Friday, July 26, 2019

Harry S. Truman's Middle Name

Once upon a time, in the previous millennium, I worked as a typographer at Paul Baker Typography (PBT) in Evanston, Illinois. We were using state-of-the-art laser typesetting machines from Mergenthaler Linotype. The laser exposed photographic paper that was wound on spools and needed developing with horrific chemicals. The developer was a cabinet that had motorized platens to pull the paper through a light-tight series of three baths: developer, fixer, water, then over a dryer. We typed on dedicated CRTerminals using bracketed codes for typesetting not unlike you might have found on primitive PCs using DOS word processors like XyWrite, or later in HTML. For instance, <f269> would change the font to Helvetica, <h10> the point size to 10, and <nj> would render the paragraph justified. We also used wax to paste up galleys, X-Acto knives to alter them if necessary, and Rapidograph pens and T-squares for charts and artwork. 
Mergenthaler Linotype Linotronic laser typesetter, CRTerminal, and TypeView.
Yes, those are 5-1/4" floppy drive in the CRTerminal. 
I had first "set type" at Gordon Junior High School in Washington, DC. In Print Shop with Mr. Cotton, we took metal type from wooden trays, and set them by hand into forms. We printed on a small letterpress printing press. Then in high school, I became layout editor of the Woodrow Wilson High School Beacon newspaper by default, cutting (with X-acto knife) and pasting (with wax) onto blue-line broadsheets that would be "camera-ready." When I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, I got a part-time job at the school newspaper back office as a "paste-up artist." When I graduated, I got a full-time job as a typesetter to pay the bills while I pursued rock stardom. (You can see how that turned out at Bands Kier Has Been In.)
Metal type in wooden tray, courtesy
Metal type in wooden tray, courtesy Don Black Linecasting.
At PBT, I was the primary contact for Rand McNally (RMC), whose headquarters were and still are in nearby Skokie. We would send them photocopies of galleys for their proofreading and they would return them, marked up. I was making the corrections for a Rand McNally travel guide and came across a correction that I knew was wrong. So I made all the other changes and attached a note to the marked-up galleys informing them that "Harry S Truman" should not be "Harry S. Truman" (with a period) because it was not an initial, just the letter "S". His middle name, you see, was "S" since his parents did not want choose between his grandfathers (
Harry S Truman, 33rd president of the United States.
I did not learn this from because it did not exist yet. In fact, the World Wide Web was unknown to most of us. The Internet existed in the form of 2400 baud (bits per second) modems used only on a phone line. It was around 1990, before the Web gave us all this information at our fingertips. I might have had access to CompuServe at home by that time, connected to a 286 PC, and used for bulletin board forums (BBS). 

Soon after sending those galleys back to RMC, I received a call from the Rand McNally editor working on the travel guide. She told me that she knew the story of Harry Truman's middle initial, but that the reference was to the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum (, which regardless of its rationale for doing so, most certainly did have a period after the "S." Thankfully, I already had a good rapport with the people at RMC, so I was able to finesse the situation with humility and apology.
Oval office reproduction in the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,
courtesy of TripAdvisor
The next time I had a question about a correction, I picked up the phone - yes, we even had touch-tone phones back then, though not cell phones, or even portable ones - and called the editor. So I learned not to think I'm right, even when I'm sure I am.

By the 1990s, Desktop Publishing software was hollowing out the typesetting industry. PBT retained some high-end customers, such as RMC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Northwestern University Medical School. We began to offer them web design services, re-purposing their print content. Eventually, PBT morphed into Webitects, without typesetting, and still going strong. By then, I had already departed to enter the high tech market, first at a Motorola spin-off, then at and Allstate Financial, now at CA Technologies, which just got bought by Broadcom. 

These days, I would google "Harry S. Truman" before overriding an editor. I'm not sure how I "knew" the S stood for nothing. Maybe trivia, verified by a visit to the library. Wikipedia has certainly eased casual research, though there seem to be more sources of misinformation than trustworthy knowledge. 

P.S. In the tech world, LMGTFY stands for "Let me google that for you," a phrase many tech support personnel are tempted to utter. 

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