May 27

A faded statement, written in pencil on a piece of paper with the single word “Memorandums’ set in the left-hand comer in 18-point Gretchen caps, was attached to a page tom from a copy of The Inland Printer. Under the date of May 27, 1913 were the words, “Be sure the new boy sees this!” The page carried the story of a compositor named Henry Nidermaier whose life represented a paragon of virtue, and a model for any printer’s devil to follow. It is indeed difficult to imagine the present-day teenager inspiring a similar panegyric:

“For one month Henry Nidermaier had been feeding press, sweeping the floors, running errands and doing the other duties usually assigned to the beginner in the office of the Tazewell Printing Company, of Tazewell, Virginia.

“Then he asked for a raise. He thought that $3 a month, together with board and room, was insufficient, considering the amount of effort that he was putting forth.

“Naturally this request was refused. Apprentices seldom get a raise at the end of the first month of their apprenticeship.

” ‘Well,’ said the proprietor, ‘I suppose you’ll quit now.’ ”

” ‘No sir,’ replied young Nidermaier. ‘I want to learn the printing business, and I am going to learn it, raise or no raise.’

“And right there he made good with the boss. After that it was not necessary for him to ask for increases in salary—they came unsolicited.

“He worked hard, too. After being in the shop from eight to twelve hours he had extra work to do in the evening—feeding chickens, feeding and cleaning the horse, carrying in coal and kindling, etc. Occasionally he was given the opportunity to set type, at which he displayed so much aptitude that in the third year of his apprenticeship he was receiving the regular scale of $10 a week. When he had spent six years with the Tazewell Printing Company he left, and after a course of bumps and knocks throughout the South he finally landed in Cleveland. Here he came into contact with a new class of printing—the tariff—his first page of which, when returned from the proofroom, ‘resembled a Balkan war map.’

“Some time during the fall of 1908 there appeared at The Inland Printer Technical School one who looked more like the advance agent of prosperity than a student of job composition. Not that the job printer as a rule fails to present an appearance in conformity to his position as a craftsman, but this student went the most fastidious one better. As a result of his manner and appearance, the student had been in the school less than forty-eight hours before he was dubbed ‘The Duke’—and as ‘The Duke’ Nidermaier has been known since that time.

“His sojourn at the school was not as is the ordinary relationship between the student and the instruction department. Rather was it an interchange of ideas—for ‘The Duke’ is another proof of the statement that the more a man knows the more he wants to know and the more susceptible he is to new influences. The broader a man’s mental horizon becomes, the smaller, relatively, are the things which he already knows.

“As might be expected, Nidermaier made good from the start. Whatever there was in the course of instruction that he was not already familiar with he readily grasped and applied to his work.”

The social historians are all fond of telling us that America “came of age” with the advent of the first World War. Unquestionably the story of Compositor Hank Nidermaier is typical of the period of our youth and has been repeated countless times by those who believe that we lost our sense of values when we did reach our majority.

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