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Gray's positive outlook established steady growth
Thursday January 5, 1989


Pix #1 - This photo shows a view of the composing room at Gray Printing about 1935; that part of the mechanical department where moveable type and illustrations were put together to portray or explain a particular subject. George M. Gray is shown in the central portion, watching a printer make a copy on a proof-press. Gordon Gray is standing in the rear of the photo with his one arm on an open door. The photo was taken in an era when this author assisted in the composing room (part time) and was still employed by The Fostoria Daily Review.

Pix #2 - World War II veteran and employees of the Gray Printing Co., photographed in 1946. Top row (reading left to right): Cecil (Jack) Lab, George Buckley, Carl Wice, Bob Arthur, Elmer Auer, Glen Reinhart, Tom McDonel, Joe Quick. Middle row: Gene Rowe, Mac Baker, Ken Durnam, Mel Wetherell, Bill Ellis, George Gray, Gene Russell. Front row: Archie Dillon, Bill Brigman, John Crabtree, Emel Cool, Bob Pringle, Elaine Wilson, Jim Gray.

(Author's Note: Today's article is a continuation of the history of Gray Printing Co. since its inception 100 years ago. This is the third article in the series.)

Adversity came in triplicate for George M. Gray and his Gray Printing Co. during the early days of this century, followed by the disastrous fire, described in last week's article.

Sometime calamities breed opportunities. Rather than bemoan his misfortune, George M. Gray constructed a modern building, designed specifically for his business. Experts in the graphic arts industry admitted the new building was the most efficient printing plant they had ever seen.

Once the business was on its feet again George M., found more time to devote to community projects, a subject which will be covered in a later segment of this series.

Merton's death crippled staff The second member of the executive team was George M.'s oldest son, Merton Brevier. Joining the firm shortly after his return from a European trip, he became active in sales and administration. However, his association with the company ended in 1933 when he fractured his skull as a result of a fall down the basement stairs in his parent's home, and died the next day.

Other than George M., no individual influenced the development of Gray Printing co. more than Gordon Gray. He was practically born in the print shop where George M. set the pattern of building a business, and the business grew up with him.

The Gray Printing Co. was incorporated in 1902 with 5900 shares of common stock. Most of it was help By George M., with four outsiders, H. A. Tremain, W. C. Beckwith, W.O. Allen and Frank Ernest holding the rest. Later, Mr. Gray repurchased the rest of the stock. He and his descendants have remained the sole stockholders for seventy years and today still own most of the stock.

Personnel changes were necessary to rectify the adverse events of 1917-18. Jim had replaced Tom Hachet who had ably overseen production for years. The vacancy which occurred upon Jim's death was filled by a new superintendent, Lester Switzer. Officially sales manager, Gordon started taking over as general manager during his father's absences. Carrie Musser, who had served in various office positions, became office manager. Having grown up in the business, Howard Saunders replaced Gordon as head of the art and engraving department.

George M. started printer's school

Early in the twenties, George M. wanted a reliable source of trained printers. A school seemed to be the answer. He visited the Apprenticeship School of the Lakeside Press in Chicago and the United Typefounders's Academy in Indianapolis. He was ready to put his theory into practice.

The training school for printers was housed in a room next to George M.'s office. In addition to desks and chairs, and blackboard, type cases, a small modern platen press and imposing table were included. The course of study took four years to complete. The first six months were spent entirely in the classroom after which experience in the shop commenced. No tuition was charges; neither was remuneration paid during the first six months. Students of the school later became valuable employees in the Gray facility. The school was closed with the advent of World War II.

The successful training of its graduates vindicated George M.'s ingenious idea.

Kisabeth became sales manager

In the spring of 1924, Merton Gray visited Heidelberg college in Tiffin to see if he could procure its yearbook printing contract. During an interview with Aurora yearbook's business manager Lester Kisabeth, Merton learned he was considering getting a full-time job instead of returning to school in the fall. Merton suggested he apply to the Gray Printing Co. Kisabeth followed the suggestion and was hired as a proof-reader and production director. Those jobs proved too confining for the energetic young man. Soon he was on the road selling. Few salesmen matched his aggressiveness. Ten years after joining the company Kisabeth became sales manager.

Gray Printing took on photo offset process

In the late 1920's, Germany developed a process known as photo offset lithography. George M. read about this new technology and thought it could be incorporated into Gray's production facilities. Gordon stood firmly against experimentation. When his father persisted, Gordon told George M. there was neither room in the plant nor spare personnel for research and development.

Undaunted by his son's obstinance, George M. set up shop in 1932 in a company-owned house next door and installed a German made Rotaprint offset press that printed 43,600 impressions an hour on sheets up to 9 x 14 inches. In searching for "know-how", equipment manufactures, and other suppliers of ink and photographic supply houses were contacted, but none replied. It was a very secretive process. It turned out that Gray Printing had to learn by trial and error.

New Process set stage for growth

Ford Matthews, a member of the teen-age staff, became very adept in learning the offset process, so he became George M.'s right-hand man. They persisted for another year to learn the intricate process.

By October 1933 the technique was perfected well enough to move from research to commercial application. The newly named Gray-Lith Dept. was placed in charge of nineteen-year-old Ford Matthews under the guidance of George M., whose perseverance set the stage for future growth of The Gray Printing Co.

The photos with today's segment about Gray Printing Co. are glimpses from the past. The one being the primary methods of printing, dating back 50 or more years, with moveable type and sheet-fed printing presses. The other photo shows the composing room and mechanical staff who were skilled in the trade of the era.

Heed God's Word

"Unto the Hills" is the title of one of Billy Graham's books, of which I have a copy. Here are excerpts from the forward which may induce you to secure a copy of it:

"Our family has lived for many years in a comfortable log home in the mountains of N. Carolina, 3,200 feet above sea level. There is something serene about living in the mountains or on a hill.

When Jesus appointed the twelve apostles, He called them unto the hills and they came to Him (Mark 3:13). Our Lord frequently retreated to the hills or mountains for moments of solitude when the crowds became too great.

But as English devotional writer Oswald Chambers has noted, we were not made for mountaintop experiences alone. We are made for the valley of life.

God will sometimes allow us a view from the hills, but only so that we might be refreshed enough to return to the valley ... where the action is ... that we might better serve Him.

Graham's book provides answers to the problems in the valley of life. Others may need assurance as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. God has not forgotten you.

(Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. 1300 Harmon Place, Minn. Mn. 55403)



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