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Hall of Fame--Dedication in Many Forms

September 2000

John Frautschi is as much a part of Webcrafters Inc. as Webcrafters is a part of John Frautschi. The pair are inextricably identified with each other.

Frautschi, 70, chairman of the board at Webcrafters and a 2000 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, also has a knack for taking care of the people around him—be they manufacturers, suppliers, his employees, Webcrafters' home city of Madison, WI, and Dane County, or anyone else who happens to step foot into his world.

The commercial printing industry hasn't known a greater friend, either. Frautschi has not only helped pioneer web cover printing, coating capabilities and other landmarks for the book publishing community, he has also helped spread knowledge through the Web Offset Association, various seminars and educational endowments to the graphic arts programs of local universities.

Yet Frautschi sounds more than content to be a part of the wonderfully well-oiled machine that is Webcrafters—the employees and their families—and an industry that has jumped up a few shoe sizes in the last 40 years.

"This job is fun, and it's exciting to be part of an organization and an industry that has grown like it has," he says. "We have 800 employees; that means Webcrafters is supporting about 2,000 people, including families. That's gratifying to know."

Frautschi is also gratified by Webcrafters' long and storied history, which dates back to the 19th century, when Democrat Printing opened its doors for business in 1868. Incorporated in 1890, the newspaper portion of the business was sold in 1921 and Democrat Printing became a general commercial printer.

Fast forward to 1925, when Walter Frautschi joined Democrat Printing, the first of his 72 years with the company. The Frautschi family became sole owners of the company in 1959; only four years earlier, Walter Frautschi was joined by his son, John.

"I had worked here summers as a kid, downtown in the old building," Frautschi recalls. "I can remember walking up the steps of that place, the creaky wood and the smell of all the type solvents."

As a young boy, Frautschi remembers his father bringing home linotype slugs wrapped in butcher's paper with a string tied around it. They would melt the type and pour molten lead into the top of molds to make hundreds of little toy soldiers.

After graduating from prep school in Colorado during World War II, Frautschi attended Amherst College, then Carnegie Tech's School of Printing Management. Upon graduation, he entered the army and taught offset presswork in the map reproduction unit at Ft. Belvoir, VA.

Madison has long been home to the Frautschi family—John is fourth generation. His family grew up on a lake, opening the door for a love of sailing in the spring and skiing in the winter. He actually ski jumped competitively in college.

Date With Destiny
At an early age, it was evident that John Frautschi had a date with printing destiny. His journey started on the delivery truck before heading to the shipping department. Frautschi literally went through the back door of Democrat Printing, proceeding into the bindery, followed by the pressroom.

"I really didn't think of any other profession," admits Frautschi. "It was a goal for me. Maybe I had some ink in my veins."

It was definitely in his genes. His brother, Jerry, joined him in 1956 and remained with the organization until selling his interest in Webcrafters to John in 1997.

In an industry seen as serious and dry for many, thoughts of Frautschi evokes visions of levity and light-heartedness for Ken Field, president and CEO of Continental Web Press, located in Itasca, IL. Field joined Frautschi and their wives on a GATF-sponsored tour for the IGAS exhibition in Japan.

"John always has a smile on his face and a great sense of humor," Field relates. "He's always had a light-hearted attitude toward the industry, and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. But he's a dynamic man within the industry.

"In Japan, John always had something humorous to say. He's just a fun guy to be around," Field adds.

Democrat Printing faced a crossroads equipment-wise in 1959. The Frautschis were using flatbed, two-color letterpress equipment that was "clunking" along, printing magazines and publications in four colors. That meant two trips through the press, on both sides, a total of four passes. It wasn't as productive as Democrat Printing needed it to be, so a change was in the making. The new kid in town, web offset printing, was just what the printer ordered.

In order to maintain the financial standing of Democrat Printing, the Frautschis incorporated a new company, Webcrafters. Under the new company, the family put down $25,000 and took out a loan to purchase the $250,000 press, which boasted a 239⁄16˝ cutoff. With competitors using a 223⁄4˝ cutoff, Webcrafters had the distinct advantage in the education niche. One major education customer, McGraw-Hill, was presented with an 11˝ tearout for its typing workbooks. The pads were wire stapled across the head and cross-perforated, to allow students to tear out full letterhead size typing paper from workbooks. Webcrafters turned the corner with this new niche.

"Within five years, we had three or four webs running," he recalls. "Today, we're operating seven 32-page, single-web presses in addition to our more conventional 16-page presses. It allows us to schedule well and gives us a lot of flexibility.

"In our segment, we have a big chunk of the market," he adds. "The big thing was that we had this capability—the people, equipment and the capacity—to give these publishers what they wanted. Word got around, and while we don't have a large sales force, we have offices in cities like Chicago, Boston, New York and Orlando to serve these education publishers."

Like the social and political climate of the times, the 1960s also paved the way for change and the exchange of ideas in the commercial printing realm. The Web Offset Association gatherings turned into all-night talk sessions. Webcrafters had an ace in the hole in the form of Fritz Wildeman, who was pretty far ahead of the curve. Wildeman developed the magnetic packing gauge to more precisely control packing on plate and blanket cylinders. Moistening on the web was another early innovation—early web presses featured edge guides, and Webcrafters weakened the fibers in the paper with glycerin or another moistening agent, which allowed them to control quarter-folds more precisely.

He helped lead the web cover printing revolution in the late 1970s. The guinea pig was a Schriber-Harris forms press; Frautschi had the manufacturer add a fourth ink form roller. Another printing unit was added to print covers two-up.

"That was the first time we'd ever been involved in a concept with the manufacturer, changing it from one type of press to another," Frautschi explains. "An additional printing unit was added to the press so that we could print alternate covers and let the ink recharge itself in between. We got in-line UV coating in 1979, and there were a lot of challenges getting the UV to adhere to the oil-based heatset inks."

Frautschi & Co. remained ahead of the game in the early 1980s with the installation of its proprietary Web Information Network (WIN) system. The system tracks vital statistics on all presses and provides a printout of critical information such as counts, average running speed and waste while monitoring potential and existing problems. Current and past jobs are databased.

Webcrafters weighed in early with computer-to-plate for the book manufacturing segment. Frautschi saw an advantage in using bigger presses for short runs, giving them twice the normal output with one web for every makeready. The equipment, short runs and educational niche, combined with gradual growth, helped Webcrafters build a reputation and solid foundation.

Giving Back
Frautschi and Webcrafters have annually given back to the industry what it has reaped. Frautschi, in addition to working with the WOA, Printing Industries of Wisconsin and serving as a board member of the GATF, has held board leadership positions for organizations such as the United Way, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Madison Downtown Rotary and Meriter Health Services. Webcrafters President Jac Garner currently chairs the local United Way campaign. Webcrafters supports Madison Area Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Stout with direct gifts to their graphic arts programs.

Webcrafters provides numerous programs for its employees, from tuition reimbursement incentives to ESL education courses.

"John is an important benefactor whose generosity has touched almost every part of our community," notes Garner. "He is truly an extraordinary leader in the printing/graphic arts world."


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