Benjamin Franklin brings the printing press to Lancaster City

Benjamin Franklin established Lancaster City’s first print shop in 1751. Although at the time, Lancaster was still just a borough with a population of only 2,000. It did not become a “city” until March 10, 1818. Regardless, Franklin initially partnered with James Chattin to establish the New Printing Office on King Street (probably somewhere in the first block of what is today West King Street). However, Lancaster apparently disagreed with Chattin, and he return to Philadelphia the following year.

Franklin then put two of his former journeymen Heinrich Miller and Samuel Holland in charge of the New Printing Office. The duo published Lancaster’s first newspaper, The Lancaster Gazette, on January 15, 1752. Due to the large percentage of Lancastrians speaking German (more than 50 percent at the time), articles in the newspaper were written in both English and German. The New Printing Office also printed religious tomes and school primers. Miller soon withdrew from the operation, and Holland abandoned it in 1753.

American newspapers Pennsylvania Lancaster County / German American newspapers Pennsylvania Lancaster County / Lancaster County (Pa.) Newspapers / Lancaster (Pa.) Newspapers

The business floundered and Franklin attempted to sell it in 1753. However, it returned to him a year later when the bond could not be met. Perhaps Franklin was being edged out by competition for the nearby Ephrata Cloister.

The printing office was taken over by William Dunlap in 1754. Franklin described him as “a sober young man.” Under Dunlap the press became profitable. Dunlap rented the shop for three years from Franklin. During this time his nephew, John Dunlap, apprenticed under him.

John Dunlap

In 1757, the New Printing Office in Lancaster closed when Franklin had moved to England and Dunlap relocated to Philadelphia to take over Franklin’s busy printing operation there.

However, John Dunlap, who trained for a time in Franklin’s Lancaster print shop, went on to become a prominent printer in Philadelphia. On July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress approved the final version of the Declaration of Independence, they sent the document to be printed. That printer was John Dunlap. He printed approximately 200 copies of the Declaration that night. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were both on hand to oversee the publication’s creation. It was likely a stressful night for Dunlap with these two American titans looking over his shoulder.

Speaking of Franklin, could the busybody be one of his greatest “inventions.” Click here to find out.


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