December 19

“I began to set type when I was twelve years old, and have ‘stuck’ type in nearly every state in the Union.” So began a letter written on this date in 1885 by Amos J. Cummings to the New York Journalist.

Cummings, as remarkable a man as the industry has ever produced, is now completely forgotten. He died in 1902, “with the printer’s rule of his youth and the union card of his early manhood in the pockets of the clothes he wore upon his deathbed.” Born in 1842 in upstate New York he learned the trade in the shop of his father, a minister who edited religious publications. Running away from home at fifteen, he became a traveling typo until he joined up with the William Walker filibustering Expedition to Nicaragua in 1847 in which he was captured by a U.S. naval vessel and returned to Mobile.

Cummings then journeyed to New York where he became a compositor on the New York Tribune. He next volunteered for service during the Civil War, in which he received the Medal of Honor for gallantry at Fredericksburg. He became a reporter for the Tribune after the war, becoming city editor. In 1868 he joined the Sun then edited by Charles A. Dana. “I am leaving the Tribune,” he told Dana, “because they say I swear too much.” To this the great editor replied, “You’re just the man for me!”

On the Sun he became managing editor, remaining until poor health necessitated his removal to Florida, where he continued to serve as a political writer for national publication. He returned to the Sun in 1877, serving as a special correspondent. In 1886 he was elected to the Fiftieth Congress as a Representative from New York, serving through the Fifty-seventh Congress. In addition to his congressional duties he founded the Evening Sun of which he was editor for a short period. He maintained his journalistic career along with his political duties, and during the last twenty-five years of the century he was considered to be one of the nation’s finest newspapermen.

Cummings in later life was fond of telling stories of his early career. One of his favorite anecdotes concerned his activities as a youthful printer in the West. He read a notice in a newspaper which stated: “Wanted, an editor to do the fighting for this paper. Weapons and whiskey furnished free. Wounds dressed by the editor’s doctor; no charge. Funeral expenses at the expense of the village.”

Cummings volunteered for the job, and requested the following supplies: six Winchesters, six Colt six-shooters, four butcher knives, and twelve gallons of good whiskey.

On his first night, there was a knock on the door and two men demanded to see the editor. “I am the fighting editor,” said the printer, “and here is my defense. Which weapons do you choose?”

“We’ll take the whiskey,” said one of the men. Cummings opened the jug and handed out tin cups, so they all sat down and discussed how they would settle the problem. They soon agreed that the easiest method was to have another drink. After a while in high good humor the visitors apologized for calling upon the editor in such a rough manner and dictated a statement exonerating the editor for having libeled them.

Leave a Reply