July 10

Born this day in the city of Boston in 1868 was a man whose career spanned the most important typographical trends of the last hundred years, and who lived long enough to be called the “dean” of American typographers, art directors, and designers.

Will Bradley first handled type in his sixth year when his father, a newspaper cartoonist, brought home a font for his son to use with the small press the boy had purchased with money earned as a delivery boy. After the loss of his father, young Bradley was taken to Ishpeming, a small mining town in northern Michigan. He completed his formal education at the age of twelve when the teacher sent him home and told him to remain until he had the correct answer to a problem in division. Not caring for arithmetic, Bradley asked his mother for permission to “go to work and earn money so I can learn to be an artist.”

Almost immediately he found himself serving as a “devil” for three dollars a week, in the office of the Iron Agitator, owned and edited by George Newett. His first job was the wash-up of a Gordon press. Bradley later told of the practice of the country shop in using local help for straight-matter typesetting, but relying upon the tramp printers for display composition and presswork. He therefore listened carefully to the itinerant job printer employed in the office and when that individual finally moved on to another town, Bradley took over his duties, receiving an increase of wages to six dollars a week while a new devil was taken on in his place.

Before he was thirteen, Bradley received and accepted an offer to go to work for a four-page tabloid, the Peninsula Record, for eight dollars a week. A few months later his former employer hired him back at ten dollars a week and the title of job printer. When he was fourteen this wage was increased to twelve dollars, and at fifteen he was made foreman at fifteen dollars a week, a man’s wages for the period.

At sixteen the urge to be an artist was so strong that Bradley, having saved fifty dollars, journeyed to Chicago and went to work for Rand & McNally. Here he learned to engrave tints on woodblocks. As he was “learning”a newskill, he received no salary. After several weeks his money ran out and he returned home to the print shop. Rand & McNally wrote to him stating that if he returned and worked an extra hour each day, sweeping and dusting, he would be paid three dollars a week.

Just as soon as he had saved more money, he returned to Chicago and took the job. However the following year he again left the firm and went to work as a compositor for Knight & Leonard, Chicago’s leading fine printers. There his fine work was immediately noticed and he was made a designer at $21 dollars per week. Within two years he was free-lancing, had received recognition for the design of covers for Harper’s Magazine, and was on his way to one of the great careers in American design.

Leave a Reply