From Hand-Set Type to Linotype and Beyond: Maryland Firsts in the Age of Mass Communication


Figure 1.  Print type in the letter “J” from the Victualling Warehouse site.

Figure 1. Print type in the letter “J” from the Victualling Warehouse site.

This artifact’s diminutive size (3 mm square) belies its importance in Maryland’s history.  I have chosen this piece of type in the form of the letter J to represent the history of printing and mass communication in our state.  This particular artifact is from the Victualling Warehouse (18AP14), a commercial and residential site near the Annapolis town dock.

The first printing press in Maryland, not surprisingly, was located at St. Mary’s City.  William Nuthead and his wife Dinah settled in Maryland in 1684 after Nuthead failed to establish himself at Jamestown as the Virginia colony’s first printer.  Nuthead ran afoul of Virginia’s governor, the Council and ultimately the King by publishing acts of the Virginia General Assembly (Virginia Gazette 2014).

Figure 2.  Historic St. Mary’s City has reconstructed William and Dinah Nuthead’s Print Shop and interprets the early history of printing in the colony to its visitors.  Photo credit: SoMdNews.com.

Figure 2. Historic St. Mary’s City has reconstructed William and Dinah Nuthead’s Print Shop and interprets the early history of printing in the colony to its visitors. Photo credit: SoMdNews.com.

Nuthead’s Maryland printing press was in operation by 1684 and he served as printer for the government, centered then at St. Mary’s City (Cofield 2006).  Archaeological excavations at the site of Nuthead’s shop have uncovered printing type (Saunders 2007).  After Nuthead’s death in 1695, his widow inherited the business (Sarudy 2011).

When the colony’s capital was moved to Annapolis less than a year later, Dinah Nuthead moved with it. There, she established herself as the first licensed female printer in the American colonies (Sarudy 2011).  Widow Nuthead agreed, under penalty of having her business shut down, only to print blank forms for government use.  Interestingly, she signed this agreement with her mark rather than her signature, suggesting that she could not read—a rather unusual state of affairs for the colony’s first female printer!

It was not until 1726 that the Maryland colony gained a newspaper.  William Parks began publishing the Maryland Gazette, which had the distinction of being the first newspaper in the Chesapeake (Brugger 1988).  Under the direction of its second editor, Jonas Green—a former protégé of Benjamin Franklin—the paper gained more prestige, printing political opinions and protesting the Stamp Act.  It continues publication today as the Gazette and is one of the oldest newspapers in the nation.  In 1767, Green’s widow, Anne Catherine Hoff Green, took over the positions of paper editor and publisher, making her the first female to hold either of the top jobs at an American newspaper (Maryland Gazette 2014).

Figure 3.  A linotype operator prepares a line of type, also known as a “slug”.  Photograph from Williams 1907.

Figure 3. A linotype operator prepares a line of type, also known as a “slug”. Photograph from Williams 1907.

Another first for Maryland was being the birthplace of the linotype machine.  Ottmar Mergenthaler, an inventor and watchmaker living in Baltimore, invented the Linotype Composing Machine in 1886.  Using this machine, an operator could cast an entire line of type in hot lead (Williams 1907).  Not since Guttenberg developed moveable type in the 15th century had the printing profession seen a more important innovation.  It sped up production twelve-fold and decreased the cost of printing to such a degree that newspapers began springing up all over the nation.

When I first started researching this topic, I had no idea how many “firsts” in mass communication occurred in Maryland.  According to the media directory USNPL (2014), Maryland citizens have access today to 63 newspapers (not counting college newspapers).  Eight of these publications alone originate in Baltimore. They all share a heritage that can be traced back to several innovative and progressive early Marylanders.

Sources

Brugger, Robert.  1988.  Maryland; A Middle Temperament, 1634-1980.  Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

Cofield, Rod.  2006.  Much Ado about Nuthead:  A Revised History of Printing in Seventeenth-Century Maryland.  Maryland Historical Magazine.  Volume 101 (1): 9-25.

Maryland Gazette 2014.  Maryland Gazette.  Wikipedia website accessed December 5, 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland_Gazette.

Sarudy, Barbara.  2011.  First Licensed Female Colonial Printer – Dinah Nuthead of Maryland.  Website 17C American Women accessed December 3, 2014 at http://b-womeninamericanhistory17.blogspot.com/2009/05/first-maryland-printer-dinah-nuthead.html.

Saunders, Gwyneth J. 2007. Pulling the devil’s tail; Historic St. Mary’s City presses on with new exhibit. Website SoMd.News.com  Southern Maryland Newspapers Online accessed December 4, 2014.

USNPL.  2014.  U.S. Newspapers.  Website accessed December 5, 2014 at http://www.usnpl.com/.

Virginia Gazette. 2014. A History of The Virginia Gazette.  Website accessed December 4, 2014 at

http://www.vagazette.com/services/va-services_gazhistory,0,5332906.story

Williams. Archibald.  1907 The Romance of Modern Invention. Seely and Co., Limited, London.   

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