January 6

A footnote in the history of the manufacture of printing presses in the United Sates is taken from the American Apollo, published on this date in Boston 1792, which stated that it had been printed on “the first complete Printing-Press ever made in this town—the wood-work was made by Mr. Berry, and the iron work by Mr. McClench.”

There was at that time no press builder specializing in that activity in the United Sates. Printers were almost completely dependent upon European suppliers, although occasionally a local carpenter would manage to construct a press from a model already in existence.

In an advertisement appearing in the New Jersey Journal, of Elizabethtown, in June, 1796 a man named John Hamilton, calling himself a Printing Press Maker, mentioned that he had supplied a number of printers in his own state and in neighboring New York with presses of “good Quality,” and that for the sum of seventy-five dollars he could supply others. However, Mr. Hamilton’s influence was restricted to a limited geographical area, and no more is heard of his presses.

The first press manufacturer to make a reputation in America was Adam Ramage, who brought professional skills from his native Scotland to Philadelphia in 1795 and began the construction of hand presses which during the next fifty years were to find their way to every part of the new nation.

Ramage improved the wooden presses of the period by enlarging the diameter of the screw from the commonly used 2 ½ʺ to 3ʺ. The descent was reduced from 2 ½ʺ to 2ʺ in the revolution, thereby just about doubling the impression squeeze. C.S. Van Winkle, author of the first American printer’s manual, The Printer’s Guide; or an introduction to the Art of Printing, published in 1818 mentioned but did not describe the Ramage press, telling his readers that the press was too well known to need description.

During the last half of the 19th century the Washington hand-press was the premier American hand press, but the Ramage machine was still widely available in the second-hand press market, being sold and resold until it had gained the reputation of being the “first” press in countless locations.

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