George Bruce

From Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. 6 vols. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889.

BRUCE, George, type-founder (proprietor of the Bruce foundry), born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 5 July, 1781: died in New York City, 6 July, 1866.

He immigrated to the United States, where his brother David had preceded him in July, 1795, and at first attempted to learn the bookbinder’s trade, but, his master being tyrannical and exacting, he left him, and by his brother’s persuasion apprenticed himself to Thomas Dobson, printer in Philadelphia. In 1798 the destruction of Dobson’s office by fire, and the prevalence of yellow fever, led the brothers to leave the city. George had yellow fever at Amboy, but recovered through his brother’s care. The two went to Albany and obtained employment there, but after a few months returned to New York. In 1803 young Bruce was foreman and a contributor to the “Daily Advertiser,” and in November of that year printer and publisher of the paper for the proprietor.

In 1806 the two brothers opened a book printing office at the corner of Pearl street and Coffeehouse slip. The same year they brought out an edition of “Lavoisier’s Chemistry,” doing all the work with their own hands. Their industry and personal attention to business soon brought them abundant employment, and in 1809, removing to Sloat lane, near Hanover square, they had nine presses in operation, and published occasionally on their own account.

In 1812 David went to England, and brought back with him the secret of stereotyping. The brothers attempted to introduce the process, but encountered many difficulties, which it required all their ingenuity to surmount. The type of that day was cast with so low a beveled shoulder that it was not suitable for stereotyping, as it interfered with the molding and weakened the plate. They found it necessary, therefore, to cast their own type. They invented a planing-machine for smoothing the backs of the plates and reducing them to a uniform thickness, and the mahogany shifting-blocks to bring the plates to the same height as type. Their first stereotype works were school editions of the New Testament in bourgeois, and the Bible in nonpareil (1814 and 1815). They subsequently stereotyped the earlier issues of the American Bible society, and a series of Latin classics.

In 1816 they sold out the printing business, and bought a building in Eldridge street for their foundry. Here, and subsequently in 1818, when they erected the foundry still occupied by their successors in Chambers Street, George gave his attention to the enlargement and development of the type-founding business, while David confined his labors to stereotyping. In 1822 David’s health failed, and the partnership was dissolved. George soon relinquished stereotyping, and gave his whole attention to type-founding, and introduced valuable improvements into the business, cutting his own punches, making constantly new and tasteful designs, and graduating the size of the body of the type so as to give it a proper relative proportion to the size of the letter. In connection with his nephew, David Bruce, Jr., he invented the only typecasting machine That has stood the test of experience, and is now in general use. His scripts became famous among printers as early as 1832, and retained their pre-eminence for a generation. The last set of punches he cut was for a great primer script. He was at the time in his seventy-eighth year, but for beauty of design and neatness of finish, the type in question has rarely been excelled.

Mr. Bruce was a man of large benevolence, of unflinching integrity, and great decision of character. He was president for many years of the Mechanics’ Institute, and of the type-founders’ association, and an active member of and contributor to, the historical society, St. Andrew’s society, the typographical society, and the general society of mechanics and tradesmen.

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