Historical society looks back on the legacy of newspapers

By Heidi Gould
For The Patriot

Pictured, from left, are Elmer F. “Biffer” Miller, Tony Wessale and Art Wessale, circa 1927-1930, in the Waconia Patriot offices. A new exhibit at the Carver County Historical Society explores the history of local newspapers. (Submitted photo)

Have you ever wondered how early newspapers were created and published? How the text was laid out to be printed and the process involved, known as typesetting? Then the Carver County Historical Society has just the ticket – a new exhibit titled “Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Newspapers in Carver County.”

Typesetting is the process of laying out the text of a newspaper, letter by letter, to be inked and printed. This could be an extremely laborious process, but it was one of the most important parts of newspaper printing.

Every bit of text had to be laid out by hand, letter by letter, page by page, inked and printed. After printing, the letter blocks had to be removed and placed by in typesetter trays. If not properly fit during printing, the blocks would rattle and printing would have to be halted until the blocks were properly locked into place.

What made this process even more confusing was that the letter blocks must be laid out in a mirror image to how they would look when printed. Typesetters had to be skilled at reading words in reverse, as well as spelling, to set out the text for the paper.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Mind your P’s and Q’s?” This phrase originated with typesetters as they were returning the type blocks back to their cases. It is in reference to how similar some type forms resemble each other (lowercase p’s and q’s, the numbers 6 and 9, ect.). Typesetters breaking down print had to pay close attention lest they mistake a “n” for an upside down “u.”

This tedious process continued until 1886, when German-born watchmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler introduced the Mergenthaler Blowing Machine, nicknamed Linotype. This was the first machine typesetter, and became an instant success, saving hours of manual labor.

Carver County is home to several newspapers, and many are old enough to have utilized some of these pre-digital age techniques. The “Extra! Extra!” exhibit will take a look at the history of these newspapers and the tools used to create them.

A grand opening for the exhibit will be held on Friday, March 31, at 2 p.m. at the historical society museum in Waconia. Keith Anderson, former Waconia Patriot editor and current director of news for ECM Publishers, will be the guest speaker at 2:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend, and there is no cost for admission.