September 25, 1639: The American printing press is born
America’s first printing press was built by two English-born colonists who came to the colonies with a specific agenda in mind.
Bringing print to the Colonies
The printing press was largely built by one man: Stephen Daye. He was born in London in 1594 and worked as a locksmith in Cambridge. He planned, along with Reverend Jose Glover, to establish the first printing press in the British colonies. Glover died shortly after reaching America, but despite this Daye succeeded. By March 1639, the printing press was working in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Daye was employed by Glover’s widow, Elizabeth Glover, to get the machine working. He worked for her in agreement for his passage across the ocean and assembled the machine with his son, Matthew.
The first thing Daye printed was “The Freeman’s Oath.” This was the pledge sworn by every house-owning man over the age of 20 who wanted to become a citizen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Next, he printed “Almanack” by William Pierce.
America’s first book
The first true book to be printed in America was the Bay Psalm Book. There were around 1,700 copies printed. There are 12 known surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book. No copies of the earlier two printings are still in existence today.
One of the copies of the Bay Psalm Book is at Harvard University, where the first printing press was erected and the Harvard University Press was born. The first president of the University, Henry Dunster, married Elizabeth Glover in 1641. When she died in 1643, ownership of her printing press passed to Dunster.
First printing press
The whereabouts of the first printing press have been lost to time. There is a 1600s-style printing press on display at the Vermont Historical Society, though it is unlikely this is the original Daye press. However, the design is similar to the one used by Daye to print America’s first book.
The second printing press in the colonies also came to Cambridge in 1659 for the specific purpose of printing Bibles. This led to the print industry in America, which bloomed into a billion-dollar business.