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WOA 50th ANNIVERSARY -- Sowing The Seeds

May 2002
By Caroline Miller

In 1952, a handful of web offset printers got together in a hotel room in Chicago during the NAPL Expo. Those men were not only the pioneers that would help promote the then-fledgling web offset industry in the United States, they would also be the founding members of the Web Offset Association (WOA), the largest heatset offset printing organization in the world, says WOA Executive Director Tom Basore.

"It really was the early days of heatset web printing in this country," notes Basore, who himself remembers—during his days working in the heatset web offset department at McCall's Printing in Dayton, OH—being told by an old-time letterpressman "Young man, get out of the heatset business."

But the pressman was wrong because the industry soon took off and so did the organization.

The startup association held its first formal meeting in 1953, with just 18 people in attendance. At that time, the group estimated that there were only 50 heatset web installations in the country.

And the issues that the association tackled at its first meeting were surprisingly similar to today. Among the challenges discussed were labor issues, air conditioning in the pressroom, blistering on coated stocks, as well as moisture issues encountered during storage and handling. "It's really just fascinating to look over the old minutes," adds Basore.

Soon after the first meeting, the association became affiliated with the Printing Industries of America.

Getting Technical

The association also realized the need for more information on technical issues, so one of the first orders of business was to develop the WOA's now-famous annual conference to improve both education and networking opportunities within the industry. As the group continued to meet each year, attendance grew and the heatset web printing industry continued to supplant letterpress.

The first administrator for the organization was George Mattson, who served from 1953 through 1978. Then came Edward Hill as the association's executive director.

By May of 1970, the association boasted 500 conference attendees and 280 vendors. By then, there were also an estimated 680 web presses installed throughout the United States. Today, since there are no WOA membership dues involved, and since any heatset web printer or industry supplier may utilize any of the products and services offered by the association, there is no accurate count as to just how many members actually belong to the group.

Tom Quadracci, executive vice president of Quad/Graphics and in-coming WOA board president, remembers a story his father, Harry R., told him about the early days of the Web Offset Association. "It was during the time when web offset wasn't supposed to be able to print high-quality work. At one meeting, my father brought a copy of Arizona Highways (a high-end publication) and informed the group that the magazine had been produced on a web offset press.

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