Whenever you spot a typographical error in TNDP’s 19th century newspapers, spare a thought for the compositors who laboriously composed the text by hand. Until the introduction of the linotype machine to the US in the 1880s (more on that later), newspaper text had to be pieced together one letter at a time. As if that wasn’t painstaking enough, the letter on each tiny block was reversed and the text had to be compiled upside down, with the beginning of the text at the bottom. Confused?! No wonder so many b’s and d’s appear as p’s and q’s in those old papers. Blocks of text were created and locked into position. These blocks were then fitted together to form the page.
If that whole process wasn’t tedious enough, imagine being the poor soul who had to dismantle it all after printing was complete, and return each letter to the correct case and section.
Although manual typesetting hasn’t been in general use for over a century, several phrases still used in everyday speech have their roots in the printing process. These include:
Stereotype and cliché – to printers, both these words referred to “a solid plate of type-metal, cast from a papier-mâché or plaster mould taken from the surface of a forme of type.” (OED)
Upper/lower case letters – capital letters were stored in the upper case and small letters in the lower case (see photo below).
What better way to begin this series than with one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians:
King of the Vibes, aka Hamp, aka ……. Lionel Hampton!
Hamp was not only king of the vibes, he was master of many instruments and had an extensive knowledge of music. He attributed this to his time in the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band. “I got my music training from the Defender. […] The paper had a newsboys band when I was a kid growing up in Chicago, and if I know anything about music, I learned it because of the Defender.”
Hampton recalls hearing the sounds of band music emanating from opera star Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink’s house every day on his way home from school. “I was so anxious to join that band that I got a job selling newspapers right away.”
Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder of the Defender, hired Major N. Clark Smith–a strict disciplinarian–to form a band for the newsboys and teach them music. They used Schumann-Heink’s large house for band practice. Hamp remembered, “[Major Clark Smith] was a hard taskmaster, but we learned music. If you wanted to play under his direction, you had to learn harmony and sight reading before you’d even get your instrument. We studied every day after school. The major wouldn’t put up with loafers.”
Thanks to the Defender and Major N. Clark Smith, a young newsboy went on to create a remarkable jazz legacy. No word on Hamp’s newspaper sales though.
Since the start of the TNDP in 2010, I’ve read just about anything I can get my hands on that’s newspaper history-related. I’ve enjoyed books about printing presses, typesetting machines and typography, newspaper design and layout, Civil War reporters, the Southern press, and I’ve learned about the towns’ histories whose newspapers are featured in the project. I plan on writing more on some of these topics in the future. However, one topic that has been a source of constant fascination for me is “newsies” – the boys and girls who were the final link in the chain delivering the news to the people. Thousands of children across the country–from the late 19th century through the 20th century–were responsible for delivering newspapers to customers on the street and to their houses. In the early 20th century, newsboy associations were formed, often by local philanthropists and/or social reformers. In addition to social welfare (many offered libraries, religious and moral education), the associations organized social events such as an annual picnic with food, fun and games for the boys. Although there was camaraderie between the newsies, rivalries developed too. The newsies usually formed and stuck to their own moral code. I’ve found so many intriguing stories about these children and their work, I thought it would make a great topic for an on-going series. Many newsies became local characters, others went on to greater fame; this series will include both. Check back later this week for the first in this series. I’ll add more information about newsies in general, as well as individual newsy’s stories, over time.
In the meantime, take a look at the Library of Congress’ extensive collection of photographs of newsies, many taken by the photographer Lewis Hines for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Several books and many newspaper articles have been written about these young workers, who were also the subject of a WPA project, and Disney even made a musical about them, [No comment – Ed.] and subsequently a Broadway musical.