Two Rivers preserves history of wooden type

“WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG”
“JAPS BOMB PEARL HARBOR”
“DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”

These events made history, but so did the newspaper headlines. Although the large size of the announcements could be produced effortlessly on a computer today, it was quite another matter during the time of history that each bold sentence represents.

The letters for each headline likely were carved from wood, since molds for hot lead type could explode or emit noxious fumes when letters were one inch or taller. This is one of many things to be learned from Gregory Corrigan, technical director at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, Two Rivers.

“World War III type” was the nickname for letters printed this large, he explains, because screaming headlines of this magnitude would be used sparingly, reserved for only the most alarming or significant news.

The Hamilton museum is the only one of its kind in the world, and admission is free. Hamilton Company began carving type from heavy, durable maple logs in the 1880s and was the nation’s largest provider of it by the turn of the century.

Billboards and posters for circuses, politicians, fairs and other events were among the other demands for type this large. The museum opened in 1999 and scholars worldwide today know it as a significant repository for wood type styles and patterns.

“The group aware of us is small but spans the world,” Gregory says. Graphic design educators teach workshop and conduct research at the museum. Serious design students, like Nick Sherman of the Boston area, come for hands-on experience. The wood type still can be used to print.

“I came here to learn the roots of printing and graphic design,” Nick explained, describing letterpress printing as “an escape from the computers” and a way to become more aware of the letter design and spacing that are at the core of typography.

How extensive is the museum’s collection? Think 1.5 million pieces of type, one-fourth inch to 48 inches in height, in more than 1,000 styles. Retired Hamilton employees lead tours for the average visitor.

“Pressing paper onto wooden type physically produces a different product” than what we see today, Gregory says. “It’s not perfect – there may be nicks in the type blocks or uneven inking – and there’s something unique about a letter that’s not perfect. ”

The former Hamilton Company, today a part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, produces laboratory furniture in Two Rivers.

Hamilton Wood Type Museum, 1619 Jefferson St., is open from 1-5 p.m. daily, until May, when hours expand. For more: www.woodtype.org, 920-794-6272.

The museum celebrates its 10th anniversary May 29. Chicago-based Kartemquin Films has produced “Typeface,” a documentary about wood type, which will be shown.

“At Hamilton, international artisans meet retired craftsmen and together navigate the convergence of modern design and traditional technique,” the filmmaker says, online. “But the museum’s days are numbered. What is the responsibility of artists and historians to preserve a dying craft? How can rural towns survive in a shifting industrial marketplace where big-box retailers are king?”

“We have so few resources,” acknowledges Gregory, regarding the museum’s appreciation of private donations.

For more, from the perspective of the filmmaker, whose other credits include the 1994 movie “Hoop Dreams,” see http://typeface.kartemquin.com.

Other ways to enjoy Two Rivers without breaking the bank:

Check the sales racks at Schroeder’s Department Store, 1623 Washington St., a dying breed of family business that began in 1891. The building and some furnishings have been around almost as long as the enterprise. Linger over a cup of coffee at Schroeder’s Red Bank Coffeehouse and hear third-generation tales of how life used to be. For more: www.shopschroeders.com, 888-793-2241.

Order a sundae from the old-fashioned ice cream parlor at the Washington House, 1622 Jefferson St., which also is a local history center. The 1850s building was the city’s first hotel, with a second floor dance hall and colorful murals sweeping the walls. Why make room for an ice cream parlor? Two Rivers claims to be the 1881 birthplace of the ice cream sundae. For more: 920-793-2490.

Visit Rogers Street Fishing Village, 201 Rogers St., to learn about shipwrecks and commercial fishing on Lake Michigan. Open May to October, but group tours arranged all year. For more: www.rogersstreet.com, 920-793-5905.

Near the village is the four-generation-old Susie Q Fish Market, 1810 East St., one of the state’s last family-owned commercial fishing businesses. Pick up chubs, salmon or other fish smoked on the premises. For more: www.susieqfishmarket.com, 920-793-5240.

Spend $7 to tour the Bernard Schwartz House, 3425 Adams St., based on a Frank Lloyd Wright design that was commissioned by Life magazine in 1938. Life asked Wright to create a “dream house” that a middle-class family could afford. One-hour tours begin at 3 p.m. April 5, June 7, Aug. 2, Oct. 4 and Dec. 6; reservations are necessary. The building also is available for overnight stays, but you’ll need to shell out a lot more dough. For more: www.theschwartzhouse.com, 612-250-6965.