Volunteers at Tubac park lovingly show off hand-operated machine
James Pagels, a volunteer at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, operates a Washington hand press that was used to print Arizona's first newspaper. Arizona State Parks is getting ready to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the press in the state.
TUBAC – James Pagels knows a thing or two about the power of the press. In his case, however, he supplies the power, too.
For visitors at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Pagels rolls ink and presses paper to metal to demonstrate a Washington Hand Press that was used to print the state’s first newspaper, The Weekly Arizonian. It still provides visitors with replicas of the paper.
“It’s living history,” Pagels said.
Arizona State Parks is preparing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the press in Arizona. Brought by ox cart from the Mexican port of Guaymas for William Wrightson of the Santa Rita Mining Co., the press turned out the first copy of the Arizonian on March 3, 1859, promoting the mining company and its agenda.
The Arizonian published out of Tubac for several months before moving to Tucson. According to an account by the late Douglas C. McMurtrie, a historian of printing in the U.S., the newspaper apparently ceased publication in the summer of 1860, resumed briefly in 1861 and resumed once again in 1867 – both times under different ownership – before finally folding for good in 1871.
The press wound up in Tombstone, printing the Nugget newspaper for a time, and, according to McMurtrie, passed to the Arizona Historical Society in 1913.
Back home in Tubac and on permanent loan to Arizona State Parks, the press is a point of pride, said Joe Martinez, manager of the park.
“I think it’s amazing that the press came here in 1859 can still function today and we can show it to people and give them copies of the first edition,” Martinez said.
That edition describes attacks by Native Americans and crimes including horse thefts. It notes that stagecoaches were charging 40 cents to $1 per pound for extra baggage on runs between El Paso and San Diego. A section is devoted to the obituary of James Gadsden, who brokered the purchase from Mexico of nearly 30,000 square miles that are now part of southern Arizona and New Mexico.
Patricia Jeter, visiting from Seattle, said seeing the press in action gave her a greater appreciation of what it took to put out early newspapers.
“The work they had to do was awesome,” said Patricia Jeter. “When you look at a newspaper, you don’t realize how much work went into it, especially the earlier ones.”
Samuel Rust developed the press in 1821, and R. Hoe & Co., which acquired the patent and named Rust’s creation the Washington Hand Press, manufactured more than 6,000 between 1835 and 1902. The design, which could produce about 200 newspapers an hour, was one of a number of 19th-century metal hand presses not far removed from Gutenberg’s first wooden creation.
Amanda Stevenson, curator for the Museum of Printing History in Houston, said the advantage of the Washington Hand Press was a lever, or toggle, that provided greater leverage in pressing paper to the metal type beneath it.
“Different inventors were making different toggles and they all said theirs was the best and helped the press print faster,” Stevenson said.
Having the first press in Arizona offered its owners tremendous political power. Along with supporting mining interests, the Arizonian advocated for greater military protection against Native American attacks and promoted the Southwest to potential settlers.
The press, not unlike today, stimulated public dialogue and conflict. In that era, people upset about the paper’s coverage or opinions occasionally shot at its headquarters.
Edward E. Cross, a former Army colonel and a Union supporter, was the paper’s first editor. The Arizonian’s July 14, 1859, edition describes a duel between Cross and Sylvester Mowry, a former Army lieutenant, mine owner and sympathizer of the South, over the paper’s political leanings. Both survived, which the paper attributed in part to a stiff breeze.
“In this case, the proverb, ‘It is an ill wind that blows no good,’ was aptly illustrated,” the Arizonian’s account noted.
Not long after, Mowry bought the press and moved the Arizonian to Tucson.
Some accounts, including that offered at the park, say Mowry’s press later gave rise to the Arizona Citizen, now the Tucson Citizen, the oldest continuously published newspaper in Arizona. However, McMurtrie’s history of printing in Arizona says a different Washington Hand Press produced the Citizen.
Arizona State Parks is planning to invite journalists, journalism groups and the public to Tubac in March to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the press here.
Like other visitors, they’ll have the opportunity to see volunteers such as James Pagels and his wife, Elizabeth, dressed in Civil War-era garb, show what went into making the press work.
It’s fitting work for the Tucson couple, as Elizabeth holds a degree in journalism and James has a degree in printing.
“When you learn about it, when you begin to experience it at that level of producing and creating, it gets in your blood and you love it,” Elizabeth Pagels said.
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Here are some facts about the Washington Hand Press:
• Designed by Samuel Rust in 1821.
• More than 6,000 produced through 1902 by R. Hoe & Co.
• Made of iron, it weighs more than a ton.
• Ink for the press would often be made with linseed oil mixed with lamp and chimney soot.
• The Washington Hand Press displayed in Tubac is one of three left in Arizona. The others are in Prescott and Tombstone.