With Memorial Day just behind us and the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day landings occurring this Wednesday, there couldn't be a more appropriate time to peruse and ponder Gene Gable's wonderful illustrated essay, When Printers Went to War.
Posted at creativepro.com last year, this thoughtful review examines trade advertisements that ran in Graphic Arts Monthly from 1941 to 1950 and explains what they have to tell us about the industry's role in what probably was the nation's last fully shared armed conflict, World War II. The ads in the GAM issues, writes Gable, "show just how involved everyone was in the war effort and what a huge impact the war had on industry. It would be nearly impossible, it seems, to be indifferent about war in those days."
As Gable recounts, printers made a major contribution to the war effort by sharply limiting their consumption of metal, rubber, paper, and other strategic materials. The vintage ads encouraged conservation and exhorted printers to maintain their equipment to the utmost so that manufacturers could concentrate on building ships, tanks, and guns instead of printing machinery. On the supplier side, makers of printing equipment diverted much of their capacity to war production. Printers were major boosters of war bond drives and even floated a scheme to raise money for a pair of Gutenberg bombers to join the aerial campaign against America's enemies.
The war naturally boosted the government's purchase of printing services, but this gain was offset by a sharp drop in the consumption of print by businesses until the conflict was over. Printers, like other producers of manufactured goods, had to adjust to shortages of raw materials and to the compromises in quality that these shortages sometimes caused.
The story of the industry's laudable war record is well told by Gable, the renowned former publisher and president of Publish magazine, the president of Seybold Seminars and the publisher of The Seybold Report from 1999 to 2002, and the holder of many other distinctions as a journalist, business executive, and publishing authority. A list of links to his feature articles can be found at Creativepro.com, including the "Scanning Around with Gene" series from which the WWII essay comes.
When Printers Went to War isn't a mere nostalgia exercise for armchair history buffs. In it, Gable raises a poignant and troubling issue for an industry and a nation groping for a way out of an armed conflict in which sacrifices decidedly are not being shared by all.
"It's a little sad to me that our industry no longer involves itself in the issues of the day, preferring instead to use our powerful tools almost exclusively for profit," he writes. "In America, anyway, the old saying about the power of the press is not nearly as relevant as it once was."
"I dream of the day when more young people figure out that new technology, like text messaging and podcasts, can be a catalyst for social change, just as the printing press once was. I just hope it happens before the death count in Iraq gets much higher."