Excerpts from the book "TRAMP PRINTERS"
by John Howells and Marion Dearman

(Discovery Press, copyright 1996, 2003)
all rights reserved

The history of printing
and itinerant printing craftsmen

This book tells the history of printing from the viewpoint of those wandering craftsmen and masters of the art of printing who spread the "art preservative of all arts" throughout the world, and who continued the tradition of mobility throughout the centuries, until abruptly, in the latter half of the 20th century, their skills were no longer needed. Printers were replaced by computers.

From earliest days of America's history, the skills of those who worked with handset type, the printing press and the linotype were muchin demand. For three centuries -- until computerized new processes signaled the end of the "hot type" era -- traveling printers were a tradition on newspapers and print shops around the United States and Canada. Most belonged to unions, often very strong and militant. Many printers worked in "country" printing plants where unions were unknown. But union or not, printers had a proclivity for travel.

Their skills were not easily learned, but once acquired could be readily transferred from one newspaper or print shop to another. And travel they did. Some traveled from job to job, from town to town, so often they became known as "tramp" printers. The free and independent lifestyles they enjoyed were envied by other workers wherever tramp printers wandered. They were the epitome of Robert Service's poem "A Race of Men:"

A Race of Men

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.


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