August 21

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin on this day in 1840 was born Nelson C.. Hawks, who was to become—to borrow a journalistic expression—the “father” of the American Point System of type measurement. At sixteen years of age Hawks was apprenticed to a printer, but a month after he had gone to work, his employers sold the business, leaving the boy without a job. However, he was presented with several fonts of type which he brought home to use as the nucleus of a very small newspaper office. Hawks published a 9 x 11 inch paper called Young America for two years. Then he established the Free Press in Oconomowoc.

In 1865 Hawks returned to Milwaukee where he opened a job printing office. It was at this time that he became concerned about the lack of precision in the types then being manufactured by typefounders in the United States. There were no standards of type size, or in height-to-paper, a fact which naturally contributed to the frustration of printers who attempted to combine in a single job the types of more than one founder. In discussions with his fellow printers Hawks urged that they get together and demand of the founders that types be produced to a standard size.

The Great Chicago fire of 1871 which destroyed 17,000 buildings, wiped out the two typefoundries then located in the city. Hawks made every effort at that time to persuade Marder, Luse & Company, the larger of the two and the most important of the Western typefounders, to change over to a systematic method of casting type when the foundry was rebuilt. He met with no immediate success, so he next approached the Cincinnati Type Foundry with a similar proposition, and was again rebuffed.

At about the same time he accepted the offer of Marder, Luse & Company to establish a branch office of the firm in San Francisco, as the Pacific coast printing industry was then experiencing very rapid growth. Out of this association was the forming of a new firm, the Pacific Type Foundry. John Marder of the Chicago company went out to California in May, 1874 to visit Hawks and to discuss the problems to be encountered in the new venture. Again Hawks used this opportunity to promote his cause. He advocated as a standard the pica type cast by the Philadelphia foundry, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, since the type of that concern was the most widely used by American printers and because it was the smallest of the pica ems in general use, making a new changeover by other foundries less expensive.

Marder, convinced by Hawks’ enthusiasm that one large founder must eventually restore order to a chaotic situation, returned to Chicago. In 1879 Marder, Luse & Company announced to the trade that they were instituting what they called the American System of Interchangeable Bodies. From this moment the idea spread rapidly. In 1886 the American Type Founders Association, a trade group of the nation’s foundries, met and agreed to make official the American Point System, based upon the idea that Hawks had impressed upon Marder.

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