The Influence of the Technologies that Make Political Pamphlets


The Influence of the Technologies that Make Political Pamphlets


Joanna Tova Price


The political pamphlet has been a force throughout history that has uniquely represented individual and minority voices – while political pamphlets have been in the service of many kinds of groups of different sizes and amounts of power, it was for a long time the only medium that also served the man with the handpress in his home. After the industrial revolution, commercial printing allowed for mass production. The political pamphlet continued on, in small runs, on jobbers – or letterpresses that were owned by individuals and small businesses. Political pamphlets were essential to a number of peoples’ movements in the United States focused on racial justice and the vote for women. But they also continued to serve a social function, by connecting people with like-minded ideas together. As the technology inside the jobber improved, the reach of the pamphlets, due to sheer numbers, increased. As this reach became larger, and then digital, and finally global through social media, the social and political purposes of the pamphlet changed to match the possibilities and the times. The changing limits of the technologies changed the limits of the goals, and also the depth and breadth of them. When reach was limited to the 200 or 300 pamphlets created in a single run, pamphleteers had to limit their readership, but they could expect more in depth interactions with their readers. Eventually reach became global, and with that massive readership came a more limited form of interaction with the readers. These trade-offs are not necessarily conscious – while Thomas Paine certainly never intended to write as if he were using Twitter, that is in part because a system like Twitter never seemed like a possibility in the first place. While people will always adapt technologies to their own purposes, the fact of the technologies informs what people expect to be able to do, which in turn influences their decisions about what they will do.

Technologies and Events in This Collection

Fourdrinier Machine
Much like the Gordon Jobber became the grandfather of the letter press, so did the Fourdrinier machine become the grandfather of the paper making machines. Alternately called the “paper machine,” the Fourdrinier machine was invented and patented by…

Pantone Formula Guide
It is important to note that after the digital revolution occurred, the pamphlet did not die. Instead, it became an aesthetic choice. To represent that choice, I have included the Pantone Formula Guide as an object in this collection. The guide helps…

Introduction of the Twitter hyperlinked hashtag.
The Twitter hyperlinked hashtag may be seen as transforming a political comment into a political pamphlet. Simply put, it makes the political expression receivable by readers by linking it to conversations happening globally. The hyperlinked hashtag…

PDF becomes an open standard
The International Organization for Standardization published the technical specifications for the Portable Document Format, essentially making the PDF filetype open source. The PDF remains a common format for the political pamphlet, and there is…

Introduction of the zip code.
Neighborhoods have long had wealthy area and poor areas. The zip code gave these different areas explicit labels, and effectively introduced new communities based on location. The political pamphleteer had a whole new level of “local” to interact…

“To Fulfill their Rights” published by the White House
“To Fulfill their Rights” published by the White House. This pamphlet, which plays on an earlier conference called “To Ensure Their Rights” documents the speeches that occurred at the white house in June of 1966, when groups from around the U.S. came…

Mail is reduced to once-a-day delivery in the U.S
Mail is reduced to once-a-day delivery in the U.S. While this seems at first to be adverse to timeliness, the introduction of this policy organizes sender and receiver expectations and makes time management easier for everyone.

Brandtjen and Kluge release models “M” and “N” of their Automatic Press
These popular models are called “automatic” because the sheet feeder is automatic, which both reduces the amount of work the printer (human) has to do and increases the number of impressions to 2 to 3 times the amount the Gordon Jobber could produce.

USPS introduces airmail
airmail has the obvious effect of making mail more timely, and timeliness is an important part of the relevance of the political pamphlet.

George Phineas Gordon patents the new style Gordon Jobber
The new style Gordon Jobber, also referred to as the Franklin jobber, was a letter press, or a “platen” press. The basis for the design of most jobbers afterward, this was the primary press for hobbyists, because it emphasized small-run,…

Rotary (Steam powered) Press is invented by Richard M. Hoe.
Rotary press for commercial mass production invented by Richard M. Hoe. Powered by steam, this produces millions of copies per day, but is not used for pamphlets or small runs, for which handpress is mainly used and then letterpress.

Portable Document Format (PDF)
The Portable Document Format, or PDF, is the first object presented that is not physical: it is a digital file format released for free by Adobe in 1993. While it was proprietary at the time, the fact that it did not cost money meant that it could be…

Twitter was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. It is a social media platform where users publish – or tweet -- messages of 140 characters or less, and can include links and pictures, and follow each other to see…

The Photocopier (Xerox Machine)
The Xerox or photocopying machine, frequently used to publish pamphlets and zines before the internet became a popular consumer product, uses xerography to copy images from one piece of paper to others. One of the great benefits of the process…

The Kluge
The Kluge, invented by Kluge & Brandtjen in 1931, was an “automatoc platen press.” It built off previous automatic, internal parts Kluge & Brandtjen had built for other makes and models of presses.
The Kluge was a wartime success. Every U.S.…

The Gordon Jobber
George Phineas Gordon created the Franklin Press, also known as the Gordon Jobber, beginning in 1852, and releasing models all the way through the 1880’s. Gordon, who was a spiritualist, claimed that Benjamin Franklin had come to him with the design…