Commemorating the Black Pioneers of the Printing Industry
In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take some time to highlight the Black pioneers of the printing industry. These individuals and their innovations and contributions helped mold the printing industry as we know it today.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
Born a slave in 1864 near Diamond Grove, Missouri, George Washington Carver was an esteemed botanist and experimenter whose development of new products derived from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans helped revolutionize the agricultural economy of the South.
One of the products that came out of Washington Carver's agricultural innovations was printer ink. Washington Carver invented printer ink as one of the 325 ways to make legumes profitable. Today, most oil-based printer ink uses linseed or soybean oil as a solvent to combine pigments. This kind of ink then dries through evaporation.
Clatonia Joaquin Dorticus (1864-1903)
Dorticus, who came from Afro-Cuban descent, invented the improved film washer for photographs and negatives. Before his invention, photographs and negatives needed to be soaked in chemical baths during their development to prevent bleaching and staining from residual chemicals and to prevent overwashing. He also invented an improved embossing photo machine, which gave a 3D impression to photographs. His patents were published in 1895.
William A. Lavalette (1839-1914)
William A. Lavalette was awarded patent number 208184 for his improvements of the printing press and 208208 for his variation of a printing press. Not much is known about his personal life. He resided in northeast Washington during 1878, the year he received his patents. He died on January 9, 1914, at the age of 73.
The Black Strikebreakers of The Piermont Paper Mill
This last one isn’t an individual inventor, but this story can’t be ignored.
The Piermont Paper mill in Rockland County, New York, began operations in 1902, and when workers attempted to unionize and went on strike in the early years of the plant, Black workers from the South were brought in as strikebreakers.
According to the African American Historical Society of Rockland County, the International Brotherhood of Papermakers reported that agents from the North grossly exaggerated conditions and wages to entice Black workers to leave the South for jobs at the mill.
By 1925, many Black men were working at the paper mill as mill hands, and a large proportion of these workers migrated from nearby regions and from the South to work in the mill. A news article written in 1916 described the working conditions for the Black workers akin to slavery. The article went further and explained that the workers were not free to leave until they had repaid the cost the company paid to bring them from the South to the North.