American Experience
Manufacturing Advances

Enlarge Image
Enlarge Image

Manufacturing Advances

Advances in press technologies and reductions in materials costs helped the dailies pack their pages with dynamic layouts, photographic reproductions, and colorful illustrations. During the Civil War, raw paper for printing had cost up to $440 a ton. The introduction of sulphite pulp (wood pulp prepared with chemicals -- often magnesium, calcium or sodium) reduced the cost to $42 a ton by the 1890s.

Production rooms were outfitted with new rotary presses -- cylinders with typeset plates wrapped around them -- which were sturdier than plates used on flat presses. These new presses printed on rolls of paper, on both sides. A top-of-the-line press could print 48,000 12-page newspapers in one hour, cut and folded.

Until the 1880s, newspapers had few visual elements, with perhaps only a time-consuming woodcut for the front page. Publications such as Harper's Weekly, which didn't grind out two or three editions a day, could add more illustrations -- often steel plate engravings -- to their articles. Zinc plate etchings were cheaper and faster to produce and by 1884, The New York World published drawings more regularly. Photo engraving and the halftone process, used to reproduce photographs, allowed even more visuals to be added. The timing was perfect for reporting stories with photogenic subjects -- like Evelyn Nesbit.

            | next

1 -- Manufacturing Advances 2 -- New Look, New Stories 3 -- Yellow Journalism