Carillon’s popular print shop exhibit to double in size

Volunteer Dennis Behm works in the Carillon Historical Park Print Shop. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON
Volunteer Dennis Behm works in the Carillon Historical Park Print Shop. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

Dayton was once one of the nation’s largest printing centers

Thanks to a very special group of volunteers, visitors to Carillon Historical Park over the past 30 years have been captivated by printing equipment that dates as far back as the 1880s. Youngsters leave the shop proudly carrying a card printed on an 1890s proof press that bears their own name.

The print shop, always one of the park’s most popular exhibits, is about to become an even more prominent attraction. Thanks to an anonymous couple who provided a major gift for the project, the shop will be doubling in size and an adjacent new interpretive zone, focusing on a portion of our region’s industrial history, will become a link to two other existing buildings. The plan is for the new space to open in late spring of 2021.

“We have people from all over the USA and from around the world visit us, and they all are very appreciative,” says Dennis Behm, an eight-year print shop volunteer who’s had a love affair with printing since his Patterson Co-Op High School days. After apprenticing at NCR, the Centerville resident spent 40 years at the Dayton Daily News — first in the composing room as a printer and then in the IT department.

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Items printed on historic presses are sold in the gift shop at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED
Items printed on historic presses are sold in the gift shop at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED

In addition to educational demonstrations, the print shop regularly creates items sold in the gift shop — cards, games, notepads and more. Shop manager Emily Teters says some of the most popular items include the greeting cards and the cards that feature Dayton Triangles, Deeds Carillon and the 1905 Wright Flyer III. “During the Christmas season, the Carillon Tree of Light and other Christmas-themed cards will begin to fly off of the shelves!” she says.

Recipe cards, chore lists and bridge-scoring sheets are among the unique items printed on-site along with a wide range of notepads.

Special requests are honored when possible. Earlier this year, the Hardin County Historical Society contacted the shop regarding a 100-year-old printing plate used to print the toy boxes for the Kenton Toy Company. “It was amazing to see the century-old image get new life from the plate and provide a facet of the toy history the museum did not have,” notes Behm.

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He says a weekly visitor to the shop is a boy with autism who comes with his mom and dad; the family also arrives every night during the Christmas season. “He takes pictures on his iPad of the equipment running,” says Behm about the young man. “He is fascinated by anything mechanical.”

That fascination doesn’t surprise Behm, who says the Linotype is an amazing mechanical marvel full of moving gears and cams and reeds. “Once we start explaining the Linotype and showing visitors how and why it works they become intrigued about the whole printing process,” he says. “There are always more questions when they see the presses running.”

The reason he and his colleagues volunteer, he says, is the enjoyment of telling the history of printing and what it meant to Dayton.

A volunteer demonstrates how to print a postcard for visitors. CONTRIBUTED
A volunteer demonstrates how to print a postcard for visitors. CONTRIBUTED

The Dayton connection

Did you know for much of the 20th century, Dayton was one of the nation’s largest printing centers?

“The Miami Valley’s abundant water supply made it the location of 25 of Ohio’s 36 paper mills,” explains Alex Heckman, Carillon Park’s vice president of museum operations. “It was more efficient to print the paper near the mills and ship printed products than it was to handle the paper twice.”

In the 1930s, Dayton had 77 printing companies ranging in size from small, basement shops employing one or two people, to the McCall’s 38-acre factory building, the largest printing plant under one roof anywhere in the world with over 6,000 on the payroll. By 1960, McCall’s was producing four million magazines and 100,000 dress patterns every working day.

The expansion of Carillon’s print shop will allow for the installation of seven more historic operational printing presses, as well as related equipment.

A notecard is printed on Carillon Historical Park's letterpress. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON
A notecard is printed on Carillon Historical Park's letterpress. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

How it works

“Letterpress printing is as simple as making a fingerprint,” explains Heckman. “You press your finger against an inked surface and the raised parts of your finger are coated with ink while the lower parts are not. In a like manner, the raised surfaces of individual pieces of type are inked and pressed against paper.”

The process was refined by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 using movable type and a wooden press adapted from those used to press grapes, Heckman explains. Gutenberg’s contribution was one of the most important technological advances in human history since it fostered widespread literacy and education. Letterpress remained the primary method of printing for literally centuries, until the development of offset printing in the 1950s.

The print shop is a key component of every Carillon field trip. In addition to visiting the shop as part of a larger museum tour, there’s an hour-long Printing 101 workshop in which students hand-set type and learn about the various pieces of equipment while seeing it in action.

Letterpress type at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON
Letterpress type at Carillon Historical Park. CONTRIBUTED/SKIP PETERSON

Credit: Skip Peterson

Credit: Skip Peterson

History of the exhibit

On July 18, 1985, the Dayton Daily News published a letter to the editor from an industrial engineer at Dayton’s Standard Register Company, Robert J. Smith. “His letter called attention to the importance of the printing industry in the overall development of the Miami Valley, and highlighted the fact that much of the early letterpress equipment was being replaced by computerized printing processes,” says Heckman. “Smith’s letter suggested that an exhibit be established at Carillon Park to preserve Dayton’s letterpress printing history. Later that year, a group of interested citizens met to consider Smith’s suggestion.”

After raising the necessary funding, the building was dedicated on July 11, 1988. It was the first building constructed using funds independent of the trust fund established by Colonel Edward A. and Edith W. Deeds in 1940 and has been the model for all subsequent capital improvement projects on the campus.

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“The print shop immerses our guests in the sights, sounds, smells and touches of both the art and science of letterpress printing,” concludes Heckman. “Many people are fascinated by how the machines operate because it is so far removed from their own life experiences.”

He says during school field trips, it’s a routine occurrence for a student to ask '"where is the screen?" when watching the printers operate the presses. “For children who have literally grown up with iPads, Playstations and all manner of other digital gadgets in their hands, it amazes them to learn that printing didn’t always consist of wirelessly sending a file to a full-color printer in a home office.”

HOW TO GO

What: Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre open-air history museum

Where: 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

When: 9:30-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $12 per adult (ages 18–59), $10 per senior, $8 per child (3–17), children under 3 and Dayton History members free

Parking: Free

More info: (937) 293-2841 or www.daytonhistory.org

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