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History Shouldn't Forget Our 'Founding Printers'

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Author Topic: History Shouldn't Forget Our 'Founding Printers'  (Read 423 times)
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« on: July 02, 2008, 09:22:39 am »

                                         History shouldn't forget our 'Founding Printers'

Wed Jul 2, 2008
By Antonio Perez
Every fifth-grader knows that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were key figures in the creation of the Declaration of Independence. But does anyone know who printed the famous document?

It was John Dunlap of Philadelphia and Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore, who should forever be known as the "Founding Printers." Why should they be given such exalted status?

Mary Catherine Goddard


                                                                           John Dunlap

Consider the risk and reward in their actions. In a time when talking about independence, let alone printing a document about it, was considered an act of treason by England, both Dunlap and Goddard could have been hanged just for doing their jobs.

In Dunlap's case, you can imagine how the scene transpired. Whereas today we have sophisticated software that ties together every aspect of the production process, on July 4, 1776, it was altogether different. At some point that day after Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, and Secretary of State Charles Thomson sent Jefferson's handwritten copy a few blocks away to Dunlap's shop at 48 Market Street.

No ordinary man

Dunlap was no ordinary citizen. An Irish immigrant who would later fight with George Washington as an officer in the American Revolutionary War, Dunlap served as an apprentice in his uncle's print and bookselling shop from ages 10 to 19, when he took over the business. Now, at age 29, instead of taking the order online as he would today, Dunlap was handed a piece of parchment that would change the course of human events.

Working by candlelight through the night, he printed 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence a task that would take less than one minute on a commercial printer today.

And what of Mary Katherine Goddard? On Jan. 18, 1777, the Continental Congress moved that signed copies of the Declaration of Independence be more widely distributed and hired Goddard to do the job. In addition to being the first American woman postmaster, she operated a Baltimore newspaper, the Maryland Journal, and owned a print shop. Goddard offered use of her printing press for this treasonous duty.

Female printers rare

Why is this notable? To begin with, during the late 18th century, a prominent female printer was exceedingly rare. Moreover, while Dunlap's copies had only the signatures of Hancock and Thomson, Goddard's was the first to contain the typeset names of all 56 signatories. Although Goddard believed printing the document would more than prove her patriotism, members of the Whig Club, consisting of radical merchants and tradesmen, raided her offices twice in an attempt to silence her voice.

Like Dunlap, Goddard was no ordinary citizen. Despite putting her life on the line to print the document, despite being a trailblazing publisher and commercial printer, despite serving as Baltimore's postmaster for 14 years, she was forced out of office in 1789 by U.S. Postmaster General Samuel Osgood.

Osgood claimed the position required "more traveling than a woman could undertake" and put one of his own political cronies in her place. Although 230 Baltimore citizens demanded her reinstatement, she did not fight his decision.

We are a better country because of the actions taken by Dunlap and Goddard. This July 4, as we celebrate our nation's birthday, the names of our Founding Printers should be known not just by every fifth-grader, but also by every American citizen.

Antonio Perez, a student of history, is the chairman and CEO of Kodak.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2009, 09:03:54 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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