Just off the east side of the lobby of The Daily News building sits a cast-iron hand press that company lore holds was used to print the first issue in the paper’s 175-year history.
Yet, before its putative use in printing that first issue, on April 11, 1842, the R. Hoe & Co.’s Washington Press No. 2369 — embellished with pewter images of George Washington and printer-turned-polymath Benjamin Franklin embossed on its headpiece — had been associated with nothing but misfortune.
The San Luis Advocate, in Brazoria County, is believed to be the first newspaper printed on it, and that paper, which debuted in 1840, failed within a year.
The Advocate’s owner and publisher, S.J. Durnet, seeking to salvage something from his investment, sold the press to a man named F. Pinckard, who planned on starting up his own paper in Galveston.
With terms reached and the sale completed, Pinckard had the press loaded onto a small boat and set out for the island. For whatever reason, be it foul weather, poor seamanship or ill-placement of the cumbersome machine, the boat capsized, and the Washington Press spent the next several months at the bottom of West Bay before it was eventually raised and brought to Galveston.
Pinckard soon had it restored to operating condition and launched his Galveston Texas Times, which, too, debuted and died in rapid succession.
Pinckard, accounts have it, then sold the press to Samuel Bangs, the former filibuster who founded The Daily News.
Each of The Daily News’ earliest press runs totaled some 300 copies, all laboriously printed first on one side, then laid over and printed on the other, before being folded and handed off to Galveston merchants for sale.
Yet, The Daily News itself seemingly also fell victim to the supposed jinx — idling the Washington Press for a year before the paper resumed printing under the abbreviated name, The News.
A matter of karma?
The Washington Press’s initial associations with ill fate perhaps were payback for the duplicity with which its manufacturer, a New York inventor named Richard March Hoe, had acquired its patent.
“Mr. Samuel Rust, in 1829, patented the Washington Hand Press and began their manufacture. The frame was of an improved shape, and the works were more powerful than those of the Smith Press,” a Hoe company apprentice named Stephen Davis Tucker wrote in his autobiographical “History of R. Hoe & Company, 1834-1885.”
“Messrs. R. Hoe & Co. wished to buy Mr. Rust’s patent, but he refused to sell to them, so (Hoe employee) Mr. John Colby in 1835, under pretense of starting in business for himself, succeeded in buying Mr. Rust’s patent right, stock, tools, and shop complete, and continued the manufacture of the presses, but in a short time the business was moved to Messrs. R. Hoe & Co.’s works.”
In any event, the introduction of R. Hoe & Co.’s newfangled cylinder press in 1855 superseded the old Washington hand press.
Hoe’s cylinder press, which allowed for far faster printing and which The News quickly acquired, ran under the power of one horse treading a mill for the duration of the press run.
Yet, it, too, soon was yesterday’s news.
Alfred Belo, a former Confederate colonel, joined the paper in 1865 at war’s end and, showing a keen mind for business, soon became a partner in The News. Two years later, with the paper’s circulation growing, he convinced the senior partner, Willard Richardson, to invest in a far-faster, steam-operated Taylor single-cylinder press.
Yet, it, too, quickly fell victim to technology’s inexorable march and the paper’s continued growth.
“For some seven years the paper had been worked upon what is known as the Taylor single-cylinder press, having a capacity of some 1,800 papers an hour, and a machine of most excellent quality,” The News reported on April 5, 1874, in announcing its replacement.
“The late extraordinary success of The News, however, in the additions made to its subscription lists and its steadily growing popularity, has compelled its proprietors to increase their press facilities. … The new press is a Hoe machine, double-cylinder with a capacity of 3,500 copies of The News an hour. … In the same room is a Forsyth folding machine, the only one in Texas. … It will fold 2,800 copies an hour.”
A revolutionary press
Hoe, not long after inventing the double-cylinder press, struck it rich with his most important invention, the so-called web-perfecting press, which allowed pressmen to print on both sides of a roll of paper at once. The revolutionary press was capable of printing 12,000 copies an hour.
An article in The News gushed over the new press, which Belo and Richardson purchased in 1874.
“At first glance it looks a little like an old-fashioned separator to a threshing machine,” the paper reported. “Make the frame of iron, multiply the cylinders by ten, make every part as neat and perfect as the running gears of an Elgin watch, feed it at one end from an endless roll, and let it deliver at the other end on two tables ready for the carrier.
“Think of the press taking in at one end of a roll of delicate paper five miles long and whirling it through a curious system of wheels and knives and tapes and switches that twitch it back and forth so rapidly that the eye is unable to distinguish the individual papers till they are printed and cut, and you have some idea of the work.”
Hoe’s latest press was capable of printing 18,000 copies an hour.
Advances in typesetting
The News around 1886 augmented its latest acquired press with the purchase of a so-called Linotype machine, perfected that year by the German-born American inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler, making obsolete the Young & Delcambre single-line typesetting machine The News had been using since 1873.
The Mergenthaler allowed keystroke operators to set multiple lines of type. As fast as they could type reports handed to them, the device dropped pieces of lead type into their correct positions, forming words and sentences with precise line breaks, greatly speeding the process of setting up the daily press run.
That technology was still in vogue at the time the paper acquired a Goss letterpress, which also relied on hot-metal type set into rollers. The durable machine in 1965 survived the trip from the paper’s building at 2108 Mechanic St. to its current home at 8522 Teichman Road, which opened that year.
Neither the Goss nor Mergenthaler’s Linotype, though, would survive the introduction of evermore efficient technology.
Newspaper entrepreneur Carmage Walls, who bought The Daily News in 1967, immediately replaced the Goss hot-metal letterpress with a Goss Community offset press, allowing papers to be printed from plates onto which camera-ready negative page images were burned through a process involving chemicals and bursts of blindingly bright light.
The changes continued as The Daily News circulation continued to grow.
“Eventually, we bought a used Harris 845 from the Beaumont Enterprise that had eight units, which we split into five and three with the folder in the middle,” said Bill Cochrane Sr., the paper’s longtime production manager, who had joined The Daily News as a machinist apprentice in 1964 when the paper was still downtown. “That was a huge improvement.”
Yet, typesetting devices and evermore efficient presses weren’t The Daily News’ only forays into emerging technologies.
The paper in its first several decades made great use of the telegraph, turning operators throughout the state into correspondents. Moreover, the first reputed use of the telegraph to transmit a news story while it was occurring came during the Jan. 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston after The News had temporarily moved to Houston in compliance with a wartime order for civilians to evacuate the island.
One hardy journalist, Ferdinand Flake, however, defied the edict and remained in Galveston, from which he sent by wire reports as the Confederate victory over the Union’s naval blockade unfolded.
The telegraph, naturally enough, would soon face its own demise.
Belo, to the wonderment of his neighbors, in March 1878 had poles erected and wires strung between his house and The News building, then at 2217 Market St., and installed the first telephone in Texas. He had admired, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition two years prior, the first demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s marvelous telephony machine, and acquired one once the talking machine was commercially available.
When the first telephone exchange in Texas was established the following year, The News was assigned 1 as its phone number.
From hot to cold type
Despite the paper’s embrace of new presses over the years, a direct line still can be traced from the original Hoe Washington hand press to today’s multiunit Harris press: It remains as true today as it was on April 11, 1842, that printing is a matter of employing ink to transfer type to paper, nothing more.
The more radical change has come in the production process before the press run, a stunningly rapid transition that has come to redefine how papers are printed.
The Daily News was an early adopter of pre-press technologies that replaced Linotype machines, which were dependent on molten lead — so-called hot type — with high-speed phototypesetters, whose output came to be known as cold type.
Then along came front-end systems.
“The best day of my life, hands down, was when they introduced the front-end system,” Cochrane said. “It changed everything. Our first was from a company called One System, and the next was from Triple-I.”
Information International Inc., also referred to as Triple-I, developed the first functional front-end system for newspapers.
The Triple-I system replaced technology that had allowed an editor to produce stories on what was known as 5-punch tape — lengthy strips of coded paper — and later onto floppy disks, both of which a machine could read and print to photo paper, which it ran out ready to be trimmed and waxed and laid onto grids the size of a newspaper page, eliminating the need for physical typesetting.
“Carmage Walls was an early adopter,” said Southern Newspapers Inc. President Dolph Tillotson, The Daily News president and publisher from 1987 to 2011. “The Galveston Daily News in the late 1960s and early ’70s was very progressive in terms of technology, and still is today.”
Walls was among the first newspaper owners to adopt the Triple-I system, which required terminals with large-screen monitors at which page designers, with the use of a mouse — a relatively new invention at the time — digitally drew every line and placed every headline and the stories below them, every photograph, everything, in fact, exactly as the reader would see it the next morning in print.
The Triple-I terminals were connected to mainframe computers that processed the designers’ efforts into full-size, camera-ready page images, which still had to be burned onto plates to be affixed to the press.
Two subsequent developments furthered pre-press efficiency.
The first was desktop publishing, allowing design editors to generate digital pages on any PC or Apple Macintosh loaded with page-layout software.
The second was the invention of thermal imaging to make the thin, metal plates on which those digital pages took physical form.
The Daily News uses one such thermal-imaging platesetter, a Kodak Trendsetter News machine, which eliminates the need to produce film negatives of pages to be burned onto plates.
The Trendsetter allows page designers, after digitally creating a page, to send it directly to the platesetter, which transfers their work onto preloaded plates. The individual plates then emerge at the end of the automated process ready to be hung on the press.
“Now, the page images go directly to plate,” Cochrane said of the Kodak Trendsetter technology, which The Daily News began using shortly before he retired in 2014 after half a century at the paper.
“It’s really hard to imagine how much things have changed in 50 years,” he said. “It’s almost mind-boggling.”