A wide range of dif­fer­ent work­ers have con­tributed to the print­ing indus­try over its 500 year his­to­ry, and the skills need­ed have evolved over time. Change has been par­tic­u­lar­ly fast since the mid­dle of the twen­ti­eth century.

Orig­i­nal­ly print­ing tech­niques were import­ed into Scot­land from France, where Androw Myl­lar trained, but in lat­er cen­turies some Scot­tish print­ers were respon­si­ble for tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions, for example:

  • In the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry William Ged invent­ed the stereo­typ­ing process, although his attempts to exploit it com­mer­cial­ly were a fail­ure and left him embit­tered, the process has been wide­ly used since.
  • Thomas Nel­son, son of the founder of Thomas Nel­son & Sons, invent­ed a rotary press: it was demon­strat­ed at the Great Exhi­bi­tion of 1855.  As he did not patent his inven­tion, he did not reap any finan­cial ben­e­fit from an inven­tion from which the news­pa­per press­es in use for the next 100 years were descend­ed. This press is now in the Nation­al Muse­um of Scotland
  • Alexan­der Neill Fras­er of the print­ing com­pa­ny Neill & Co, based in Edin­burgh was an ear­ly pio­neer of mechan­i­cal type­set­ting, invent­ing a machine for type­set­ting and dis­trib­ut­ing used type which pre­dat­ed the Mono­type and Lino­type sys­tems.  The machines were not only used in their own works, but were sold else­where well into the twen­ti­eth century.
  • World famous print­er-pub­lish­ers based in Scot­land in the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­turies include Bartholomews, Black­ie, William Collins, MacLe­hose (one of the print­ers to Glas­gow Uni­ver­si­ty) and Thomas Nel­sons.  A dis­tin­guished name from the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry is the Foulis Press of Glas­gow, which pro­duced beau­ti­ful­ly type­set and care­ful­ly print­ed clas­si­cal texts.
  • Post­card pub­lish­ers and print­er, Valen­tine, were based in Dundee.

Infor­ma­tion about print­ers who served in World War I is grad­u­al­ly becom­ing more avail­able online. Dur­ing the First World War, the print­ing indus­try in Scot­land, along with the trade in the rest of Britain ‘suf­fered from dimin­ished out­put, increased pro­duc­tion costs, seri­ous short­age of labour and restric­tion of paper sup­plies.’ (Gen­nard, Mechan­i­cal to dig­i­tal, 2010, p,71) All branch­es of the indus­try were affect­ed as men vol­un­teered and lat­er, were con­script­ed for war ser­vice, includ­ing in the muni­tions industry.

Some com­pa­nies main­tained rolls of hon­our list­ing casu­al­ties and those who had served in the war. Exam­ples from the print­ing and allied trades can be found online in the Nation­al Library of Scot­land’s Dig­i­tal Gallery

Thomas Arthur Nel­son, of the Edin­burgh printer/publishing firm Thomas Nel­son & Sons, served as a Cap­tain in the Loth­i­an & Bor­ders Horse. He was killed in action on the first day of the Bat­tle of Arras, 9 April 1917. Details of his ser­vice are on the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion web­site.

He is also com­mem­o­rat­ed in the Grange Ceme­tery in Edinburgh.