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Letter to the editor – 2/20/14

In late December I received a letter from a past employee of The Daily Record. Today he is 81 years old, living in Florida, and fondly remembers his years at The Daily Record. He took the time to write a three- page letter telling his story and documenting what life was like in Baltimore and at The Daily Record between 1946 and 1950. I want to share this with you. The passion for The Daily Record, its audience and the content we provide that Mr. Johnson describes in this letter is what continues to make us great today. 

Suzanne Fischer-Huettner


The Daily Record

In late December I received a letter from a past employee of The Daily Record. Today he is 81 years old, living in Florida, and fondly remembers his years at The Daily Record. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

My name is Robert M. Johnson. I am an 81-year-old retiree who was born and raised in Baltimore and who worked at The Daily Record for four years, from 1946 to 1950.

I was recently preparing a mass mailing for a club to which I belong and remembered how I had learned to mass-fold letters when I worked at The Daily Record. I checked the Internet and saw that not only was The Daily Record still in business but now is a much larger corporation than I remembered.

I was a freshman at Calvert Hall College high school when it was located in a five-story building on Cathedral Street, across from the Enoch Pratt Public Library. My freshman homeroom teacher, a Christian Brother named Brother Paul, told me there was a job opening for a Calvert Hall student at The Daily Record. The job was to deliver newspapers in the morning before school.

I got the job. … I’d walk to school in the morning; I lived about 3 miles distant near Greenmount Avenue. I would arrive at the Record about 7 a.m. After counting out 130 papers, I began my delivery to lawyer offices in the nearby office buildings.

I’d ride the elevator of the Fidelity building on Charles Street to the 15th floor where I would fold and slide the papers in front of the office doors. I would run down all 15 floors delivering papers. There were four or five other smaller buildings on my route, all within a four- or five-block radius. It took me 35 minutes for the delivery. The Record published a paper six days a week so I delivered six days. My pay was $4.95 a week. I continued delivering for the four years I was in high school.

There were four other boys who delivered papers as well, but no others went to Calvert Hall, so I was the backstop who covered other delivery routes when someone didn’t show up. After two years I became responsible to see that all five routes were delivered six days a week. With my new responsibilities my pay went to $5.95.

After a few months just delivering papers, I was offered an additional job as office boy. I would show up for work after school, 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. I was paid 50 cents an hour for office boy work. I loved it.

My father had died when I was 9 years old, and the pressmen became my pseudo fathers. On Saturdays, I was expected to go down to Baltimore Street to the Coney Island restaurant, which was across from the Gaiety burlesque theater, and buy hot dogs for the workmen. My usual orders were for about 40 hot dogs. These were very special hot dogs. The rolls were steamed to a very warm and soft texture; the hot dog was covered with mustard, onion and chili. The worker would line up eight hot dogs in rolls on his extended arm, smear them with a mustard stick, hand-apply chopped onions and top off with hot chili spooned on. The chili would roll down his arm, which he wiped with an old rag. He’d pack those two to a wrapper and stuff them in paper bags.

My job was to get the food back while it was still hot. For this the restaurant guy gave me a free hot dog, and my tips paid for two more, so I had a free lunch.

Most of my office boy work consisted of delivering printed orders to lawyer offices. These were usually letterheads, business cards and legal forms, and often appeal briefs, which we also printed.

In my junior and senior years I was often asked to proofread briefs, which exposed me to Peyton Place drama. I was also asked to take care of the address changes for the newspaper circulation. I was given the title of assistant circulation manager. In my senior year I became circulation manager, sending out and maintaining the subscription billing accounts and address changes. I also became building news manager, going to all the large commercial bid openings, recording the results and writing them up for the next day’s paper.

I also worked a lot in the front office, selling legal forms at the counter and looking up old copies of the paper. We kept a lot of 1900s papers on the top floor of the building, and finding an old issue was often a challenge.

The office staff at that time included Mr. William Vitek, the company secretary. He kept a petty cash drawer in his desk and I was allowed to write an IOU against my next pay (which was always in cash). Ms. Brosius was the bookkeeper. She ran a large bookkeeping-typewriting machine and all accounts were on large, thick ledger stock. When a lawyer fell on hard times, he was extended credit and the discount he would normally get for prompt payment of current orders was credited against his outstanding balance. It was a very benevolent company for the lawyers.

Mr. Frank Wallace was the VP. But I don’t remember his having much to do with day-to-day activities. Mr. McGowan wrote news, copy-editing the news that came across the teletype machine. He would choose and edit the news for the next day’s paper. Mr. Chester Watkins was the office manager, who was directly responsible for day-to-day operations.

There were two businesses being run. The main one was the paper, with all its legal publications, and the other was the office supply and printing services. The paper would be wrapped up and ready for printing about 5 p.m. each day. A night printer would come in and he alone would run the huge press to print, out and bundle the papers. He then used an Addressograph machine that stamped names and addresses on the papers that were mailed. (My job as circulation manager included making and correcting these metal address plates.) He would set aside the papers for hand delivery and store sales, and the rest he would take to the post office on his way home.

All the printed material was set in type using Linotype machines. We had four or five Linotype operators, who would literally type out the copy to be printed. As each letter was typed, a brass die would drop into a straight line on his machine. When a full line of type was accumulated, molten lead was poured from the machine to cast one line of type.

The machines were slow and very noisy. The head pressman would hand-roll ink on a column of type, printing a strip of papers. This was proofread for any errors. If there was an error, he had to remove the bad line of type and add a corrected line. If a word or phrase was needed, it caused a number of new lines to fit in the corrections. This man was a genius at reading upside-down and backward typeface. There was one man who was paid to come in an hour early each day to light up the lead pots on the machines so that the linotype operators could start work as soon as they came in. Often I would be asked to come in early and light the machines and I really felt the pressure of having them ready at the right time.

The job of letterhead and page-printing pressmen would be an OSHA nightmare today. The jaw of his press would open and close rhythmically and he would remove the printed page with one hand while inserting a blank page with the other, all to the rhythm of the press which would otherwise crush his hand if he were careless.

The company was owned by Edwin Warfield from Woodbine. I’m not sure whether he was II or III. He was seldom in the office and I had little contact with him. However at Christmas time his wife would come to the office and give me a $20 bill and ask me to buy as many children’s toys as I could get for $20. I would pride myself on filling two shopping bags by shopping at all the 5 and 10 cent stores in downtown Baltimore.

I really enjoyed my time at The Daily Record. When I graduated high school, I stayed on in my capacities as circulation manager, building news editor and whatever else had to be done. My pay was raised to $30 a week (still six days). After a few months I saw an opening for a clerk at the Standard Oil Co. refinery in Dundalk. The job paid $40 per week. When I told Mr. Wallace I was leaving, he offered to raise my salary to $35, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him Mr. Vitek was already paying me $35 because he wanted me to stay as well.

After a short time at Standard Oil, I enlisted in the Air Force (the Korean War had started). After four years in the Air Force I entered the University of Maryland as an engineering student, later transferring to Loyola College, where I earned a B.S. degree in Mathematics. I went to work for Armco Steel in Baltimore as an industrial engineer. I retired from Armco after 30 years as manager of corporate information systems and as consultant for Armco’s international division.

I enjoyed this trip down memory lane; my son has been encouraging me to write my experiences. I hope I’ve provided some insight into the old Daily Record that I remember and love.