The oldest surviving photograph was created as early as 1826, but newspaper printing operations of the nineteenth century did not have the technological capability to reproduce photographic images. Instead, they sometimes printed engravings, though not nearly as frequently as we see photos used in modern publications. Advertisements would sometimes have a small, generic (i.e. reusable) illustration, and–later in the century–articles about national figures would occasionally have an accompanying portrait. But newspapers simply could not afford the expense of creating customized images on a regular basis.
To produce an engraved illustration, the artist began by composing an image on paper, either from life (or imagination, as in the recreation of a crime or disaster scene) or copied from a photograph. Some of the engraved portraits used, for example, in History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) include the caption, “Photos by W. F. Sawtell, Wellington, O.” The paper image was then copied by hand, in reverse, onto an engraving plate, which could be made from wood or copper. Images were created on wood by cutting away the empty spaces with a blade; copper plates were incised using a burin, or steel engraving stylus. Either method was a labor-intensive and time-consuming undertaking.
Some of the first locally produced engravings that I have found in The Wellington Enterprise are shown here. The image below, a bird’s-eye view of the Wellington Machine Company, appeared on the front page of the December 24, 1890 issue, accompanying an article about the new factory. This was a departure for the paper, which in the late 1800’s devoted the left side of the front page to local advertisements, and the right side to correspondent reports from neighboring settlements.
The Enterprise reused the same plate one month later, together with the engraving of the Town Hall shown at the top of this post. The January 28, 1891 edition gave over nearly half of its pages to describing local businesses and amenities. State-of-the-art images of an impressive new civic space and thriving private enterprise underscored the growth potential of the community.