Glenn Curtiss Waits For the Wind to Blow the Right Way in Albany

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Glenn Curtiss 1909On May 26, 1910, inventor/aviator Glenn Curtiss was in Albany (we wrote about it here), alternating between his hotel room at the Ten Eyck and Van Rensselaer Island, where there was a two-poled tent that covered his flying machine, a cloth-winged biplane with a V-8 engine of 50 horsepower driving a wooden rear propeller. In case you wondered, he was paying the owner of Van Rensselaer Island for the privilege of taking off from his tilled field. The New York Times said the owner wanted $100 for the privilege, but eventually reduced his demand to $5. No doubt the exit fee might have irked Curtiss, but he was seeking a $10,000 prize offered by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper for the first flight from Albany to New York City. The flight didn’t have to be non-stop – carrying that amount of fuel was considered impossible at the time – but only two stops for fuel were to be allowed.

Not only was the length of the flight, nearly 150 miles, pretty much unprecedented, but no one had attempted such a distance over water, where those finicky and frail flying machines could be exposed to some very fickle winds that could cause disaster. While waiting for the right conditions, and for his aeroplane to be absolutely ready, Curtiss was paying careful attention to wind.

“When Curtiss arose at 4 o’clock this morning [May 26] a single look out of his hotel room window convinced him that an early morning flight was out of the question. The wind was blowing in gusts at the rate of from twelve to fifteen miles an hour, fishtailing from southwest to northwest. He went back to bed, did not get up again until 8 o’clock, and only after a leisurely breakfast crossed over to Van Rensselaer Island and the tent in which his fifty horse-power biplane was being assembled.”

Later he returned to the hotel, saying he wouldn’t attempt to fly unless the wind abated and changed direction. By 3 in the afternoon, the flight had to be deferred to the next day. The Times pointed out that the wind was actually worst at Albany and that further south on the route and all the way to Poughkeepsie atmospheric conditions were almost ideal and the course would have been safe.

The Times provided a very detailed description of the river topography, noting all the hills and valleys, places where the banks were close to the river and would demand Curtiss fly higher, and other spots where it widened out and he could stay close to the ground. Below Stuyvesant, “Safety demands, five miles further south, that the aviator who would continue to New York shall travel at least 500 feet high, for the steep, rocky banks of the river, it was evident, caused queer wind swirls and baffling air currents.”

Curtiss would be able to cut off some river miles crossing over some of the river’s bends. “The river shore is on the east bank a constant series of bays and indentations, and a great gain in the distance flown can be made by traveling on the hypotenuses of the triangles made by the sides of the bays.”

His plan was to refuel at the Gill farm, just short of three miles south of Poughkeepsie. But to get there, Curtiss would have to get some air, flying well clear of the railroad bridge whose top was 212 feet above the water. “A series of flags on both side of the river, starting about two miles north of the Gill farm, denotes the approach to the landing site, and there is hardly a likelihood of the aeroplanist running past the farm by mistake.” Once on his way again, he would have to deal with the extremely tricky winds of the lower Hudson valley and the Palisades, and once in the neighborhood of Fort Lee ferry (the George Washington Bridge wasn’t there yet), “Curtiss will have to pass over a constantly shifting panorama of moving vessels, whose smoke clouds and hot air exhausts will inevitably cause peculiar wind currents. This condition will require a cool head and a machine perfectly under control.” This wasn’t speculation – it was based on the experience of Wilbur Wright, who had flown from Governors Island to Grant’s Tomb in September 1909, and he found that passing steamships gave him one of the hardest tasks of his experience. He said in the future he would never attempt it at less than 3,600 or 4,000 feet in altitude.

On the 27th, the winds were no better, and the effort was delayed again. As evening fell, it seemed the wind had fallen as well, and Curtiss elected to take a trial run in the plane at about 7 o’clock. It was a fifteen minute flight that was nearly disastrous. He took off from Van Rensselaer Island, and had just gotten off the ground and over the tree tops

“when a sharp wind caught him abeam, whirled him around, and sent him zigzagging off toward the river, much as a kite dives when caught aloft in a sudden current of air. The aviator, however, seemed to recover his control after a long left drive at a sharp downward angle, and jumped rapidly upward on level planes. He was seemingly getting under way again in good form when another blast sent him whirling off to the right in among the tree tops, the planes [wings] tipping badly as the wind ripped through them. Curtiss rose to avoid the trees, and then something happened which was an entirely new experience for him. He said afterward he hardly knew how to account for it except on a theory that a wave of air bursting over him from the rear at a higher rate of speed than he was making carried him down as would a breaking billow of water an ocean bather.

What the hundred-odd watchers standing in front of the Curtiss tent, how half a mile in the rear of the flier, saw was the machine drop at terrific speed from a height of apparently about 200 feet right to the ground. Everyone held his breath, expecting that Curtiss had been seriously injured and his aeroplane demolished. Several women screamed, while a score of men set off across the intervening meadowland on the run. They were reassured, however, when they saw the Curtiss machine rise slightly and then settle down in good form.

The first to reach the spot found the aviator unharmed. He said that he had dropped through the air as if a vacuum had formed suddenly underneath him, and that the only reason he had not struck the ground before stemming his downward rush was that the planes when near the surface seemed to cushion upon the air and rebound slightly enough to send him gliding forward. . . .

When he wheeled the aircraft into his tent half an hour later Mr. Curtiss said that he would leave his hotel at 8 o’clock in the morning and would be prepared to fly before daylight in the morning mists. He added that his study of Catskill weather moods had convinced him that no time was so propitious for a flight as the hour just before the dawn, and he proposed to utilize that to its full advantage to-morrow.”

Tomorrow: The Successful Flight OR, When Glenn Curtiss Needs Gasoline, Servants Are Dispatched.

Glenn Curtiss and the Albany Flyer

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Glenn Curtiss in his Albany Flyer

Glenn Curtiss in his Albany Flyer, 1910

The Wright Brothers first achieved sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in December 1903. Their first flight was 120 feet for 12 seconds; their fourth and final flight of that day covered 850 feet in 59 seconds. However famous that is now, the flight was barely noticed at the time. Their suspicious and sometimes contentious relationship with the press meant that much of what they did in subsequent years was little reported, or received with skepticism. Even when the press was allowed to watch, photography was banned, leading to more questions than answers.

So it was that the first public flight of a heavier-than-air craft really wasn’t until 1908, when F.W.”Casey” Baldwin took off from the frozen surface of New York’s Keuka Lake and covered 318 feet, 11 inches for 20 seconds before crashing into the ice. Baldwin was part of a group called the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), which included Alexander Graham Bell, J.A.D. McCurdy, Army Lieut. Thomas Selfridge, and a young man from Hammondsport in the Finger Lakes named Glenn Hammond Curtiss.

Glenn Curtiss in France

Glenn Curtiss in France

Curtiss was a bicycle racer who built his own bicycles, then branched into motorcycles and other motorized vehicles and craft. He developed the motor that powered America’s first dirigible. His V-8 powered Hercules motorcycle achieved 136.3 mph in 1907, gaining Curtiss the title of “Fastest Man on Earth.” Two months after Baldwin’s flight, Curtiss flew an AEA plane 1017 feet in controlled flight, using horizontal rudders (ailerons) on the wings. In 1908, he competed for a Scientific American trophy that required flying in a straight line for one kilometer. In what is characterized as the first officially recognized, pre-announced and public observed flight in America, Glenn Curtiss flew 5090 feet. A year later, he flew 24.7 miles, and in another race set a speed record of an average 46 mph.

Hammondsport is a long way from Albany, so why are we talking about this? Well, in 1910, the New York World newspaper (publisher: Joseph Pulitzer) offered a $10,000 prize for the first successful flight between Albany and New York City following the Hudson River route. Two stops would be allowed, because it would be impossible for an airplane to carry that much fuel. Glenn Curtiss was determined to win the prize. It’s a little amazing to think that in the course of just a few years we went from powered flight that hardly anyone knew about to being able to fly a kilometer in a straight line, to, just two years later, flying from Albany to NYC. It was touted as the longest route devised over water. It was certainly not the same as flying over open ocean or a Great Lake, but flying down the Hudson presented some pretty formidable challenges for a craft of the time. For starters, we’re still talking about an open biplane — two fabric wings, rear-mounted wooden propeller, no cockpit. Basically, a powered kite. To facilitate a potential water landing, his airplane was fitted out with two tin floats.

In late May of 1910, Curtiss came to Albany to prepare for the flight. The New York Times reported that

“The aviator has been making much quiet preparation for his feat. For the last six months, off and on, he has been experimenting to determine the ability of his latest model to alight on the water and to keep afloat there without upsetting. Other aviators have alighted on water before now, but none has done it intentionally, and their accidents have revealed next to nothing that could be of benefit to Mr. Curtiss. The latter, however, has fashioned a sort of apron arrangement which he expects will keep his craft right side up should it drop with him into the Hudson, and by means of which he hopes, in the event of a fall, to be able to rise again.”

The weight of his safety devices, “which will include life buoys,” meant he couldn’t make the trip without stopping for fuel, and the plan was to do so just south of Poughkeepsie.

“His biplane will weigh 1,000 pounds, inclusive of his own weight of 145 pounds. It will be equipped with an eight-cylinder motor, developing 50 horse power. According to the aviator, it has a spread of supporting surface less than one-half that of any other biplane now in use.

The start will be made from [Van] Rensselaer Island, below the bridges across the Hudson at Albany, about 4 o’clock to-morrow morning [May 26] if the weather conditions prove favorable. If not, the start may be deferred until nightfall. Should he start in the morning Curtiss expects to reach here some time in the afternoon. A night start will necessitate a stop all night at Poughkeepsie, and the resumption of the flight on Friday morning.

The problem of alighting in this city has bothered the aviator, but he expects to be able to land at the Battery. The high buildings, occasioning conflicting air currents, he expects to prove his greatest source of trouble.”

Curtiss had taken the steamship Albany along the river to reconnoiter the proposed route of his flight, and tried to study the air currents over the river. He expected to take off on the 26th, but missed that window.

Van Rensselaer Island 1874“Through twelve hours of constant work upon his aeroplane to get it in shape for its proposed flight down the Hudson to New York, Glenn H. Curtiss, the aviator, convinced a large gallery of Albany residents to-day that aerial navigation, so far as getting readily aloft is concerned, is still far from a perfect science. By his delay Curtiss lost a favorable day for a flight.

Mr. Curtiss’s five mechanics swarmed upon his machine early this morning and eased work only when the darkness made it impossible to continue. The aviator, who had directed the task at intervals, said as he left his craft for the night that there was still eight hours’ work ahead of him before it would ready to test in a preliminary flight. . . .

For twenty minutes just at sunset Curtiss brought his machine out of the two-pole tent where it has been assembled on the tide flats of Van Rensselaer Island, just outside the Albany city limits. It was then ready for flying except that harmonies have still to be established between the front and rear rudders, and that the ‘Ailerons,’ as the small movable planes between the main planes are called, had not yet been put in place.

Curtiss started his engine several times for the delectation of the multitude which assembled in automobiles, in carriages, and on foot. As the big wooden propeller blade picked up its thousand revolutions a minute it forced a spurt of air out behind it which turned straw hats into gliders by the score and sent them spinning toward the Hudson.”

The craft was compared to the “June Bug,” a machine that Curtiss had taken to Governors Island during the previous year’s Hudson-Fulton celebration but in which he had done little flying, disappointing the crowds who had come to expect something spectacular. The new craft,  known as the “Albany Flyer,” was eight feet longer in wingspan. Black balloon cloth was used in place of silk and brown varnish for the wings. The front elevating planes were larger, as were the ailerons and the rear rudder.

His plan was to not only follow the river’s route, but to stay close to its surface. “I shall fly close to the water all the way down, and if I’m upset I shall count on my five airbags and two tin airtight compartments to keep afloat. My hydroplane attachment in front will force the machine to skim along on the surface until by the loss of speed and momentum it gradually settles to a depth of about two feet, just the tips of the lower plane and half the propeller blade projecting above the surface. All I will have to do will be to stand upon the seat to keep my feet dry and wait for help. If I am compelled to do that this trip it will probably cause me to lose the event, as I cannot start again from the water, and I have little faith in being able to tow the craft ashore in condition to take the air at once from land.”

By the way, the Times wasn’t kidding around in its coverage. It had engaged a special New York Central train with “a fast locomotive and a single coach car, prepared to leave at a moment’s notice to accompany the aeroplane on its journey.” The train would have priority over all other trains, and would carry Times reporters and Curtiss’s wife. Curtiss said he could keep the train company “so long as it went no slower than forty-five miles an hour.” From the train “a bulletin service to The Times on the progress of the flight will be maintained.” Curtiss expected to reach Poughkeepsie in an hour and three quarters; three miles south of that city, he was to take on twelve gallons of gasoline and replenish his oil and water supply at the Gill farm. That stop was to take about fifteen minutes, and then he expected to reach New York in two more hours. “His present intention is to land at Battery Park, or if the cross wind currents from the skyscraper district are too strong to permit him or effect a safe landing there, then at Governors Island.”

Tomorrow: we’ll cover the path and a false start or two.

Phoenixville Phriday: The Pennypacker Tragedy

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Disasters on RailroadsLast week we made mention of a railroad tragedy on the Pickering Valley Railroad, where a cow on the tracks led to the death of an engineer. But an 1877 storm led to a much bigger disaster, at the time the most fatal train wreck in Chester County history.

On Oct. 4, 1877, a torrential rainstorm washed out the track near Kimberton. The railroad was running a locomotive, two passenger cars, and a combination milk and baggage car (as the line’s primary business was milk runs). Up in Schwenksville that day, at what is now called Pennypacker Mills, was a reunion of the Pennypacker family, to which 1500 descendants of Heinrich Pennypacker, who settled in the area around 1700, were invited, and they came from all over the country. Rain forced the celebration indoors for the most part. Returning to their homes in the evening, reunion attendees made up most of the 130 passengers who left Phoenixville just before 6 p.m. for Byers Station. As The New York Times put it:

“The night had closed in intensely dark, rain was falling in torrents, the small streams along the route had overflowed their banks, and in many places the track was covered with water, which the ditches were unable to carry off as fast as it fell. Near Kimberton, about four miles from Phoenixville, the train ran into a wash-out at least 30 feet deep. The train consisted of the engine, two passenger cars, and a combination baggage and milk car, in the order named. The engine fell a mass of shattered iron at the bottom of the cavity, instantly killing the engineer, Frank Kenney, and the fireman, George Griffith. Conductor Golden, Brakeman Major, and Baggage-master Gamewell were in the baggage car, which remained on the track and escaped without injury. The first passenger car fell on top of the engine, and the second went crashing down on both, tearing off the roof of the first car, its end remaining on the bank. The conductor walked to a farm-house in the neighborhood, procured a horse and wagon, and drove back to Phoenixville, from which he sent a train with surgeons and medical appliances. It was 8:30 when the relief train felt its way cautiously to the edge of the chasm, and the storm was still raging furiously. By this time many of the wounded had been rescued and cared for in the baggage car and in the neighboring farmhouses, though the work of getting them up from the badly-shattered wreck was one of great difficulty. The wounded, of whom there is a terribly long list, were first attended to, and then the dead were got out from the wreck, the body of the fireman, Griffith, not being reached until late to-day.”

A 1999 article said that the bells in Phoenixville were rung to call rescuers to the train that went to the scene. It also said that the Masonic Hall became a morgue for the dead, and physicians came in from Pottstown and Norristown. The Times listed seven killed, including Nathan Pennypacker, and thirty-two wounded, including a barrel full of Pennypackers. A coroner’s jury noted that there had been two inches of rain between 5 and 6 p.m., and 4.92 inches had fallen in total; the jury called the storm “not only severe, but indeed phenomenal.” There was no question that this tremendous torrent through a steep gully of sandy soil was phenomenal, but the jury did find some design flaws in that the railroad had not allowed for sufficient drainage in the area. But it also did something else stupid and possibly lethal on a dark and stormy night: it ran with the engine backwards, its light shining onto the tank, not out onto the tracks. Somewhat different from the Times account, the jury found the train was constructed as follows:

“First, the engine reversed, with tank foremost and engine running backward, with the head light upon the front end of the tank as it ran; second, the gentlemen’s car, on the night in question, occupied by both sexes; third, the combination of ladies’ and baggage car in one; fourth, and last, the milk car . . . The train was run in this manner in violation of the rules of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, operators of the Pickering Valley Railroad …”

The jury found that if the railroad had followed its own rules, the order of the cars would have been locomotive and tank first, milk car second, and then the two passenger cars; the rear car would have been the gentlemen’s car, which theoretically would have remained on the track, which the milk car did. Of course, the women would still have been toast, but so it goes.

They found another problem, too, and thought that perhaps the practice of putting iron bars across the windows wasn’t necessarily in the best interests of passengers:

“We find that the practice of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, in placing rods of iron across the outside of the windows of its passenger cars, forming an unyielding grating, is one fraught with great danger. In an accident similar to that on the Pickering Valley Railroad, on the evening of October 4th, by the windows being clear of these obstructions, the escape of passengers from a wrecked train would be greatly facilitated.”


Maps to Swear By, Not At

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Jim Fisk MapsHoxsie is at the age where he has probably forgotten more than he currently knows. And then he’ll run across an old article and the light will go off: “Hey, I used to know that!” For instance, this article from the Schenectady Gazette in 1970 was a reminder that local television personality Jim Fisk, a legend among local baby boomers as the “Uncle Jim Fisk” who hosted the Freihofer BreadTime Stories show, was also the man who put the Capital District on the map. Literally. He founded JIMAPCO, which for many years was the premiere (and sometimes the only) choice for local maps.

According to his obituary (he died Jan. 8, 2011), Fisk was a Glens Falls/Hudson Falls native who studied math and theatrical set design at Yale. After serving as an officer in the Army during World War II, he came back home and started work as a staff artist for WRGB in 1945, and became the host of the Freihofer show in 1956, where he finished the “squiggles” of children.

According to the Gazette article, he began mapmaking in 1965 in an effort to clarify lines where he lived in Niskayuna. “We were located right in between various lines – town, county, postal and school and there was so much confusion that I decided to straighten things out.” By the time this article ran, business was “getting so good now that he may be able to make maps exclusively.” He was releasing an atlas of seven area maps: Balltown/Suburbia, Route 50-Suburbia, Schenectady-Scotia, Rotterdam Suburbia, Saratoga Suburbia, Clifton Park/Suburbia, and Routes 5/7 Suburbia. (Mapmaking was a strength; consistent approach to hyphens and virgules, not so much.) The atlas could be purchased as Union Book Store or Culver Office Equipment.

Jimapco 1977In the early days, the maps were certainly not beautiful, particularly by later full-color standards, but they were clean and easy to follow. The business grew, and Jim Fisk retired, leaving it to his son, David. When David and his wife Christina retired earlier this summer, the retail store on Route 9 in Round Lake closed but the online business continues and paper maps are still for sale there and at Wilderness, Water & Woods on Route 9.

The internet and online mapping is a wonderful thing, but in a future where paper maps no longer exist, how will future historians look back and figure out what was where?

Mann and Anker

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Mann and Anker 1898We aren’t very familiar with Mann & Anker (or Mann, Waldman & Co., for that matter), but can only imagine what their store was like in 1898 when Fashion’s Queen held court there and gave her devotees the opportunity to pay her homage.

In 1899, both Mann & Anker, “makers of ladies’ garments,” and Mann & Waldmann, “wholesale dealers in ladies’ suits,” were destroyed by a fire that swept that stretch of South Pearl Street, in which “eight firms doing a prosperous business had their stock totally destroyed.” But they seem to have come back from that and returned to business at the same address; we find references to them at least through 1909. The building still stands across from the Times-Union Center at the corner of Hudson Avenue.

With all this ladies’ garment-making going on, you can well imagine that Lester Mann and F.L. Anker of Albany, New York, also have their names appear on a patent in 1898 – for a painter’s scaffold. Their improvement was that there were hinged sides so the painters couldn’t walk off the edge of an exterior scaffold.

Phoenixville Phriday: All Caused By A Cow

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All Caused By A CowHoxsie was surprised to search through an online archive of California newspapers and find more than a few stories that originated in his newish hometown of Phoenixville, PA. Some were of tragedy, some were of no consequence at all, but all were printed a long way from where they happened. In this case, the San Francisco Call of August 5, 1895, told the tale of tragedy on the Pickering Valley Railroad the day before:

“The passenger train on the Pickering Valley Railroad, due here at 8:40 o’clock, ran into a cow a short distance from Pemberton [sic; Kimberton], three miles from here, to-night. The engine left the track, several cars following it over a steep embankment. The engineer, Joseph Grow of Phoenixville, was instantly killed, and the fireman dangerously hurt, while half a dozen passengers were perhaps fatally injured. They were members of the Salvation Army from here, returning from Fegleys Grove, where a meeting was held to-day. The wreck occurred near the spot where so many members of the Pennypacker family were killed in a wreck some years ago.”

The Pickering Valley Railroad opened in October 1871, running from Phoenixville (where it connected with the Reading at what is now called Columbia Station) to Byers in Upper Uwchlan, near Eagle. It primarily served as a milk run, but also carried passengers, sometimes to tragic results. More on that next week.

A tiny bit of Pickering Valley Railroad track remains, up on the wall along Bridge Street, leading into the old Reading station. You can see it here.

The Value of the Telephone (and of Miss Worth)

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The Telephone Review 1914Now that we live in a time when it appears that most people feel the need to be engaged in telephone conversations at all moments of the day – while driving a car, while conducting a transaction, while going to the bathroom – it’s perhaps hard for some to imagine that there was a time when the telephone company had to sell people on the utility of telephone service. But so it was.

In 1914, The Telephone Review, the house organ of the New York Telephone Company, provided this article from the Waterford Advertiser, under the heading “The Value of the Telephone,” to drive home the advantage of voice communications by wire, particularly for places whose fire alarms appear to have been burned down.

“The value of the telephone and a live operator was shown on Tuesday evening, May 2, about 11:30 o’clock, in Waterford. The village was quiet, and a fire was discovered in the Waterford Woolen Mills, situated at the head of Ballston Street. Since the burning of the Town Hall, on which was located the fire alarm, the village has been handicapped. An alarm was sounded on the steamer house bell, which, however, can be heard only a short distance. Word was sent to Miss Adelaide Worth, the efficient chief operator in Waterford of the New York Telephone Company. The fire was burning briskly at the time and no apparatus had yet arrived. Miss Worth, realizing the situation, telephoned the Reverend Alfred H. Valiquette, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, asking him to ring the church bell, which he did immediately, and the firemen were soon on the scene and succeeded in saving adjoining property.

Thirty minutes later, while the firemen were at this fire, another fire was discovered in a residence across the street from the Ford Hose House, and as the firemen were all away from the fire headquarters, Miss Worth again appealed to the clergyman, who again sounded the alarm, and a quick response was made, with a damage to the building of only $100. The loss to the Woolen Mill amounted to $10,000. Much credit is due to the operator for her action.”


A look inside the offices of the Albany Morning Express

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In its 51 years or so, the Albany Morning Express saw some tremendous changes, which it chronicled in its 50th anniversary coverage. They noted that when they began publication in 1847, the city of Albany contained 45,000 inhabitants, making it the 10th largest city in the United States at the time. There was only a single railroad connecting it with New York City. “The traveler to Boston took passage on the Boston, Albany and Troy road, and a line of railway connected Albany, Troy and Saratoga. Trains for the west left the railway terminus on State street at the top of the hill, from which point the cars descended to Broadway, received their passengers and were drawn back by means of windlass and tackle.” It was a very different city.

“Fifty years ago, all the streets in Albany were paved with cobblestones. For this purpose cobblestones are but little better than watermelons or overripe eggs. At the present time Albany has many miles of granite blocks, brick and concrete pavement. Albany is fast becoming one of the best paved cities in the country. Properly paved streets, added to our beautiful parks drives and boulevard [sic] are fast making Albany a very desirable city to visit and reside in.”

In 1897, the offices of  the Morning Express and the Evening Journal, both owned by political boss William D. Barnes, were in the Journal building at 59 and 61 State Street, and an adjoining building on James Street. Here’s a look at how they were arranged:

“The entrance to the counting room is on State street, to the editorial rooms, the president’s offices and the composing rooms at No. 7 James street; to the office of the weekly edition of the Express, No. 9 James and the mailing and press rooms, No. 5 James.

The business offices occupy the main floor. No paper in the state has a better arranged and more pleasantly fitting up counting room. The large force of clerks requires considerable room and they have it. Every convenience is afforded for transacting business with the public expeditiously. The general manager’s room adjoining, which is furnished with good taste and affords pleasant accommodations for those who have business to transact with the head of the business department, communicates directly with the president’s offices above. The rear of the ground floor is occupied by the mailing and city carriers’ department, No. 5 James street.

The president’s suite of chambers occupy [sic] the second and third floors. They are suitably furnished and decorated and have ready communication with all parts of the building. By means of speaking tubes the president is able to communicate ith the head of each department at his desk.

On the fourth floor is the library, including tiers of racks in which are kept bound volumes of the files of Albany and New York papers for the exclusive use of the establishment, and the proof readers’ department. The bulletin department is on the fourth floor.

The editorial room of the Weekly Express is at No. 9 James street. In the rear are the press and stereotyping rooms of the establishment. On the floors above are the editorial and the composing rooms.”

The Morning Express would be sold off and merged with the Press and Knickerbocker in 1899, but the Evening Journal would continue, eventually moving to its extremely impressive new building on the south end of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters building.

While they remained at their offices on State, the newspapers printed large headlines and posted them with the news of the day:

“The large, colored headlines, which appear twice a day on the bulletin boards of the Journal and the Express at the State street entrance, which are eagerly scanned by hundreds of people, who, in the hurry of business hours, have time only to catch bare announcements of important events, are an important and indispensible feature of the daily routine. They have given the local public many ‘beats’ of notable interest. The first announcement of the execution of ‘Bat’ Shea reached not only the Albany public but the papers through the state from the bulletin posted in front of the Journal office, notwithstanding the fact that the correspondents of two great news associations sent out full reports directly from the prison.”

Wire Service, Mergenthaler Typesetters and a Lightning Press

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The Hoe Cylinder Bed Lightning Press

The Hoe Cylinder Bed Lightning Press

The Albany Morning Press lived through a time of a revolution in newspaper production, and quickly took advantage of the changing technologies, using the newly invented wire services, the Mergenthaler linotype typesetter, and Hoe’s latest presses, not to mention vacuum tubes for moving paper around the office.

The telegraph was fairly new to Albany at the time the Albany Morning Express started production in 1847 – the first wire to the west connected to Utica on Jan. 31, 1846. The Associated Press began life later that year as the State Associated Press, with a main office in Albany, where news from Albany and New York was wired to Utica and sent out from that city by express on printed slips. The first daily reports were sent to newspapers on Jan. 1, 1847, and the Express was one of the original subscribers; its editor Jacob C. Cuyler was one of the incorporators.

The first edition was published from the second floor of the building one building south of the southwest corner of Beaver and Green streets, which then was the publishing district. (Be shocked to learn that the space is currently a parking lot.)

“With a great deal of warrantable pride the announcement was made that the paper was printed ‘on a first rate Napier press.’ This was the name of the first generally recognized improved printing press. Up to 1835 there was in general use only hand presses, and the Napier was an innovation which was followed by what was known as the Hoe lightning press patented July 14, 1847. So it will be seen that the Express and rapid printing came into the world at about the same time.”

The Napier press was the first to use grippers to pull the sheets around the cylinder and to deliver them after the impression. Hoe & Co. made the first flat bed and cylinder press in the United States. This was cutting edge technology, but it isn’t surprising, as Albany was really a major publishing center – it is said that Van Benthuysen’s printing operation on Columbia Street used the first steam-driven press in the country.

The Express’s coverage of its 50th anniversary included an in-depth view of its typesetting capabilities in 1897, which are fascinating to those of us who once set type for a living:

“Advertisements received at the counting-room desk and all editorial and news ‘copy’ are placed in cylindrical leather pouches and shot directly to the compositing rooms through tubes connecting with all departments and converging at the foreman’s desk.

The ‘take’ is given out to the operator, who, seated at the keyboard to the type-setting machine, produces newly cast lines of type which are deposited by the machine in the order which they are set and are removed in columns to the press upon which the proof sheet is printed. When corrected the type is placed on large stone beds where by means of wedges called quoins it is made up into pages ready to be lowered to the press rooms. The composition of 10,000 ems for ten hours’ of type-setting by hand is considered a good day’s work. There is the possibility of largely exceeding that by adept and rapid compositors, perhaps, most of whom could do better in spurts. But the average hand composition will not exceed that measure. Each of the five Mergenthaler type-setting machines will turn out more than five thousand ems an hour or between thirty and forty thousand in an ordinary day’s work, such as is required on the Express; that is during the hours beginning at 6:45 p.m. and ending at 2:45 or 3 a.m., with an intermission for lunch.

Every day after the type is used it is thrown into the melting pots and recast for the following day, replenishing the old with new metal as often as necessary. So that both the Journal and the Express are printed from new type every day. The casting of each type is all done when the operator presses down the key corresponding to the letter. The machine occupies comparatively little space, makes very little muss and does not give out the heat and particles of flying dust customary in foundries for casting metal. In fact the several small boxes in the cases used in hand composition, always gathered dust from the room and dirt from the distribution of type which filled the air with more dirt than comes from these machines.

The linotype was not only five times speedier than setting type letter by letter, but casting new characters for every single edition meant that the paper looked clean and free of broken type.

More on the Albany Morning Express

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Continuing the story of the Albany Morning Express, once the city’s premiere newspaper, in circulation, at least. In marking its 50th anniversary in 1897, the paper recounted some interesting points of its own history.

After its founding in 1847 by Alfred Stone and Edward Henly, the paper ran for five years with “varying success” before passing into the hands of Carlton Edwards in 1852. In 1856, the paper was suspended briefly, and then revived by Henry Stone, the brother of Alfred, along with Edward Henly.

Alfred Stone, in the meantime, hadn’t given up the business. He published the Albany Evening Times, along with David M. Barnes and Edward Boyd, with a gent by the name of “Governor” R.M. Griffin serving as editor-in-chief. Stone left the Times and bought the State Register. On Jan. 31, 1853, Henly and Jacob Cuyler issued the first Evening Transcript, from the Hoy building on Green Street. That paper was sold to men named Ells and Rooker; Rooker was later owner of the Press and Knickerbocker. Cuyler went to work on the Statesman, until the paper and its office were bought by Henry and Alfred Stone and Edward Henly, to revive the Express.

“On the morning of May 4, 1857, the Express, under the new management, was issued. Mr. Jacob C. Cuyler, installed as its editor. Fresh, vigorous editorials and columns teeming with news were the characteristics of the re-invigorated newspaper. It was then that the road which has led this paper on to success was taken. Since then the Express has gained in popularity and strength and has proven one of the indispensable institutions of Albany and vicinity…Under the able and enlivening pen of the late Mr. Cuyler, who, strangely enough, at the time when the fruit of his early efforts is bearing the ripening influences of a half century of honest cultivation, has passed away to a home of rest, the Express became a sturdy exponent of social and political purity and of unremitting enterprise.”

At that time, the Express was still a four-page, six-column paper, with a subscription list of 1600, at $4 a year. It went through a procession of owners and business managers, including George W. Hogoboom, Charles Emory Smith (later a minister to Russia), Addison Keyes, L.Z. Remington, N.D. Wendell, Walter F. Hurcomb, and S.N.D. North. The paper was published from the Express building at Green and Beaver streets until 1889. On Jan. 1 of that year, the plant and business “passed into the possession of Mr. William Barnes, jr., who at once organized the Albany Morning Express company, of which he was elected the president. When Mr. Barnes secured control of the Evening Journal and reorganized the business, the Morning Express was moved into the building Nos. 59 and 61 State street. There the two daily papers, the Evening Journal and the Morning Express are now published.”

The Express had been started with the goal of being impartial and independent, but along the way it had become political, even being named as the official state newspaper, a lucrative position.

“The policy of the paper has been for years that of uncompromising loyalty to the Republican party. In the election of 1857 its course was that of an independent paper, giving the several state tickets equal prominence at the head of its columns on the morning of election … The election of Gov. Morgan over Amasa J. Parker in the fall of 1858 was viewed in the light of a great Republican victory by the Express and gave to the editors of that paper the highest satisfaction … During the dark days of the rebellion the Express lifted its voice in no uncertain terms for the maintenance of the Union and the crushing out of secession. In the campaign of 1860 it supported the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln and ever afterwards has exerted its influence in behalf of good government and the supremacy of the nation on land and sea. It supported Grant in both campaigns in which he was a candidate. In 1876 it espoused the presidential aspirations of Roscoe Conkling but when the Republican convention had named Hayes and Wheeler the nominees of the party, the Express gave the party ticket that loyal support to which it was entitled from an avowed Republican paper.”

Under Barnes, it remained staunchly Republican, as that term was understood back then.  In those days, impartiality and balance weren’t necessarily part of a newspaper’s objectives. In 1889, it was in the hands of Albany Academy and Harvard College graduate William Barnes, Jr., son of a prominent lawyer, grandson of Thurlow Weed. The papers became his political pulpit, and he became chairman of the Republican State Committee for several years – he was a model political boss of the times.

Despite all this celebration in 1897, the Express would only last under that name until 1899, when it was sold off to the Press and Knickerbocker.