The Use of a Steam Roller to Print Newspapers
By Rick Brown
In the early hours of November 15, 1890, an explosion in Middlesbrough (England) Gas Works destroyed the gas plant, cutting off all supplies to the town, including the supply to the engines that powered the Gazette's printing presses. When the extent of the damage was known, members of the staff looked at each other in dismay. No power, no paper was their first thought. But then they got to thinking again, for the oldest tradition in journalism is that the paper must come out, in spite of all difficulties, and if one source of power is turned off, then a new one must surely be created. With the merest glimmer of a quite outrageous idea beginning to shape, the local authorities were contacted, with a particular emphasis on roadwork, and the terrible predicament explained. Much talk followed, a waving of hands, eyebrows elevated, faces of consternation, knowing winks, fingers tapping heads; much discussion and consultation with production managers, engineers, pick-and-shovel gangers; and at the end of it, ponderously, steadily, a giant 15-ton steam roller began to puff and rumble its way through the streets of Middlesbrough, heading for the Gazette offices, a chatter of sightseers in procession.
Up Zetland Road it clanked and hissed until at last, confronted by a thick brick wall, it could seemingly go no farther. But they were determined on the Gazette. So they knocked the wall down and on the steam roller trundled into a yard owned by the Grand Hotel, next door to the newspaper office and was carefully maneuvered against a window of the press room.
Then the activity really began. A long belt was passed through the window connecting the road roller with the press. Orders were shouted, men rushed, even workers erecting a new shop in Wilson Street were commandeered to help. And in due time the signal was given, the roller puffed, the wheel spun, and 64,000 copies of the Evening Gazette came rolling into existence. Faith had been kept with the readers, a tradition maintained.
The newspaper world cheered the feat. Even the Americans sat up and took notice. The Detroit Free Press told its readers: "The mechanical obstacles in the way of using this unwieldy monster were great, but with the aid of a large staff of masons, fitters, and trained engineering skill, together with the exercise of indomitable patience and perseverance on the part of everyone concerned, the paper was issued with the delay of only one hour. The incident caused great local excitement, but little did the readers of the paper, sitting at home, pursuing the full report of the gas incident, think of the engineering triumph, by which alone the publication of the paper was possible." Said the trade journal Iron: "We have all heard of cracking a walnut with a steam hammer, but printing a newspaper with a road roller is a new experience."
The Northern Daily Telegraph commented: "The capturing of the steam roller and adapting it was a marvel of genius, as the non-appearance of the Gazette throughout 600 towns and villages where it circulates would have been a little short of social calamity."