected the development of the newspaper in ways that I don't think are appreciated by historians. There were two big developments in the 1820s in NYC: contriving to attach steam engines to flat-bed presses and to automate the process of inking the type; and then the rotary press. NYC had daily newspapers by the 1780s, and clearly the sort of hand-cranked press that Ben Franklin is usually portrayed as using could hardly produce more than, say, 800 sheets of paper in the 6 or 8 hours available between the time the paper was put to bed and the time it had to be handed over to the delivery men. But up to the 1810s, the population of NYC was so small that a paper could hardly hope to sell more than 800 or so copies, in the face of competition from perhaps 8 or 10 other dailies. Then the population exploded, and newspapermen began to think that they could sell a lot more copies than the old presses cou
ld produce. 125,000 on Manhattan Island in 1820, about 180,000 in 1830. In 1820, the payroll of a NYC newspaper would include just one editor/journalist, and typesetters, printers, and boys whose job included patting the type between each impression with rag balls soaked in ink, and using a thorn from a spiky bush to clean letters clogged with ink. (This lead to humorous sallies regarding the printers and their balls and pricks.) News was pretty much whatever fell into the editor's lap. By the end of the 1830s the dailies had reporters scurrying round town gathering news and much larger staffs generally, and their offices were open 24 hours a day. (I think it was the newspapers that were responsible for NYC becoming a 24 hour town.)
Meanwhile, back in London, the population was 10 times that of NYC; but the press was subject to regulation --. I wish I had a good history of London newspapers, like F. L. Mott's history of the U. S. It seems that the innovations in printing originated in England, but not until the 1810s or so; that up to then London newspapermen were content/resigned to press runs of 800 or so, even though there was a market that would have bought many more.
One of the things I have been looking for and noting when found are any references in the newspapers to how they conduct their business -- news gathering, editing, printing and distribution. But I will spare you. I did touch on some of this a year or so ago, in a note on the development of the word "reporter" as seen in the NYC press of 1810-1840.
George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
----- Original Message -----
From: Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
Date: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 5:30 am
Subject: Re: The iPad: What is a Gutenberg moment, anyway?
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> > >
> >> 2) Even before the steam press, printing runs
> >> had expanded from "hundreds" into
> >> "thousands". Was there a technological change in
> >> printing presses between Gutenberg and the 18th century?
> >So far as I know, not much essential difference: no rotary press yet,
> >which really increased productivity; the flat press design changed
> >little till the 19th c, with some improvements in the pressing levers
> >that sped things up a little.
> Anecdotal support for Dennis: they use flat presses out at Old
> Sturbridge Village for 1820s.
> I can't recall the term for the type of press I used in middle school
> which had the type held vertically and hand an ink platten and
> rollers that would automatically ink the type, but that's the type of
> press I tend to think of for the 1800s. Evidently, it's later.
> We're ignoring off-set printing because it doesn't involve set type, yes?
> ---Amy West
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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