Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Preliminaries on the History of Blueprinting

I've been exploring various aspects of modernization in technical communication. The history of blueprinting seems amazingly under-told. Blueprinting is an example of representational technology that led to a change in practices of everyday professionals. There seems to be some sort of McLuhan/Ong/Innis thing combined with a dash of Benjamin/Adorno.

There are a few traces of this obscure history. Archive.org, for example, has copies of some old drafting texts and there are a few online resources such as this one from the Charlestown Blueprint Company and another one reprinted from Modern Reprographics.

Another interesting tidbit comes from a biography of Elmer Carl Kiekhaefer, founder of Mercury Marine (now part of Brunswick). In 1926 Elmer went to work at the Nash Motors Body Division. As noted by Rodengen, it was "his first job that required clean hands and shoes, a pressed shirt and tie, and an eight-to-five schedule." (p. 38) He began to work through the ranks of the drafting and blueprinting section. Rodengen describes his rise through the ranks:

"from delivering materials and specifications to the various drafting benches as an office boy, to blueprint boy, assisting the blueprint section in converting the many hundreds of drawings required for each automobile into the familiar white-line, Prussian-blue-background duplicates that could be sent to the toolmakers, outside vendors, plant engineers, prototype builders and engineering departments. He would check the accuracy of the blueprints against the original drawings before they were sent out to their destinations. His keen eye for detail, combined with his basic engineering skills, earned an early promotion to drawing detailer. He was then allowed to actually contribute his marks to drawings, detailing various minor areas of body panels, fenders and hinge mechanims, as well as illustrating rudimentary electrical system routing and termination. Eventually, as a layout draftsman, he was permitted to execute complete drawings, using the stringent specifications established by the engineering department." (p. 38)

References

Rodengen, J. L. (1991). Iron fist: the lives of Carl Kiekhaefer. Fort Lauderdale, Fla: Write Stuff Syndicate.

2 Comments:

Blogger John McVey said...

from another field (graphic design), similar scarcity of accounts about use of rubylith and, in fact, many of the tools that graphic artists used in their daily work. one turns to old handbooks.

re: Sweet's, to which I came via Ladislav Sutnar. Introduction in that first 1906 catalog is fascinating. Has your research taken you into Lonberg-Holm and C Theodore Larson, and some classification work ("development index") done by Larson especially, including (and by no means limited to) an article in American Documentation -- “The U.S. Building Industry: a Case-Problem in Communications 3:4 (1952): 208-213.

20/1/09 04:22  
Blogger George said...

Thanks for the comment John. I've never come across Larson's name before but after doing a bit of digging, I'm fascinated. I think I might have to make the three hour trip to Ann Arbor to see his personal files. The combination of building science and documentation is a fascinating one (and not just because I'm a civil engineer with a master's degree in library science). But I'm going to pursue that project once the dissertation is done...

21/1/09 19:36  

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