Print Worcester: Documenting Worcester's Printing Industry
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Isaiah Thomas

In April of 1775, just before the Battle of Lexington, Isaiah Thomas moved his printing press and types from Boston to Worcester. His printing operation was under threat from the British in Boston. He had begun printing The Massachusetts Spy, which promoted the "patriot cause," in Boston in 1770. On the 19th of April, 1775 he was in Lexington with his musket. The next day he opened his printing business on Court Hill in Worcester.

Caleb Arnold Wall, who recounted this story in his Reminiscences of Worcester, states, "This was the first printing done in any inland town in New England." Thomas printed for the provincial Congress until a press was established in Watertown.

Growth of Newspapers, and Job Printing in the 1800s

The National Aegis was established in Worcester in 1801, as, according to Wall, the organ of Thomas Jefferson, on his accession to the Presidency. The Spy, said Wall, had sustained the policy of John Adams in the controversy between the "Federal" and the "Republican" parties.

Across Worcester County, people began newspapers and did job printing. Some newspapers, like the Barre Gazette, continue to the present day, but many lasted a few years, then were replaced by other papers.

Some of the early printers gained experience outside Worcester, then established businesses in the city. Charles Hamilton (1828-1896) was a Worcester printer for fifty years, having learned the printing trade at the Barre Gazette. Like Isaiah Thomas, who was apprenticed to a Boston printer at the age of six, Hamilton must have begun work as a child, since he came to Worcester in 1844.

John Garfield founded The Sentinel in Fitchburg as a weekly paper in 1838. His Washington Press is now at the Fitchburg Historical Society.

Through the 1800s, many small companies did job printing in Worcester and Worcester County. Some, like the G. & C. Merriam Company which began in West Brookfield in 1797 as E. Merriam and Company and is now in Springfield, expanded and continue today.

Envelope Companies

In the mid-1900s, Worcester had several envelope companies. In 1963, according to the Worcester Telegram, the Worcester envelope industry employed 950 people. In 1967 United States Envelope alone employed 500 workers at its two Worcester plants. New England Envelope Co., Sheppard Envelope Co., and Worcester Envelope Co. (the oldest of the Worcester companies, established in 1892 and still in business today in Auburn) were also successful businesses at that time.

Twentieth Century Challenges

Printing companies faced multiple challenges in the Twentieth Century. To keep competitive, most printing companies had to not only adapt to new printing methods and equipment, but to anticipate trends. Also, many companies could not support the new equipment necessary to be competitive unless they received many large orders. Small companies found it harder and harder to stay in business.

Some companies, like Woodbury, had established a niche, in Woodbury's case a reputation for quality engraving. As times changed, fewer customers were willing to pay premium prices for engraved stationery. Woodbury focused on other specialized areas, including commemorative first day issues.

Colonial Press, in Clinton, was a major national printing company in the 1950s and 1960s, but in the 1970s it was sold, and the changes that followed led to its closing in the 1970s. Other printing companies have merged, such as Mercantile, which became Mercantile-Image Press.

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