Remnants of Everyday Life: Mass Production for Mass Consumption

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While the production and design of ephemera relied on changes in printing technologies between the late-18th and early-20th centuries, these historical remnants of the everyday also reflect the influence of economic, social, and cultural transitions during this time. Old and new professions and trades, like job printing, papermaking, photography, and entrepreneurship, affected and mirrored in their work the daily major and minor life events of a rapidly industrializing and evolving society. This period witnessed the market revolution; changes in reading practices; the invention of lithography and photography; and the introduction of steam power. Production of ephemera was often in the hands of the job printer, who had to be creative, economical, and efficient to produce material of a common or commercial nature, generally referred to as job work. Wood engravings, type, lithography, new grades of paper, and photography facilitated this mass production of works for mass consumption and helped to foster a visual world familiar to, yet distinct from, our own.



1800s -1810s:

Iron handpress invented


Commercial lithography studios established in U.S.


Wood engraving process improved with development of milling router

American woodtype design innovations begin


Electrotype invented

Process to make paper from wood pulp developed


Steam-powered printing presses and card and billhead platen presses mass manufactured

Paper photographs and stereographs introduced into the U.S. market


Chromolithography process perfected and mass marketed


Fully-mechanized lithographic printing presses developed

Photomechanical processes begin to be used widely in the printing trades

“In this age of progress, of letters, and of multiform occupations, from the time that education is commenced to that period when active engagement ceases, earnest and practical people are ever taxing the eye to its utmost capabilities.” J. Henry Clark, M.D., Sight and Hearing, How Preserved, and How Lost (1856)

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