Keeping the Presses Rolling: Mobile's Publishing Community and Wartime Exigency

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:40 AM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Cathleen A. Baker, University of Michigan Library
Communication during the Civil War, especially in the beleaguered and blockaded Confederate States, was particularly difficult, and Mobile, Alabama, was representative of a large, cosmopolitan Southern city during the War Between the States. Problems did not arise primarily from a lack of reporters or the means to send news using the telegraph, train, horseback, and river boat, but rather was due to a severe shortage of the materials of mass communication: paper, ink, skilled typesetters, and replacement parts for steam-powered presses. Despite these shortages, the daily Mobile Advertiser and Register did not miss an issue, and remarkably, other newspapers started up and failed—the passion to keep the community well informed ran high. The Mobile Advertiser and Register published current news along with works of fiction to provide information and entertainment for the city’s citizens. Another form of printed entertainment was the novel, and the man responsible for publishing a surprising number of these was one of Mobile’s booksellers, S.H. Goetzel, an Austrian immigrant. Goetzel was also responsible for establishing a papermill to meet the demands of publishing. When paper wrappers were in short supply, Goetzel printed on decorative wallpapers, fascinating in their own right. Interestingly, the publishers, editors, printers, binders, and booksellers in Mobile, who ensured that the citizens had provocative reading material, did not hesitant to describe the technologies and materials that went into these productions. In many instances, articles about the materiality of the newest publications were published in the newspaper, which not only informed the public about the shortages but also assured them that local entrepreneurs were trying to solve the problems. Printed materials of all kinds were available to Mobile citizens during the War, and these kept the local communities informed and entertained during a period of apprehension for the future.
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