May 23

In the year 1752 upon this day a printer died in his ninetieth year, honored as the man who had introduced the art of printing into the middle colonies of British America. William Bradford thus occupies a distinctive place in the history of the craft in the United States.

Bradford was apprenticed to his trade in England. Through an association between his employer and William Penn, he was selected to journey to the Colonies in 1682 with Penn to set up a press. He survived a three-month voyage, during which smallpox broke out aboard the vessel, killing thirty of the one hundred passengers.

Bradford spent some time in traveling, but there is little record of just what he did before he returned to England to secure equipment for the project of establishing his printing office. He returned to Philadelphia and began printing, in his twenty-second year, for the middle colonies. His first issue was an Almanack for 1686, which was printed in the autumn of the previous year.

In 1689 Bradford was charged with printing an edition of the Penn Charter without authority and was warned not to do any other unauthorized printing. Two years later he was again in trouble for printing an address by the superintendent of the schools who was then out of favor with the authorities. All of those arrested were convicted and fined, but Bradford’s case was not resolved. The type form which had been used to print the so-called libelous material was brought into court but when it was brought before the jury for identification, a juror inadvertently pied the form, thus destroying the evidence against Bradford.

At about the same time, the Assembly of New York met and offered a resolution: “That if a printer will come and settle in the City of Newyorke for the printing of OurActs of Assembly & publick papers he shall be allowed the summe of fourty pounds Current money of Newyorke per annum for his sallary & have the benefite of his printing besides what serves the publick.”

Bradford appealed for the dismissal of the case against him, as his printing equipment had not been returned to him. The governor examined the records and dismissed the case. Bradford, feeling his usefulness at an end in Pennsylvania, secured the appointment as Royal Printer at New York, where he set up his office in 1693, thus making himself the first printer in both Pennsylvania and New York. He added Printer to New Jersey to the list in 1703.

In 1725 Bradford published the New York Gazette, the first newspaper to be produced in that city. He also printed a book during the same year, in partnership with John Peter Zenger, to whom he had taught the printer’s craft and who later was involved in the influential freedom of the press issue.

He retired in 1744, after fifty years as Public Printer of New York, and died in 1752. In addition to his work as a printer, Bradford is credited by Lawrence C. Wroth, the historian of the colonial period of American printing, with being the founder of paper making in the United States. In 1690 he set up the first paper mill and secured the services of William Rittenhouse as the papermaker. He later owned a mill in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.

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