An Interesting Piece of Equipment

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In an earlier blog entry I touched on the various collectibles on display in our lobby and the positive reactions we get from all visitors. The most prominent item on display is a 19th century Washington hand printing press. Although we can’t trace the history of our particular press, we can tell by pictorial comparisons that the press dates back as far as the middle 1850s. The press bears a prominently engraved profile of our first president in the cast-iron frame, hence the name Washington press.

The press was invented by an American, Samuel Rust, somewhere around 1821, and later manufactured by an American firm called R. Hoe & Co. There appears to have been some deceit and duplicity in how the R. Hoe Company first gained patent rights to the press.  Having gained its patent, R. Hoe manufactured the Washington press for several years and being credited with the wide-spread expansion of the newspaper industry. An almost identical press to ours is on display at the San Diego Union printing office display in Old Town, San Diego. It was the same model of press that printed San Diego’s first newspaper back in the 1860s.

The printing press seemed to have a formidable reputation in its time as an 1855 New York Times article describes it below:

“It is not necessary for us to tell who R. Hoe & Company are for wherever the printing press, and the saw buzzes, their name and works are famous.”

Or this from the Catalogue of Nineteenth Century Printing Presses:

“The celebrity which our Patent Washington and Smith Hand presses have obtained during the last forty years renders any remarks upon their superiority unnecessary. They are elegant in appearance, simple, quick and powerful in operation, and combine every facility for the production of superior printing.”

Taken from the Catalogue of Nineteenth Century Printing Presses Harold E. Sterne

The darkest moment in the company’s history came in 1902 during the funeral procession for Chief Rabbi Joseph that passed by the company’s factory. Several workers at the plant taunted the mourners in the procession, and then later tossed various objects at the cavalcade which led ultimately to a riot and the police being called in to restore order. Representatives of the mourners entered the premises to voice their concerns to the R. Hoe authorities but were reproached and ordered off the premises by an armed employee. The police that were brought in to protect the mourners actually turned against them and attacked them with clubs. Robert Hoe gave a statement later defending the actions of his employees as a misunderstanding, and that only a piece of cotton was thrown from his building. The bill for the damage to his building was $1200.

The R. Hoe Co. continued to make printing presses until the 1960s. In the late 19th century R. Hoe struggled with labor relations leading to several strikes, usually revolving around the amount of hours worked per day.

To view a similar press actually run, please click on the link below.



Author: Nicole Hannover

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