Hawai'i changed, so did we
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Will Hoover
One hundred and fifty years ago today, in a small frame building on Honolulu's Merchant Street, young Henry Whitney and his staff cranked out the first edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.
It would be "a paper destined, we trust, to exert more than an ephemeral influence on the industrial and social condition of the community," wrote Whitney, 28, in type that was set by hand, one letter at a time.
The hand-powered flatbed Washington press Whitney and his six employees sweated over could print 600 newspapers in one hour. On July 2, 1856, they labored for five hours to produce 3,000 copies of the four-page, black-and-white newspaper featuring a single woodcut engraving of Honolulu Harbor on the masthead.
Today, The Honolulu Advertiser, the paper's name since 1921, is printed at an $82 million Kapolei printing facility. There, a pair of seven-story MAN Roland offset presses can churn out 140,000 papers an hour, each with 48 full-color pages.
GOOD OLD PENCIL, PAPER
The story of how The Advertiser went from humble beginnings to the largest paper in the state is a hodge-podge tale of starts, stalls and major technical advances in the way news is delivered to the public.
It also illustrates how some news techniques pretty much stay the same. Take, for example, the way Whitney and the first Advertiser reporter, Joseph Carter (who also happened to be the paper's accountant), took notes.
"It makes sense that they used pencils and strips of newsprint," said Helen Chapin, author of "Shaping History: The Role of Newspapers in Hawai'i," and a former Advertiser stringer.
After all, the common wood pencil had been around since the early 1800s, and obviously newsprint was readily available, she said.
Yet reporter note-taking hadn't changed much by the time Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss started at the paper in 1951.
"When we went out to do interviews, we took pencils," said Krauss, who's been writing for the paper for more than a third of its 150 years. "But we didn't have a notebook. We took strips of newsprint that we folded over and put in our pockets."
Still, Krauss had the option of writing his stories by hand — which he often did — or using a genuine printing advancement: the typewriter.
"We wrote all our stories on typewriters," he said. "I used a Royal. And you had to make three copies of everything. So you used carbons. If you had to erase, you had to erase the carbons, too. And it was a miserable mess."
Two years before the first typewriter arrived in the Islands in 1875, The Advertiser installed cylinder presses. In 1880, it became the first paper in Hawai'i to use steam-powered presses (although the type was still set by hand). Two years later the paper became a daily.
Then, in 1895, the Advertiser got its first linotype composing machine.
"The linotype was really a Rube Goldberg machine, but it worked," said Bill Bogert, the Advertiser's vice president of production, who began his newspaper career in 1957 with the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York, and for years was a linotype operator.
Invented in 1886 by Ottmar Mergenthaler, this clicking, clanking collection of parts was regarded as the greatest advance in printing since the invention of movable type in the 1400s. With this machine, a single operator became a typesetter, justifier, type founder, machinist and type distributor all in one.
The operator typed the stories onto a complicated keyboard and the machine laid down each piece of lead type in order and justified the type so each side of the column had straight edges.
Bogert recently acquired a linotype from the University of Hawai'i that's believed to have been used at the Advertiser. He plans to display it next to the paper's new presses in Kapolei.
Raybern Freitas, a retired composing room foreman who worked at the paper for 45 years, said a fascination with the linotype machine drew him to the business.
"The first time I saw one I wondered, 'Who thought of this thing? How'd he put it together?'" said Freitas, an erstwhile Advertiser linotype operator.
While the linotype printed up the body of a story, headlines were another matter. One hundred years after the first copy of The Advertiser came off the press, Freitas was still setting headlines the way Whitney had.
"When I started out as an apprentice in 1956, we set all the headlines by hand," he said. "The individual letters were all in drawers called a California job case, and we set them by hand on a 'stick,'" a one-column metal form identical to one used by Whitney.
At the dawn of the 20th century, The Advertiser introduced newspaper photography to the Islands — eliminating the painstaking lithograph engraving process.
DAYS OF HOT LEAD
When the paper moved from offices on South King Street in February 1930 to its current building at 605 Kapi'olani Boulevard, it took 10 linotypes to put out the paper.
The paper was printed on a new rotary Duplex press that could turn out 30,000 black-and-white papers in one hour.
In 1964, the paper installed a new Goss Mark II letterpress, capable of printing an astounding 45,000, 48-page papers with color in the same time it took the old Duplex to bang out 15,000 fewer papers of half the size with practically no color.
The July 26, 1973, paper was the final edition printed on hot-lead plates.
Advertiser President and Publisher Mike Fisch now keeps the last front-page plate in his office closet. The banner headline reads: "Nixon will ignore tape request today."
"You get a good idea why all these pre-press men had arms like Atlas," said Fisch, straining to lift the 60-pound plate. "And remember, the plates and the linotype machines used molten lead, and for years the building wasn't air conditioned. It was a hot, dirty, arduous trade."
Wendell Weatherwax, current Kapolei pressroom manager, remembers lugging those hot plates daily for several years after he started at the paper in 1960.
"If it was a 48-page edition, you'd have 96 of the things to move around," said Weatherwax, who these days lifts his hands to peck out computer commands to presses at the Kapolei plant.
"When I think back, I can't believe how heavy those lead plates were. And then they were suddenly gone."
And so it went for every aspect of newspapering. Hot-type systems were replaced by improved cold-type systems. Speed-Graphic cameras with sheet film were replaced by the 35mm single-lens reflexes, which were replaced by digital cameras.
Of all the technological advances for newspaper operations, nothing compares to the computer, according to Bogert, Krauss, Chapin, and just about anyone else who has been at it awhile.
"The computer changed everything," Chapin said. "It changed the way the news is written, the way news is delivered, and the way news is processed."
It's impossible to imagine what the Advertiser might be like 150 years from now, said Thurston Twigg-Smith, who started in the Advertiser's circulation department in 1946, and over the decades was a reporter, editorial writer, city editor, news editor, managing editor and publisher.
Now retired from the paper, Twigg-Smith predicted in the future "some reporter will probably write a story about The Advertiser and the archaic days when all they had to work on was the computer."
Should that happen, Krauss said, the reporter most likely will take notes by hand much the way it's done now, and as Whitney and Carter did 150 years ago.
"What doesn't change is the interview and the techniques for getting information from people, and the energy and guts to go out and get a story first," he said. "That hasn't changed.
"You can't do that by machine."
Reach Will Hoover at email@example.com.