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Cool Things - White's Printing Press

William Allen White's printing press

William Allen White used this press to print his famous newspaper, the Emporia Gazette.

Kansas produced a  Pulitzer-prize winning writer, best-selling novelist, and prolific free-lancer who published one of the nation's finest small-town newspapers.

Beginnings

William Allen White grew up in El Dorado, a town in southeastern Kansas. Through his father's extensive business network he learned at an early age that power in Kansas lay within the ranks of the Republican Party. After his father's death when White was only 14, two influential editors of Republican newspapers (friends of his father) trained him in the newspaper business. Following stints at a variety of tabloids, White was determined to run his own newspaper. In 1895 he and wife Sallie purchased the Emporia Gazette, a paper that had struggled since its establishment just five years earlier.  This printing press was part of the purchase.  Manufactured by C.B. Cottrell & Company of New York, it had been used to print the first copies of the Gazette by its previous owners.

In his autobiography White described the newspaper office and the press:

"In the middle stood the cylinder press on which the Gazette was printed: a Cottrell equipped with a water motor which in droughty seasons was disconnected and replaced by a colored man who turned a crank. Half a dozen racks for type cases were strung along the walls of the room, and three composing stones stood in the center of the floor. A heavy lead roller, weighing seventy-five pounds, stood on one end of the largest composing stone. That was the proof press. And that was all of the machinery that went with the Emporia Gazette."

The Whites struggled through their early years at the paper, attempting to build the Gazette readership and retire the loans that made its purchase possible. Sallie worked in the office for a number of years; the couple's son Bill slept in a clothesbasket while his mother and father worked. Sallie continued to put in long hours until the birth of their daughter Mary in 1904. White considered her his best critic, adviser, and friend. Frank Clough, head of the Gazette newsroom for many years, claimed "never were two people more suited for each other."

"They have been fifty-fifty partners in everything and Mr. White has never made a major decision at the office or at home without first consulting Mrs. White. And she is his best critic--no little 'yes woman,' but one who tells him firmly if she believes he is making a mistake."

William Allen  White in his Gazette office

National Fame

White's Republican connections helped him greatly in the state's political, business, and editorial circles. In 1896, just a year after acquiring the Gazette, he wrote a scathing editorial deriding the Populist Party. What's the Matter with Kansas? was reprinted in Chicago and New York and widely circulated by the Republican campaign committee. White catapulted to national fame. He was in regular contact with Theodore Roosevelt, who became the 26th President of the United States in 1901. White's journalistic career skyrocketed as newspaper syndicates sought his comments and The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and other national publications printed his articles. By the end of the Roosevelt presidency in 1909, White was one of the nation's most prominent progressives. He also wrote popular short stories and novels.

At home in Kansas, the Emporia Gazette had gained a sterling reputation for its comprehensive news coverage and celebrated editorials. White, like other Kansas editors, used the paper as a promotional tool for his community and as a political platform for his party. He considered himself as much a local businessman as a journalist.

The sudden death of daughter Mary in 1921 prompted White to create a touching tribute that remains his best-known piece of writing. "Mary White" was widely reprinted and became required reading in classrooms all over the nation. In 1922 White won the Pulitzer prize for a Gazette editorial, "To An Anxious Friend," defending freedom of speech. In 1924 he ran for Governor essentially on a single issue—an anti-Ku Klux Klan platform—and lost the election but enhanced his national reputation as an independent political voice. During the 1920s and 1930s he wrote a number of works of non-fiction, including biographies of Woodrow Wilson (1924) and Calvin Coolidge (1925), and was active in international affairs. He died in January 1944 at the age of 75. Bill White edited his father's unfinished autobiography which won a Pulitzer prize in 1946.

The Whites used this printing press at the Gazette from 1895 to 1906. It was donated to the Society by the W. A. White Emporia Memorial Foundation in 1986.  The press is on display in the main gallery of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Cool Things - White's Printing Press

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1996

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.