Carl Schorr: Proud to Be a Printer (Pt. 1)

Adopted from “Wells Printing: About Us” (1986)

As a student at Highland-Mendota Beach School (now Crestwood) and later at West High School, Carl wasn’t exactly setting any records for academic excellence. That’s not to say he wasn’t a good student. For the most part, he took his studies very seriously. The problem involved a few subjects that somehow failed to spark his interest. When that happened, he would just as soon play hooky… and he did.

Katherine Wells, school nurse at the time and wife of Rufus Wells, had taken a shine to young Carl. She liked his openness, friendly chatter, and apparently inexhaustible energy. However, she didn’t particularly care for his occasional skipping out of some classes. Carl seemed to need something else and Katherine found it for him. She convinced her husband, Rufus, to take on young Carl part time at the printing office. It proved to be the most important opportunity in Carl Schorr’s life. Carl loved everything about the printing business, almost immediately.

Press room in the basement of Wells PrintingLike his predecessors at Wells, Carl too started out at the bottom. The work was hard, it was dirty, and it did not pay too well (fifteen cents an hour to start, increased to 25 cents a short time later). But Carl loved the place. He loved the smell of it, the sounds of it, the feel of it. He poured himself into his work. No matter if the job might just be sweeping the floors. If they had to be swept, sweep he would – and he would do it faster, more carefully, and more thoroughly than anyone had ever done it before him. The floors of Wells Printing Company, ink and grease sealed in the wood notwithstanding, would be the cleanest floors in town.

The prize was just to be around the place, to be a part of it. He was incessantly asking questions about the hand-fed presses, about the Lino-type, about the paper cutter, about type. Carl was absolutely insatiable in this quest for new knowledge. He wanted to know everything and he wanted to know it fast. Still, things don’t usually happen fast. Much of his work would be drudgery. Carl, like those before him, started out as a printer’s devil. Deep down inside him, he knew, even as a youngster, that he would have to move up slowly if he was to reach his ultimate goal. And that was to be a printer. He hadn’t completed one day on the job when he just knew printing would become his life. He was right, perhaps more so than he could have imagined at the time.

Carl’s industry and energy did not go unnoticed. Everyone knew there was something special about Carl. He didn’t just work hard, he worked with a vengeance. It was not just that Carl seemed to have something to prove to the others, to himself, it was as if he were determined to jump on life’s schedule. Once he knew he wanted to be a printer, nothing would stand in the way of that objective, not even time.

Time, as it has a way of doing, did pass. Carl graduated from high school, served a hitch in the Army, and returned to Madison… and to Wells.

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