Delgado A-Z: Printing

by: Carol Gniady
On the very first day of class in 1921 Delgado taught printing, a skill that was both in great demand and very popular.

Back in the day, printing involved many people performing specific tasks in composing and creating printed works.  These works, whether a single page or an entire book, were produced by setting each letter and punctuation mark by hand and then printing, ink onto paper, one page at a time, multiplied by the number of copies desired, using hand-operated presses.  By the 1960s the Printing Department boasted of a well-equipped shop with 7,200 square feet of space where students learned the fundamentals, methods and ethics of printing as well as how to operate the presses.

Printing class in the 1920s
 A 1965 copy of the “Printer Annual” provides an overview of what it was like to be in the Printing Department, mastering the various steps involved in print production.  First-year students started with setting type by hand – or hand composition – learning the rules of composition and how to use type creatively.  Hand composition was a time consuming process whereby individual characters of type – letters, punctuation marks and even graphic elements – were selected and meticulously placed into what was called a composing stick, arranged into words, set line by line to form copy.  Type came in a variety of font styles and sizes and students learned how to use these appropriately, whether creating headlines, titles, body copy, or captions.  After setting the type, students would run a single page test and proof it for correct justification, spacing, punctuation and spelling before printing multiple copies.

Printer Annual, a Delgado publication
 Advanced students learned page layout and design as well as how to operate the various different kinds of presses.  Students would also design covers for their works.  Each year the Printing Department would produce the “Printer Annual,” which documented the Printing Department’s activities, and a cover contest among students determined the design used for that year’s edition.  Students in graphic design classes would also provide illustrations and graphics.

Students typesetting
 In the early years, students learned presswork on open hand-fed presses and by the 1940s and 50s were learning how to run automatic platen and cylinder presses, and offset presses.  Each of these machines were progressively more sophisticated, providing students with the basics every printer should know by mastering the hand-fed presses and with training on the platen presses, which prepared them to step up to higher quality printing at faster rates of speed on Heidelberg Automatic Platen presses and offset presses.  Offset presses incorporated the use of photography, which required students to learn how to use a copy camera and a dark room, and processing film.  Students also learned how to strip and mask negatives, which were then turned into plates used on the press.
Students in the 1920s typesetting and composing by hand
 Students also learned bindery operations to create books and booklets, used power drills to punch holes in print jobs as necessary, and used the power paper cutter and automatic folder machinery.  Many students were engaged in these rather tedious processes dedicated to producing tangible results for a variety of clients, including the Printing Department instructors and other faculty members needing published works.  The Printing Department also produced materials for conducting College business, including stationary and business cards, programs for commencement exercises, promotional and recruitment collateral, and all manner of instructional materials.

Composing stick
 A few rare samples of these Delgado student-produced works are still around, including the College’s annual Tool Kits from the 1920s and 30s, Printer Annuals from the 1960s, and scholarly and instructional materials ranging from airplane mechanics manuals to cookbooks.  One such example is the 1934 book Cyclones Hurricanes and Typhoons and Other Storms, by Isaac Cline, renowned weatherman of the era.  The front or inside cover of these works includes the line “printed by Delgado Press” and some of the old books also say “Printed by students at Delgado Trades School”.  Some of the libraries nationwide still have books printed at Delgado in their collections.  Delgado archivist Bob Monie shared that his recent search at http://www.worldcat.org showed Cline's Cyclones Hurricanes and Typhoons and Other Storms, clearly in the original Delgado lecture edition, turned up in the collections of such libraries as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University, and Dartmouth College. 

Cline's book, printed by Delgado students
 Furthermore, Monie shared, “Robert Brydon Jr.'s  Aircraft Drafting, in its original Delgado printing of 1941, can be found in the libraries of Duke University, Notre Dame, Princeton University, Harvard University, UCLA, the Chicago Public Library, and the New York Public Library – a coast to coast hit, no less!”  Monie further mused that “yes, Duke, Harvard, Notre Dame, Princeton, and UCLA were interested in the writings of a Delgado trade instructor.”

Brydon's book on aircraft drafting, printed by Delgado students
By the early 1980s innovations such at PCs and copiers made publishing much more efficient and the need for printers declined rapidly.  The College’s printing program was eventually phased out due to lack of demand.  The Printing Department became a part of the College’s Public Relations department and continued producing recruitment and instructional materials.  Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the department still had two press operators running Heidelberg offset presses, producing commencement programs, official College stationary and business cards, and a plethora of commonly used promotional materials.  However, as technology introduced increasingly more affordable, enhanced color printing and copying options the in-house services became unsustainable and obsolete.

Delgado's printing department staff, pre-Katrina
 Today, the College sends print jobs to offsite vendors.  Print production is still managed through Public Relations with a small team of publications specialists – a publications coordinator and a graphic designer.  The publications coordinator manages the production process from consultation and bid specifications development to content development, which includes copy writing and editing, and scheduling photo shoots, when needed.  The position now handles the work flow previously performed by an entire team of people.  Likewise, a graphic designer works on a desktop computer producing high quality layout and design, which replaced another team of people and rooms full of equipment.  Now, printing services are literally at your fingertips. 

Jessica Gorman, Delgado's current computer graphics designer, performing document layout
Our past and the many students and instructors involved in the Printing department will not be forgotten.  Vice Chancellor Deborah Lea recently announced an initiative to create a permanent display at a location to be determined for the last remaining vestige of the old Printing Department – a platen press that now resides in storage, listing on a palette, collecting dust.  The press was scheduled to be shipped off to state surplus, with the likelihood of this noble machine being turned into scrap metal and recycled.  Instead, it will become the focal point of a museum-quality exhibit that extolls Delgado’s history and continuing role in enlightening and preparing students, from printing and using printed materials for instruction and learning, to teaching with today’s dynamic online classroom and resources. 

An old platen press from Delgado's first printing program in the 1920s

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