The power of print

In 1864 Toronto native Richard Robert Donnelley arrived in Chicago and founded a printing company at Clark and Adams. Over the next century and a half R. R. Donnelley & Sons became one of the world’s largest commercial publishers, putting out mail-order catalogs from Sears, Penny’s, Ward’s, and Neiman Marcus; Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago plan; and tickets, programs, and postcards for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Donnelley also printed phone books, ad brochures, newspapers, and magazines such as Time, Life, Look, Popular Science, the Saturday Evening Post, and National Geographic (as well as the University of Chicago Magazine). In August 1954 Donnelley published the inaugural issue of Sports Illustrated. In 1961 the company wooed the New Yorker away from its longstanding printing firm in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.

Using archival materials donated to the University in 2005, an exhibit at the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections Research Center traces R. R. Donnelley’s history, often revealing customs long gone. In a 1926 application to become a book-binding apprentice, for example, 16-year-old Edward Lhotka lists his religion as Catholic, his parents as Bohemian, and his English and mathematics teacher as Miss Novotny. Among the collection of World’s Fair publications is a shimmering reservation card for the Cellophane Ball at the Drake Hotel.

Printing for the Modern Age” compiles letters, documentary and personal photographs, company records, printing artifacts, and published products to illuminate the origins of the company’s Indianhead trademark, its technological evolution, and R. R. Donnelley’s trail of heirs (several of whom have served as University trustees). While the exhibit, on display through February 12, represents only a sampling of the University’s Donnelley holdings, the full archives offer “great research potential,” the exhibit notes declare, for graphic artists, sociologists, and cultural and economic historians.


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Photos (left to right): The first issue of Sports Illustrated, dated August 16, 1954; R. R. Donnelley’s 1915 crop of 14- to 16-year-old apprentices; 20th-century engraving tools, bearing a handwritten warning from the owner.

December 20, 2006