October 23

If ever an opportunity was missed to engage in a bit of promotion, the fact has gone unrecorded in the long career of Duff Green, a Kentucky politician who parlayed a chance meeting on an Ohio River keelboat with Andrew Jackson into a long series of spectacular schemes from most of which he emerged successful. One of these, however, resulting from his activities as Printer to the Congress, achieved only notoriety, but in no whit dimmed Green’s appetite for enterprise. He announced, in a prospectus dated in 1834, the founding of the first school for printers, to be called the Washington Institute.

Green proposed to educate up to two hundred boys, aged eleven to sixteen, and furthermore to both feed and clothe them, in return for teaching them the printer’s craft. The “schoolroom” for this undertaking just happened to be the printing plant owned by Green. In it he published a daily newspaper, The United States Telegraph, in addition to a monthly magazine. And of course there was also the printing for Congress, for which he held the contract.

Each lad who entered Green’s Institute would be expected to devote eight hours to laboring for Green in addition to five hours of study in the languages and the arts. Presumably the balance of the day was his own, but he was allowed the opportunity to earn “additional” money (he was not to be paid for the eight hour stint) by working overtime. The boy was expected to wait until coming of age to receive this extra pay, but the prospectus assured him that, if he entered the school in his eleventh year, there would be awaiting his matriculation the opulent sum of seven hundred and twenty-eight dollars, “A sum sufficient to set him up in business as an editor, a lawyer, a physician, or if he prefers to plant himself as an independent freeman, to purchase and stock a farm in the rich lands of the West.”

Green asked two of the subscribers to his publications to advance the capital to set up the school and to construct a building in which to house the students. The contribution requested was $150, for which Green would supply “in perpetuity” the publications produced by his plant, the normal subscription price of which was about $30 a year. The promoter mentioned that this “dividend” represented twenty percent on the investment.

The astonishing fact about this project was that it received the approval of a number of employing printers as a most desirable method of training printers. But the journeymen printers opposed the scheme with hoots and hollers, and under the leadership of the Columbia Typographical Society, they combined with members of Congress politically opposed to Green to block it.

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