Printing & Popcorn

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hen he was a child, Orville no doubt visited the offices of the Religious Telescope where his father was editor. It was in a huge four-story building that housed the Church of the United Brethren's own publishing company, and it was filled with intriguing machinery that no doubt left an impression on him. While he was in grade school, Orville had become interested in the line illustrations in his father's books and magazines, and the techniques used to make them. Both he and his brothers Wilbur and Lorin occasionally carved wooden blocks and made prints from them. 

When the Wrights moved back to Dayton, Orville found that a neighbor and boyhood friend, Ed Sines, had a small printing outfit. The two went into business together even though Orville was barely 15 years old. Lorin and Wilbur traded an old boat for a better press and the Bishop bought the boys 25 pounds of used type. The job printing business quickly took over the summer kitchen at the Wright home.

One of their first projects was a tiny tongue-in-cheek newsletter called "The Midget." Its intended audience were Orville's classmates and its purpose was to advertise "Sines & Wright Job Printers." It had a rocky start. The Bishop forbade the distribution of the first edition when he found that the entire second page consisted of the names Sines & Wright printed twice. He told the boys that this wasn't fair to their readers, and they dutifully filled the second page with their own brand of wiseacre journalism. But actual publication brought the newsletter to a rocky ending. Issue 1 of "The Midget" included a notice that Issue 2 would contain an article on "The Inherent Wickedness of Schoolchildren" by Miss Jennings, Orville's teacher. Miss Jennings had promised nothing of the sort. Given the quirky sense of humor that Orville displayed in the first issue of the paper, he no doubt intended to write a satire under his teacher's byline. However, Orville's academic career was already under something of a cloud. More than likely the Bishop deep-sixed "The Midget" to keep Orville from further trying the patience of his teachers.

In high school, Orville worked two summers as a printer's apprentice to learn the printing trade. With Wilbur's assistance, he designed and built a reasonably professional press from a damaged tombstone, buggy parts, and other recycled odds and ends. By the time his mother died in 1889, eighteen-year-old Orville had decided to drop out of school. He had become a skilled printer and his printing business, which he operated out of the tiny carriage barn at the Wright home, showed promise. And he had become its sole proprietor. He bought out his original partner and co-founder, Ed Sines, when a local grocer paid a printing bill with popcorn. Sines wanted to eat the profits; Orville wanted to sell the corn and buy more type. The dispute was resolved when Orville gave Sines his share of the popcorn in return for Sine’s share of the business. Afterwards, Ed Sines became an employee of the Wrights' printing company. He would work for them off and on until 1899 when they eventually sold the printing business to the nearby Stevens & Stevens printing company.

Wilbur and Orville carved and printed woodcuts from the time they were children. This woodcut by Wilbur is called "Thomas Grimalkin". Grimalkin was the cat in the classic "Tom Jones" by Henry Fielding

Orville's first (and mercifully brief) venture into journalism, The Midget.

Ed Sines at the imposing table of the Wright printing company. In the printing business, "imposing" means to set the type into columns.

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The Wright Story/Career Choices/Printing & Popcorn

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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