homepage logo

Paper’s printing had many changes since beginnings

By Staff | Jan 2, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dean Shalhoup began his career with The Telegraph in 1972, when his father, the late Michael Shalhoup, was city editor and the paper was still published and printed on Nashua’s Main Street.

We knew our typewriters would one day be replaced by heavy electric boxes with little TV screens, and we were pretty sure most of us would see the day we could speed our finished stories to the boys in the composing room with the push of a button.

The more daring went so far as to predict that the paper might even feature one or two color pictures every day.

But nobody, not even the geekiest of prognosticators, envisioned The Telegraph would one day be printed on someone else’s press more than an hour away.

After all, the press, and its skilled team of handlers who wore ink stains as badges of honor, were central to the very existence of the daily newspaper, the mechanical mountain to which all eyes turn after all else is done.

While I haven’t witnessed many press starts in recent years, fond memories of Charlie Clough, Jim Marshall, Al Gurskis and other kindly pressmen of yore are with me forever.

This weekend, I’ll add to those memories old friend Steve Cady, whose Telegraph longevity (39 years) puts him second on the company seniority list. Pressroom Foreman John Chester has been with us for 24 years, and Tim Hoffman was here for 12.

And although I know few other pressmen personally, I’m nevertheless saddened knowing they’ll no longer be up on the deck each and every night.

Looking back

Save for a few days here and there – like the Flood of ’36, when the Nashua River temporarily claimed the basement pressroom on Main Street – Nashua’s newspaper has gone from idea to finished product under one roof since Alfred Beard issued his first “The New-Hampshire Telegraph” on Saturday, Oct. 20, 1832.

Printed by hand in the rear of Andrew Thayer’s Main Street bookstore, the youthful Beard’s four-page, five-column sheet delighted folks from little Nashua Village out to farmlands and lumber mills of greater Old Dunstable.

I never saw the press on which Beard printed those first editions, but I imagine it as a black, cast-iron contraption with rollers and levers, and a big, horizontal gearwheel that pressed paper sheets onto ink-coated lines of type, one at a time.

Then came progress – and what passed for automation in mid-19th century Nashua.

Not all the early Telegraph’s steps forward were part of a larger plan, however; twice in the fledgling paper’s first 16 years, fire destroyed everything, forcing the entire operation to relocate and rebuild.

The ever-growing and maturing press always followed. From Library Hill to the Central Building near Railroad Square, then to the nearby Depot Building, the press needed to be up and ready before anything else could be done.

In 1866, a move back to the renovated Central House set the stage for The Telegraph’s first big milestone: Going from weekly to daily publication. The big day came March 1, 1869, when then-owner O. C. Moore unveiled the city’s first-ever daily newspaper.

By then, it took more than one or two men to run the press, which was beginning to form a reciprocal relationship with growth. As the paper grows, so grows the press; as the press grows, so grows the paper.

A good illustration came 20 years later, when The Telegraph began printing a second paper, The Daily News. Its press-run followed The Telegraph’s midday run, extending the day for the growing crew of pressmen.

The News didn’t last long, but the pressmen were by no means left idle. There were books, cards, niche booklets, advertising fliers and assorted other products to print before and after Telegraph presstime. This commercial printing aspect would become a significant revenue producer for the company for the next century.

With the dawn of the 20th century came plans to expand printing once again. The plan was hatched in 1905, when the paper unveiled its brand-new 12-page Duplex flatbed press. Powered by a 15-horsepower motor – compared to the two 125-horsepower motors that power our current press – the machine was an awe-inspiring technological marvel for its time.

The big bridge fire of 1924 took care of all that, though, forcing The Telegraph operation back into transiency until the late Col. William D. Swart decided to shoot the works and construct an “indestructible” state-of-the-art complex of brick and steel at the corner of Main Street and Pearson Avenue.

A public open house in February gave thousands of visitors to gawk in amazement, as they did a quarter-century earlier, at the very latest in printing technology before them: A speedy, 16-page Duplex rotary tubular press capable of things never imagined back in ’05.

Eventually, the so-called “side jobs” broadened to include other newspapers, mostly smaller weeklies and national publications that contracted with several regional printing and distribution centers around the country.

Baby boomers especially remember the paper’s long holiday-season tradition of printing and including in the paper a large card with a calendar on one side and a list of the city’s fire alarm box locations on the other. It even had a little hole for easy hanging.

Revenue from commercial printing cycled over the decades, but it maintained a presence at The Telegraph right up to the end.

Giant addition

Come the late 1960s, Nashuans started noticing some changes along Pearson Avenue. The little circulation office that stood just to the rear of the adjacent Sargent Building, which The Telegraph acquired in 1967, was gone, and heavy equipment was digging huge craters in the rear parking lot.

Why? To make room for a giant addition, big enough to house our new, really, really, big press.

Sure enough, come the summer of 1968, construction was well under way on a $750,000, 4,000-square foot production building. By early 1969, trucks hauling big crates and skids began arriving, and pretty soon, all that was left was to assemble the paper’s latest capital investment, a three-story Hoe color convertible press, complete with a new plate-making room and giant conveyor connected to the newly-automated mailroom. The new press was capable of printing entire newspapers up to 64 pages thick in one run.

On June 2, 1969, Telegraph president Robert Hamblett, publisher Charlie Weaver, press foreman George Harris and assorted other department heads gathered around a hub of wires and switches to throw the symbolic switch that started The Telegraph’s first pressrun on the new Hoe. The paper was quite wide by today’s standards, although it had slimmed down to an eight-column format, from the nine-column used since 1957.

A few days later, The Telegraph published its largest special edition ever on its new Hoe – a 56-page supplement commemorating the paper’s 100th anniversary as a daily.

Watching the larger-than-life Hoe in action, some of us couldn’t help but wonder: what’s next? Will our press someday be as big as the Millyard, able to print, count, insert, bundle and load an entire run all by itself in a few minutes?

By the early 1970s, the long-held assumption that growth means bigger, stronger and noisier was giving way to a wholly unanticipated phenomenon: fitting more features into smaller gadgets.

The press, however, remained one of the few exceptions. While advances in technology would enable presses to do more, for example, to accommodate “processed color” (i.e., color photos) instead of just “spot color” (borders or lines in a single color), there was no practical way to put the machinery into smaller packages.

The shrinking of the rest of the business began in 1973, when The Telegraph’s first computers were unboxed and plugged in. After weeks of experiments and trial runs, the paper printed its first editions using a new “cold-type,” or computerized composition process, sometimes called a “compugraphic” system.

Purportedly speedier, more efficient and less costly than the standard “hot-metal” process, in which sentences were formed in melted lead by noisy, hot Linotype machines, its first days were nevertheless accompanied by Page 1 messages like “The Telegraph apologizes to readers and advertisers for the delay in today’s publication.”

The paper’s next press upgrade would also turn out to be its final significant one – an overhaul that accompanied The Telegraph’s 1984 move from 60 Main St. to an office park in Hudson. Over time, the pre-press and composing-room staffs dwindled as technology improved and work once done by separate people was combined.

And now closes the final door, at least here on-site. The Telegraph will still be printed on huge offset presses, but not here, alongside the newsroom, salespeople and other staff who make up the newspaper.

We’ll adjust, as we always have.

But without the melodic cling-clank of machinery, the earsplitting warning bell and the throaty, percussive roar rattling our senses and filling our souls, it just won’t be the same.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *