Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

JOHNSON TYPE FOUNDRY, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, Proprietors.

—Charles Robson, Manufactories & Manufacturers of Pennsylvania (Galaxy, 1875), pp. 519-520.

This house is one of the most extensively known, and probably the oldest, of the industrial works of Philadelphia. It was established in 1706, at a time when this city—now recognized as the manufacturing centre of the United States—numbered only about 40,000 inhabitants. Some attempts to establish type founding in Philadelphia were made before this time, but without permanent results. In 1796, Archibald Binny and James Ronaldson, natives of Edinburgh, Scotland, where Binny had practised type founding, laid the foundations of the business which has developed into this extensive factory, and which was the first successful enterprise of the kind established on the Western continent.

Their assortment of type was not extensive, but it embraced the essential founts—brevier, bourgeois, long primer, small pica, pica, and two-line letters. They were obliging and attentive, and in twenty years made a fortune. They improved their foundry according to the increase of printing and the consequent demands of the trade; extending their assortment from pearl, of 180 lines in a foot, to 12-line pica, having 6 lines. Binny made an important improvement in the type mould, by which a caster could cast 6000 letters in a day with as much ease as he before could cast 4000, and it is due to his character and talents to say that letter founding owes more of its improvements and simplification to him than to any other individual since its invention. Archibald Binny must, of right, be considered as the father and successful introducer of letter founding in the United States.

In 1815, the partnership ended by the withdrawal of Archibald Binny, and James Ronaldson, the remaining partner, continued the business alone for a time. He was succeeded by his brother, Richard Ronaldson, who carried on the business until 1833, when he was in turn succeeded by Lawrence Johnson, from whom the foundry is named, and George F. Smith. Lawrence Johnson was an Englishman by birth, who had emigrated to this country in boyhood. He was a printer by profession, and a man of energy and enterprise, who gave great attention to the devising of improvements in his business, he was one of the first to practise the art of stereotyping in Philadelphia, which he commenced here shortly after its establishment in England, where it was introduced about the year 1815. By his connection with the type foundry both callings were incorporated.

George F. Smith had for many years been connected with the works as the head of its mechanical department, which he continued to manage after his admission into the firm. Thee accession of the new firm was signalized by the publication of a thick and substantial "Book of Specimens" of their type, consisting of impressions of the various styles of type manufactured by the firm, and many times larger than their original "Specimen Book."

During all this time great scientific progress was being made, and the old slow process of hand moulding was giving way to machinery. The obstacles long in the road had been overcome, and the machine-made type were found even more solid, regular, and smooth than time best hand-made ones.

In 1843, another change was made in the proprietorship of the house by the retiring of George F. Smith; and in 1845, Lawrence Johnson associated with him in partnership Thomas MacKellar and John F. Smith and Richard Smith. All these three had, as it were, grown up with the business. John F. and Richard Smith were sons of the former partner, and Thomas MacKellar had been, since 1833, foreman of the stereotype department.

Lawrence Johnson died in 1860, and a new firm was then formed, consisting of the three surviving partners and Peter A. Jordan, who had also been since 1854, in the employ of the house. The firm-name was shortly afterward changed to MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, and the establishment was named The Johnson Type Foundry, in honor of the deceased partner. At this time a new "Specimen Book" was produced, under the editorship of Thomas MacKelhar, which, both for mechanical skill and literary worth, may be regarded as a unique production. The "Typographic Advertiser,'' a quarterly periodical first published by the house in 1855, under the same editor, is still issued, and circulates throughout the United States and many foreign countries. "The American Printer,'' a practical work on printing, by Thomas MacKellar, is another production of the house, and a most beautiful specimen of typography. It has proved to be the most successful work of its class ever published, having passed through nine editions in as many years. The rapid growth of business calling for more extensive accommodations, a large building adjoining the original factory, and known as Sansom Street Hall, was added to the premises, and fitted up with every mechanical and mercantile facility. The whole establishment is now of the extent of 120 by 150 feet and five stories high. The number of employees is about 300. The house is known in nearly every quarter of the globe, and has received orders from a country so remote as Australia. It may fairly take rank as the first type foundry in the world.

was born in New York city, August 12th, 1812. His father was a Scotchman by birth, and had been an officer in the British navy, but at the time of Thomas' birth he was residing in New York. His mother belonged to the old Brasher family, of the early Dutch pioneers of that place. At the age of fourteen he entered the printing office of the Harper Brothers. He afterwards was proof-reader to the Harpers, and, in 1833, removed to Philadelphia, where he was immediately installed as foreman in the stereotype department of The Johnson Type Foundry. In 1845, he became a member of the firm. A marked feature of Time Johnson Type Foundry is its "Specimen Book," edited by Thomas MacKellar. This is an immense volume, containing some 600 or more pages, filled with impressions of the various styles and shades of type manufactured by the house, numbering some 1100 varieties, together with cuts, rules, etc., etc., in every form known to the craft. This is not only invaluable to printers, but is interesting to any one for the witty hits made in describing the type. It required five or six years to get it up. Everything in it is original with the senior partner, and much of the type-setting was of necessity done by him, as the style of type invariably illustrates the subject it speaks of, and compositors would not readily see the points. In his earlier years Thomas MacKellar was a frequent contributor to the press, and many of his poetical articles were very favorably received. In 1844, he published a volume of poems, under time title of
"Droppings from the Heart." In a 1847, another production of his pen appeared, called "Tam's Fortnight Rambles," and other poems, a volume of 216 pages. In 1853, he published "Lines for the Gentle and Loving," and, 1872, his last volume, "Rhymes Atween Times"—an exquisite specimen of fine typography—appeared.

was born in Philadelphia, January 20th, 1815. He is the eldest son of George F. Smith and Mary Ann Smith. He was first employed in the mercantile house of E. W. Seeley, where he acquired a sound business education. After remaining here four years, he entered the foundry of Richard Ronaldson. Upon the retirement from the firm of his father, George F. Smith, he was admitted into partnership. He married, in 1845, Elizabeth W. Munroe, of Philadelphia.

brother of John F. Smith, was born in Philadelphia, March 2d, 1821. He became connected with The Johnson Type Foundry when quite a youth, and mastered the trade completely, he was taken into partnership by Lawrence Johnson in 1845, and placed in charge of the mechanical department, the management of which he still retains. He has made many improvements in machinery and fancy and ornamental type, and probabiy has no superior in his line. He was married, in 1849, to Sarah A. Walker, of Philadelphia.

is the son of Frederick Jordan, manufacturer, and was born in Philadelphia, May 30th, 1822. After leaving school he became a clerk in the hardware-business, and for a long period was with the house of Cowpland & Cresson, leaving them in 1854 for L. Johnson & Co. He married Adelaide Linton, daughter of John Linton, tobacco merchant, of Philadelphia. He is a man of business, and also of no mean literary ability.