The first printing press in America was set up in Cambridge under the guaranty of Harvard College, during the presidency of Henry Dunster. From this press, established nearly 300 years ago, started the present printing business of the country, and the consequent thousands of newspapers.
In 1638 a puritan clergyman, the Reverend Joseph Glover, planned to bring some printing equipment from England to the United States, and as his plan was put into operation, he died. A printer travelling with Glover, who died at sea, then took the project in hand and cared for its transportation to the New England coast. This man, Daye, first put the press into operation in Cambridge. According to a record of Governor Winthrop. "The first thing printed was the freemen's oath; the next was an almanac made for New England by Mr. William Pierce, mariner; the next was the Psalms newly turned into verse."
Is Linked with College
The press, once established in this country, became the property of Mrs. Glover, who in a few years was to marry Henry Dunster, president of Harvard College. Thus came the press under the control of the College, securely anchored in New England.
It is generally recognized that this circumstance of the controlling of the first press in the country by Harvard did much to make establishment of the printed word in the United States comparatively easy, in a time when novelties were under some suspicion by the conservative puritans who deprecated anything new. The name of Harvard protected it from much criticism which might otherwise have attacked it. Since no criticism assailed the innovation no restrictions were placed on what the Glover-Daye press sought to print. The printers were free to accept, refuse, and print whatever their whims dictated.
The first move toward the establishment of censorship of the press came to nought in 1649, when there was a move towards establishing a licensing board. This gesture failed because there was no present reason for such restriction. At that time no issue of the freedom of the press had developed: a year later the situation was to change perceptibly. Then a theological pamphlet printed in England, but written by a Springfield, Massachusetts man. William Pynchon, came into circulation. It was entitled "The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption." Here may be seen the development of the religious issue in the press, appearing simultaneously with the questioning of the right of free public discussion. Though Pynchon's pamphlet aroused some criticism, no censorship of the press resulted.
Twelve years later, in 1662, the issue arose publicly and politically. The General Court of that year passed an act "for prevention of irregularities and abuse to the authority of this country by the printing press," ordering that "henceforth no copie shall be printed but by, the allowance first had and obtained under the hands of Captain Daniel Gookin and Mr. Jonathan Mitchel, until this court shall take further order therein." At this time Harvard's was the only printing plant in the country, composed of the original Glover press plus one bought by the College itself. This act of the Court was repealed the following year, showing that its demands at that time were impractical and infeasible.
The influence of Harvard in the latter half of the seventeenth century is attested by what happened in 1665 when one Marmaduke Johnson sought to set up a rival press. After he had transported from England a full printing equipment, seeking to establish a commercial printing establishment, the General Court at once ordered that there were to be no printing presses in Massachusetts in any town but Cambridge. The Harvard press, of course, was not a commercial enterprise.
The first newspaper ever printed in this country met the same fate dealt the first gesture towards press censorship and the first attempt to set up a commercial printing shop: "Publick Occurrances both Foreign and Domestick," appeared on September 26, 1690, and was immediately forbidden from the Colonies. The Governor and council gave expression to "high resentment and disallowance" to this paper printed by Richard Pierce for Benjamin Harris of Boston, and forbade anyone "for the future to set forth anything in print without license first obtained.