Clarence Dickinson Carries Printing Innovation into the 20th Century
October 25, 2019 • Invention and Technology, Haddam, Work

Side view of the offset printing process. Multiple ink rollers are used to distribute and homogenize the ink.

Clarence Dickinson was a long-time Haddam resident and pioneer in offset lithography—a process using printing plates on chemically treated flat surfaces. He was the originator of the first color printing on a rotary offset press and the first man to sell a two-, four-, and six-color lithograph press. By the time of his death, industry executives considered him the leading authority on offset lithography for paper and cardboard, as well as on presses for decorating metal.

From Newspaper Owner to Making Print Industry News

Dickinson first engaged his passion for printing in high school (while his parents prepared him to study music at Oberlin College). Rather than attending Oberlin, however, Dickinson apprenticed himself to a weekly country newspaper—learning the ins and outs of printing in the days before mechanical typesetting. He eventually bought a 50-percent interest in a small newspaper, The Waverly Advocate, in Waverly, New York. While there, he met Bertha Lee Taylor and the two married in 1899, running their newspaper along with their partner and two employees.

After the paper proved unsuccessful, Dickinson moved to the selling side of the printing business and traveled extensively through New York State and Pennsylvania. On one of his trips he got his first glimpse of printing with lithographing stones, a process he felt was slow and cumbersome and in need of re-engineering.

Dickinson then joined the Harris Automatic Press Company of Niles, Ohio. This Midwestern printing concern manufactured a fast, rotary, automatic sheet-fed printing press. While there, he sold the country’s first commercial rotary offset lithography press. In 1908 he became the originator of the first color printing on a rotary offset press: a 22-color portrait of opera star Mary Garden.

In the 1930s Dickinson settled in Haddam and went to work for R. Hoe & Co. He retired after 22 years there to spend more time with his wife of 60+ years, their 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. Included among his possessions at his Main Street home was a framed print of his revolutionary 1908 Mary Garden lithograph. Dickinson passed away May 28, 1960, at the age of 84.

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