The first printing press to ever rest on Cecil County soil came here 195 years ago. In that era, long before steam locomotives chugged along on rails or telegraphs tapped out lightning-fast messages, a young newspaper editor from Lancaster, Pa., named John McCord arrived in Elkton. He was also a printer since in those days the two jobs often overlapped.
For the entrepreneurial, yet inexperienced scribe, the task of getting his press moved here must have been a challenging undertaking. Although the record is silent as to precisely how he transported the heavy equipment, he probably loaded it carefully aboard a wagon for a bumpy journey over dusty country roads.
However, he went about it, the editor put the first edition of the Elkton Press in the hands of patrons the day after Cecil County celebrated the 47th anniversary of American independence in July 1823. McCord assisted by James Andrews and Samuel Stanbaugh, rolled up their sleeves and got ink on their hands as they toiled throughout the long summer publication day on the hand press.
Putting ink on paper is simpler today with laser printers, computers and desktop publishing software, but it was a complicated matter at the top of the 19th century. Each word had to be laboriously set by hand and each letter plucked from the cases of type. As the composition man worked, he placed individual blocks of words in a special frame until the entire page was laid out.
Each frame was mounted on the press, and an absorbent ball dipped in ink was rubbed on the type form. A helper laid a clean sheet of paper on the device, and by tugging on a lever, created an impression by causing a metal plate to press the paper onto the inked form.
Once one side was completed the type for the other side of the paper was set. Eventually the weekly four-page edition was ready to make its way into the hands of readers, who paid an annual subscription price of $2. McCord wrote that advertisements not exceeding a square could be conspicuously insert three times for $1.
After that July day so long ago, handbills, calendars, cards, stationery, legal forms and a variety of other printed matter started rolling off those clanking presses. But newspapers came floating out as well, spreading information to a waiting audience.
Perhaps to serve a wider audience, its name was lengthened to the Elkton Press and Cecil County Advertiser for a few years, starting in 1829. Although ownership changed a few times, the weekly last untiled 1832. That year, shortly after the presidential election race between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, the compositor set type for the last time.
An astounding number of publications followed. Newspapers blossomed in Chesapeake City, Elkton, North East, Perryville, Port Deposit and Rising Sun, as others rushed to serve readers. Over the course of centuries, the county has had over 40 different titles, often with many changes in ownership, format and titles.
You could say that McCord, Andrews and Stanbaugh pioneered the evolution of periodicals in Cecil County. Arriving in Elkton with a hand press and a font of type, these men were directly responsible for this county’s information age. Long before folks worried about young men marching away to the Civil War, the efforts of those publishing pioneers from Lancaster introduced home-based media that brought information to homes, farms and businesses.