Printing in Vermont

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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton says that the art and craft of printing goes a lot farther back in Vermont history than you might think.

(Slayton) Printing – the art and industry of putting ink on paper – is not one of those things that instantly come to mind when the word “Vermont” is mentioned. But perhaps it should. Because Vermont has been a place where printing has been important for some 200 years, and there’s a long history of quality printing in this state.

Printing began early in Vermont – the state’s first newspaper was published at Westminster in 1781 on one of America’s first printing presses. By 1810, there were “not less than 14 newspapers” here, according to an early history of the printing industry.

Isaiah Thomas, the author, wrote at the time “The press seems to have followed the axe of the husbandman; forests were cleared, settlements made, new states were formed, and gazettes were published.”

That was the history of printing in Vermont for the first hundred years – printing presses were usually owned by newspapers, and they did books and job printing as a sideline. Many who began in the newspaper business became commercial printers, as writer Chris Granstrom points out in a new book entitled “A Celebration of Vermont Printers.”

Published by Lane Press on the 100th Anniversary of the business, the book makes fascinating reading for anyone who grew up in the small but intense world of printing, and publishing in Vermont. It’s a well-deserved tribute to Lane Press on its anniversary, and also an excellent history of an important Vermont industry.

My first job out of college and the Army was as a reporter at the Rutland Herald. This was almost 40 years ago, in the era of hot-type printing — molten lead, clattering linotype machines, and page forms, bolted together in metal frames.

I liked the old hot-type technology. It was direct and forthright and most of all, understandable. But eventually the old press became outmoded and was replaced by a new offset press. The papers were cleaner and photos clearer, and everything worked better. The romance of the old hot-type print shop was left behind.

Technological change has continued to drive the evolution of the printing industry in Vermont. We’ve gone from hot type to offset, to direct-to-plate computer-driven printing in just my lifetime. And while I feel nostalgic for the old ways, I can’t deny that the newer technology has allowed better quality printing to be done faster and easier than ever before.

At its heart, printing is still the heart of information technology: ink on paper, reliable information you can hold in your hand.

Printing makes information available to everyone. From ancient broadsides to today’s newspapers, the unfettered press is intellectual Democracy in action. That’s part of the reason freedom of the press is important enough to be written into the Constitution, and why the art of printing has been so important in Vermont for so long.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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