Role of Technology in Shaping Printing Unions

Over the years, innovations in printing technology have played a pivotal role in the evolution of the industry, and have been instrumental in shaping printing unions as well.

In 1850 the very first printing union was formed: the New York Printer’s Union. This rapidly evolved into the more extensive International Typographical Union (ITU), a comprehensive labor union with members from all phases of the printing process. Over the next half century, many changes occurred in the industry as a result of technological advancements. The 1870s saw the beginning of the shift from lithographic to offset printing. With this and other technological advancements came increased job specialization, which in turn led to segregation into smaller trade unions. The International Printing Pressmen Union of North America (IPPU) and the International Brotherhood of Bookbinding (IBB) were formed in 1889 and 1892 respectively, and many others followed suit.

The changes to the industry didn’t stop there! The printing industry continued to evolve over the 20th century. Other production methods came into vogue, including screenprinting, flexography, and photocopying. The printing industry was brimming with new technology as well as innovations to existing technology, which eventually rendered some methods (such as lithography) obsolete.

Naturally, as the methods of production continued to evolve, so did the unions. Many splits and mergers occurred throughout the 20th century. In 2005, the shift to digital technology in the industry resulted in one last merger between the two largest unions in the industry; the Graphic Communications International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters joined forces once again to become the Graphic Communications Conference (GCC).

Carl Schorr: Proud to Be a Printer (Pt. 4)

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

Carl was about as close to being a broken man, literally as well as figuratively, as a man’s going to get. All of those years of hard work seemed to be going right down the drain. Here he was as the sole owner of his printing company, but here he was also sitting in a hospital bed with broken arms and ribs, cut and scraped, and mentally wounded with the prospect that his company might have to go out of business.

The thought of throwing in the towel certainly crossed his mind. But what would he do then? What point was there to keeping those paychecks in the kitchen cupboard, under no circumstances to be cashed until things got better? What point was there to keeping everyone on board, even though future employment with the company was uncertain? What point was there to being a printer?

Somehow, the turnaround would begin. Will Wills, the company’s founder, experienced some tough times. Rufus, whou guided it through the Depression years, took some lumps. Why should it be any different for Carl? If they could make the company go, so could he. In retrospect, Carl views the accident as the catalyst. The result of that near-tragedy was an unqualified rallying around by Carl’s family. And that included the extended family. Rufus and Angie hurried back from Florida to help the entire staff did all they could. Janet and the kids pitched in and did whatever possibly to help the company back on its feet. This was no small accomplishment and the fact that they were willing to help at all is not insignificant.

You see, one of Carl’s problems was that he lost touch with reality, and his perspective got all out of whack. After he and Dick purchased the company, Carl was so determined to make it successful that he devoted his life to it. Sometimes at the expense of everything else – like a family. The long hours at the shop meant Carl wasn’t devoting time to his wife and kids. Family relations were under a strain. Then the accident. The decision was made to go for it, save the company. Everything that could be done would be done to get Wells Printing Company back on its feet.

Carl Schorr as President of Wells Printing

It didn’t happen overnight, but things started happening fast. Janet dived into everything. She would help where she was needed and worked full time at the office. And Tom, Carl’s oldest son, came on board. Tom began a crash course to learn the business. He learned estimating and customer relations. Simply put, he learned the printing business. Wells Printing was a family operation again, this time with the Schorr family.
Since the late 70’s, Wells Printing, under Carl’s leadership, has experienced unparalleled growth and prosperity. Today, in a new, larger facilty, a staff representing over 250 years experience in the printing business, Wells is bigger and better than ever.

Carl is a happy man these days. He’s doing the work he loves. He has seen his company grow and prosper. And the future, indeed represents limitless potential. Perhaps, more important, he knows when to work and when to play. He makes time for his wife, children, and grandchildren. He dances a mean polka. He loves to get out by himself in the outdoors rand chop a little wood (even this he has learned to do with less zeal – as when he managed to leave behind a piece of a finger courtesy of the ax blade). Carl is proud of his business, especially proud of his family, and he’s proud to be a printer.

Carl Schorr: Proud to Be a Printer (Pt. 3)

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

Wells Printing Press Room
Carl’s rapid climb up the company ladder resulted in his becoming plant superintendent while still in his 20’s. This is when the days of long hours really started for Carl. The advancement was not without some apprehension. Carl felt he had to prove himself all over, particularly to some of the older employees. And then, there was a renewed dedication to do the best job possible to justify the trust placed in him. Carl worked endlessly. Nights and weekends at the office became routine. Carl was now doing, at one time or another, every job in the place. Whatever needed to be done was done, and if that meant cutting paper, running a press, or the bindery machine, or the folder, Carl would tackle it. His learning days were long gone.

In 1966 Carl entered a new phase of his life. He joined with Richard Massey in purchasing the company from Rufus Wells, who decided to retire. Katherine proved to be right on target, Carl now owned the place

These were years of great optimism. Carl and Dick had big plans for Wells Printing and those plans generally centered around expansion. Expansion of services, equipment, staff, and it was hoped, maybe even a newer, bigger building in the not-too-distant future. They would produce the company’s first really big job: the printing of a book about Bill Evjue, the “Fighting Editor” of The Capital Times. Here were two young men, just in their early 40’s, who owned their own business. The future seemed limitless in what it had to offer. if they would work hard enough, they’d make Wells Printing Company the best in the state. That was the plan anyway.

Wells Printing meeting with William Evjue
But the company started to go downhill. There were a lot of reasons. There are always a lot of reasons and blame to pass around. In the end, however, the primary reason would be a fluctuating economy. Not a Depression, just the little ups and downs, the mini-recessions that would contribute to uncertainty in volume of business. Some customers went away. When a business closed or moved out of town, particularly when it had been a long-time customer, the impact could be devastating for a printer. Looking back there were probably some adjustments that should have been made, probably some plans that should have been put on hold, probably some employees that could have been laid off. That didn’t happen though.

What did happen is that Dick left for personal reasons. Members of the board of directors considered declaring bankruptcy, and, soon after, Carl was involved in a serious auto accident that put not only his career, but also his life in jeopardy…

Carl Schorr: Proud to Be a Printer (Pt. 2)

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

Wells Printing in downtown MadisonIt was 1946 and Carl’s first full-time position was in the composing room, killing type (disassembling it after a job to store again, recycle, or dump), washing down presses, and beginning to hand-set type. More importantly, he continued to observe all that was going on around him. The whole process of printing a job, from the time a customer comes in with sometimes just an idea to delivery of the finished product, was becoming very clear. He couldn’t operate all of the machines yet but he understood their functions and the basics of how they worked. That too would come, and soon.

Carl became an apprentice in three years. With a long apprenticeship facing him, a comment made years ago about his future seemed remote and irrelevant. It was Katherine (Rufus Wells’ wife) who, while watching young Carl’s frenzied approach to his work, jokingly (bust most sincerely) said “Carl, someday you’re going to own this place.” Actually, Carl never thought about the possibility. He enjoyed what he was doing and he knew that wherever life’s roads would take him, they would take him there as a printer.

On October 7, 1950, Carl took time off to marry his sweetheart, Janet Morhoff. Carl describes Janet as “the only woman that I’ll ever love,” and this was undoubtedly one of the most important moments of his life, but the two of them were not left with much time to celebrate.  Two days after the wedding, Rufus sent Carl to Indiana to learn the Linotype (no honeymoon here!). The Lintotype, once referred to as the eighth wonder of the world by Thomas Edison, was one of the most important machines to be found in printing and newspaper offices for many years. Carl was to learn how to use this machine in English, Indiana at Bennett Linotype School.

Eventually, Carl learned the other presses as well. Getting to know and run the presses proved to be a very enjoyable part of his job. “I think a lot of printers, especially from the old days, felt that way. It depended upon the person, of course, but there was a certain excitement to running a press. In fact, the bigger the press, the better. You could feel kind of cocky with people going by outside, or customers coming in, and here you are handling this big machine. All the parts in motion, the loud roar as the press heaves back and forth, and you’re making it do its work. It felt pretty good, especially when someone was watching.”

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.