Hot-Metal Printer Profiles

We (Mike Maher & Ben Lopez) are happy to report that we have received positive responses for the web site, including pictures, tidbits, hot-metal printer profiles and comments. We will post them as soon as possible as we get them. As we all know, the hot-metal printing trade was a male-dominated craft. So the women were in a minority, so it was surprising to see that the first person to submit a profile of their hot-metal printing career, was a woman, Wilma Grant. So guys, let’s hear from you.

Back To Printer Profile List

Ben Lopez

My career in printing started in 1958 in a basement of a non-union shop in Hyattsville, MD. I was the printer's devil, managed ink barrels, fed the folder, poured pigs, distributed type and most exciting was pulling paper at the end of the press. The early 20th century presses in this shop on route 1, were both automatic and hand fed. At the end of the main newspaper press was a long gas burner that mitigated the static caused by the newsprint passing through the press. My job was to pull any paper from the press that didn't pass over the flames correctly. Well, often I would be surrounded by pulled newsprint on the floor and then pull a sheet that was in flames. You can guess what would happen, it didn't take much heat for that newsprint to catch fire. But, surprisingly, those fires never got out of control. We had a powerful fire extinguisher close-by all the time. Can you imagine a 2-story office building with that kind of activity occurring daily in this world we live today?

I worked in that shop for 6 years, until I could call myself a hot-metal printer/compositor. Union apprenticeships were difficult to acquire in those days, but as a journeyman I could possibly work in a union shop or at the USGPO. I worked at several other non-union shops, before I befriended a retired GPO linotype operator, Ralph Shank. Ralph sponsored me with the opportunity to join the ITU in 1965. I was proud of having that union card in my pocket. For me it meant fair wages, holiday pay, vacation pay and most of all plenty of job opportunities. These are things that were not offered in many of the non-union shops. Plus, in those days, there was prestige in being a union member.

My dream job was to work at the GPO and that finally came to fruition 10 years after I stepped into the basement of that shop in Hyattsville. At GPO, like most compositors, I started in the monotype-hand section. This definitely was not what I had envisioned. My experience in job shops and type houses did not give me the type of experience to work exclusively on monotype tables. But, then I was detailed to the Job Room and met a co-worker from my work-days in Hyattsville, Steve Jewel. Again I was helped in my career to find a fit for what I enjoyed, job work, and I never went back to mono-hand. I got re-classified as a proofreader after a back operation made work in the job room difficult. Then in the late 70's I transferred to EPD and the markup section looked like something that I would enjoy more than reading proof and my main supporter here was Bill Krakat.

For those who worked at GPO then, the most sought after jobs were on the 8th floor. I took the Printing Specialist's test several times, but never got called until early 1984, when a Printing Specialist job was offered to me in Seattle. I accepted and in May 1984 I was on my way to Seattle for the 2-year training to become a printing specialist.

My 10 years in Seattle was a great experience, where I was able to use all the skills I had learned to write printing contracts. However, there was no opportunity for a promotion, since both the manager and assistant were younger than me and were not going anywhere. The best thing that happened was that computers were installed in the SRPPO in 1986 and I found out that I had an aptitude for this new technology.

I left the SRPPO in 1994 to return to the Central Office and GSDD. Not the 8th floor, but for me it was where I wanted to be. The vice-president had sent out a letter that instructed Government agencies to have a presence on the world-wide web and GSDD was looking for volunteers and I raised my hand. The years from 1995 to about 1999 were very exciting. The GPO web team was involved in a lot of firsts during that time. I became passionate with working on the web and when I retired I worked for another 10 years as a web developer at the State Department, DoD and for a local newspaper company here in North Carolina, before I finally retired for good January of 2013.