Newspaper Production 1792-1892
By Rick Brown, Editor-in-Chief
Just prior to the Revolutionary War, newspapers increasingly published editorials on political matters. Most often these editorials were a "Letter to the Editor" variety detailing complaints about a new law coming into effect. In reality, these "letters" were actually written by the editor of the publishing paper and bearing the name of someone else. The "Letter From a Farmer" series is a prime example. These editorials played a major role in swaying the citizens into action to stand up for their rights.
With conscious pride that went with the newspapers' active role in the Revolution, editors wrote with more of a note of authority. Editorial command assumed the right of a newspaper to take a place of political leadership, to pass upon the merits of candidates, to instruct and direct the public, and to speak with authority on all kinds of subjects.
Newspaper readers no longer looked upon the editor as merely a printer who issued a publication to which others contributed the ideas. The editor was a personage. The public now, for the most part, supported the editor as a successful businessman, political and civic leader.
The primary source of news for newspapers in 1792 was still other newspapers. A seaport editor would regular make rounds of the docks and secure stacks of newspapers from ship captains. As an unwritten law, they were bound to forward extra copies of these foreign papers to other editors. There were numerous complaints that those postmasters who were also publishers, as many were, failed to forward any newspapers but their own, and that post-riders not only commonly refused to tie news-bundles to their saddles but rather sold them for pocket cash. Printers and publishers were heartened by the Postal Act of February 2, 1792. This act decreed that "Every printer of a newspaper may send one paper to every other printer of a newspaper within the United States, free of postage, under such regulations as the Post Master General may devise." Also, the Act provided for the delivery of newspapers to subscribers by regular mail to post offices, or left at taverns, or other convenient stops upon "postage being paid or promised." This Act was sensational news for the editors. The act of "exchanges" was now solidified and proved to be standard publishing life-savers. As a result, the growth of newspapers flourished.
Press builders were unable to build presses fast enough to supply demands. Platens and type-beds of the newer presses enabled newspaper pages to be almost twice the size of earlier European models. These models still required the strong arms of pressmen who gave mighty horizontal pulls to levers that forced platens down on the prepared type beds to make just one impression on a single side of a single sheet of paper.
Adam Ramage, a Scotsman in Philadelphia, made the first major improvement to the Gutenberg press in 1796 when he replaced the ancient spindle-screw with one of triple thread, rapid action. Two men working the press could effortlessly produce 250 impressions per hour. The Ramage Press was also more compact and lightweight than its predecessors.
The Ramage press was loved by the American pioneer printers who, with the first westward expansion of America, carried it by horse and wagon, ox-cart, prairie-schooner and, flatboat out to remote frontiers to establish newspapers.